While the ongoing #Fishrot investigation into state capture, bribery, money-laundering and fishy deals to access Namibia's prolific fishing waters has opened a Pandora's box of irregularities and loopholes in the international fishing industry, the warning signals have been there long ago.
Peter Robert Manning already forewarned the danger of what is happening now in a thesis MANAGING NAMIBIA’S MARINE FISHERIES: OPTIMAL RESOURCE USE AND NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT OBJECTIVES submitted in 1998 to the London School of Economics and Political Science.
The thesis comprises a detailed history of Namibia's fishing industry right up to the post-independent "Namibianization" of the industry. Manning specifically warned against the dangers of joint ventures between local small fishermen and big foreign companies where the extensive use of nominee shareholders efficiently hide the true identity of the beneficiary shareholders, saying "it multiplies the efficacy of the provision of the Companies Act which makes it an offence for a company to withhold information about its shareholdings". SA 1973, s113(1).
Manning further suggested:
It will never be possible to be sure that all resource rent is being collected by government because of the difficulties of assessing what exactly the resource rent is in the first instance. Approximations are used, making it likely at any time for there to remain some rent in the system.
It is an offence under the Companies Act (61) 1973 for a company to refuse to disclose its shareholding (South Africa 1973, si 13(1)). However, the use of nominee shareholders and the incidence of foreign 284 registered companies as shareholders means that the provisions of the Companies Act in this respect is inadequate.
The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine resources requires of companies that they disclose the beneficial shareholding of the company to the Ministry as part of the annual survey it makes of the industry. As this information is theoretically in the public domain, it would be constructive for the Ministry to make the information publicly available in the form of access to a database. This would help to make the ownership and control of the industry a lot easier to monitor by interested parties and therefore a lot more transparent. This could be done with relatively little extra work or expenditure.
Most participants in the fishing industry are constituted as private limited companies. Only a few are public companies. Unlike a public company, a private company is not obliged to lodge a copy of interim statements and annual financial statements with the Registrar of Companies (ibid., s302).
It would seem reasonable that private companies in the fishing industry be obliged to disclose this information due to the public nature of the resource they are utilising. This would help to improve the accountability of the industry to the public and would promote greater transparency in the industry."