WINDHOEK, 21 MAR – About 100 Affirmative Action Loan Scheme (AALS) farmers marched to the Agricultural Bank of Namibia (Agribank) head office in Windhoek on Tuesday to protest their accounts being handed over to debt collectors.
Last year, Agribank embarked on an intensified arrears collection strategy to recover some N.dollars 500 million owed by farmers. The bank thus initiated the listing of about 2 500 defaulters on the Information Trust Corporation (ITC).
Delivering the petition to Agribank, AALS farmers spokesperson Jeaneth Kahunga said they are disappointed as Agribank’s Board of Directors and management allegedly refused to meet the farmers as a group of clients that owe the bank money.
She also noted that the farmers are unhappy by Agribank’s decision to hand over some farmers’ accounts to the debt collectors and their subsequent listing with ITC.
“The Agricultural Bank of Namibia must recognise our rights as clients to approach it for consultation on our common issues as a group as we have requested earlier and are now once again demanding,”Kahunga said.
The group also demanded that their contracts with the appointed debt collectors be cancelled with immediate effect and that farmers who are listed with ITC be removed and the bank start a process of dialogue with each concerned farmer.
“The bank and farmers must jointly approach the government to review the AALS farmers position with a view to making it more sustainable and useful as an intervention by government to achieve land reform,” Kahunga noted.
Agribank Chief Executive Officer Sakaria Nghikembua in response to the group however said the group has met with Agribank executives, including the board and the Ministry of Finance, where their concerns were discussed and they were advised to approach the bank individually.
He said they have an open door policy for clients to make repayment arrangements.
“Just as they came to apply, it is also important that they come and sit with us to discuss their individual circumstances. We can then agree on repayment arrangements,” he explained.
Nghikembua said he is unable to comment on their request to be removed from ITC as the board still has to review the petition.
The group also marched to the Ministry of Finance’s building, where Kahijoro Kahuure handed over a petition on behalf of the group.
The petition demanded that the ministry immediately reinstate the government guarantee and subsidy system for AALS farmers to protect them.
He also requested that the ministry review the current scheme and with a view toward extending the repayment period of loans for the purchase of agricultural land to a maximum of 33 years.
“The ministry must further reduce the interest rate paid on the purchase of agricultural land to zero,” Kahuure said.
Deputy Minister of Finance, Natangwe Ithete, received the petition on behalf of Minister of Finance, Calle Schlettwein.
The AALS is an initiative that allows new farmers from disadvantaged communities to acquire loans that enable them to access farms in commercial areas against the security of a mortgage bond. The loans are repayable over a period of 25 years.