By Shinovene Immanuel | 29 March 2018
SOURCING funds for the proposed extensive upgrades to the Hosea Kutako International Airport and buying aircraft for Air Namibia are among the objectives of President’s Hage Geingob’s trip to China.
Geingob who departed on Wednesday for a week-long state visit to China has publicly admitted that his trip to Beijing could include asking for loans to fund Namibia’s infrastructure plans and to finalise the space tracking station deal between the two countries.
People familiar with the trip said Geingob and his delegation also want to wrap up the funding of the construction of the last phase of a two-lane highway to the Hosea Kutako International Airport.
The airport construction deal, which was valued at N$7 billion in 2015, was cancelled after allegations of corruption and bribery of over N$100 million allegedly channelled into the pockets of senior government officials.
Even though the deal to build the new airport is likely to be between the two governments, the presence of Namibia Airports Company (NAC) leaders shows that the airports parastatal is crucial to this deal.
NAC chairperson Rodgers Kauta, his deputy Beverly Gawanas-Vugs and acting NAC chief executive Albertus Aochamub are part of the delegation to China. A booklet on the trip to China produced by the Namibian government provides a hint of the agenda.
The booklet gives a brief description of each delegate and what they will be engaged with in China.
The three NAC officials, according to the booklet, went to China for “airport development and financing”. Kauta and Gawanas-Vugs have over the years resisted political pressure to approve the N$7 billion airport upgrade tender.
High profile middleman Knowledge Katti, whom The Namibian directly linked to the airport deal in 2015, is also part of the delegation, representing a company called Kombat Berries. Katti, a close friend of Geingob, was also in China in 2014.
One of the conspicuous absentees from the trip is works permanent secretary Willem Goeiemann. As permanent secretary at the works ministry, Goeiemann is supposed to be the go-to senior technocrat in the airport transaction.
Deputy permanent secretary Cedric Limbo will represent the ministry in China.
People briefed about this matter claimed Goeiemann said that he turned down the opportunity to go to China because he did not want to be accused of pushing through deals such as the airport tender by politicians.
Goeiemann could still play a role in this transaction since he is the accounting officer of the works ministry.
The Namibian reported last year how Goeiemann briefed his works ministry colleagues that Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila and finance minister Calle Schlettwein allegedly asked him to award the contract in 2015. The two politicians have denied this. Goeiemann was unreachable for comment.
Troubled Air Namibia, which will receive a N$740 million bailout from the state this year, is also part of Geingob’s delegation, in the persons of general manager Xavier Masule and sales executive Elizabeth Frieda Harases.
“Meeting with potential financiers to provide funding on favourable terms to acquire two Airbus A330-200 aircraft from the current lessor. Participate in air service agreements negotiations,” is what the booklet states as the two Air Namibia officials’ role.
Air Namibia currently pays N$28 million per month to rent two Airbus A330-200 planes.
The booklet also shows that Namib Desert Diamonds (Namdia) is part of the China trip.
Namdia is a state-owned company established in August 2016 to sell diamonds worth about N$2 billion per year, or N$20 billion over the next 10 years.
The Namibian reported in 2016 that Namdia deliberately sold Namibian diamonds cheaply to Dubai-based firms. The secretive company denied the allegations, but it continues to sell Namibian diamonds to unknown Dubai-based companies.
Namdia’s chief executive, Kennedy Hamutenya, is representing the company in China. Hamutenya indicated in the booklet that their purpose in China would be to find “prospective new buyers/new markets”.
Geingob told Chinese state news agency Xinhua this month that one of his priorities on the trip would be to finalise the space tracking station agreement with China.
China operates a station north of Swakopmund to track satellites and space missions. The station which started operating in the early 2000s is situated in the desert and flies the Chinese and Namibian flags.
“It is one of the key aspects in our relationship,” Geingob said.
It is not clear what government wants from the new agreement, but Namibia’s ambassador to China, Elia Kaiyamo, last year boasted that Namibia was home to the only space tracking station of China in Africa, playing a vital role in China’s space programme. It is unclear whether discussions of the proposal by the Chinese government to set up a naval base at Walvis Bay will be included in the talks.
The President told Xinhua that another area of focus will be an agreement with the Chinese government on an air service agreement permitting the two countries to allow international commercial air transport services between them.
Geingob said this agreement could attract Chinese tourists to Namibia.
“We are not satisfied with the current arrival figures of an estimated 13 000 Chinese,” he said, adding that Namibia wants to tap into the potential of the estimated 400 million Chinese middle class travellers.
Thirdly, Geingob said they want a concessional loan for infrastructure development.
“Negotiations are still ongoing and we hope to find common ground with our Chinese friends,” he said.
The Namibian has in the past reported how Chinese loans work and quoted experts who said China was supporting infrastructure projects in strategically located developing countries, often by extending huge ‘soft’ loans to their governments.
Overwhelmed by their debts to China, these countries are eventually forced to sell off stakes in Chinese-financed projects, or relinquish control to Chinese state-owned firms.
The Namibian understands that the Namibian delegation is accommodated at two Chinese luxury hotels, the Diaoyutai State Guest House and China Palace Hotel.
Diaoyutai State Guest House is known as the premier hotel for foreign dignitaries and has accommodated global leaders such as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian president Vladimir Putin.
A person who is part of the trip said high ranking Namibian officials, such as the President, ministers, advisers and permanent secretaries are all accommodated at Diaoyutai State Guest House, while the business delegation will stay at the China Palace Hotel, which is situated close to a financial area of Beijing in the vicinity of The Palace Museum and the famous Tiananmen Square.
Geingob’s trip comes about four years after he went there as Prime Minister for eight days.
He vaguely revealed in October 2016 at State House that he returned money offered to him by “some people”, but did not say what the money was for or who the givers were.
“I returned money. I will never ask anybody for a cent,” he said at the time. He said he could not involve himself in “small things” which would tarnish his reputation. A person who was part of that trip said the money was offered during the 2014 Chinese trip and was indeed returned.