Animal justice remains a pipe dream
20 January 2021 | Society
A ground-breaking animal protection and welfare bill launched by disgraced former justice minister Sacky Shanghala in late 2019 and that was slated to become law in mid-2020, has stalled amidst the minister's downfall, the pandemic and the bill’s transfer to the agriculture ministry last year.
The significant slowdown of the once swift momentum propelling the bill towards enactment to overhaul the current ineffective and outdated animal protection law, worries major stakeholders, including a stop to the once frequent updates to interested parties and stakeholders that ended after the agriculture ministry took over the completion of the bill.
“We are concerned with the delay that the transfer from one ministry to another seems to have caused, and we are disappointed as registered interested and affected parties that we have not had any feedback on the progress of the bill,” the Namibian Animal Welfare Association’s (NAWA) Heather Craemer said this week.
Craemer added that the once high hopes that Namibia’s deficient current animal protection law would be replaced with a landmark new law, a first for Africa, has diminished.
Legal expert and lawyer Ronel Lewies of Annie's Animal Legal Fund Namibia explained that the current legislative protection of animals in Namibia “is so deficient that one could consider it non-existent”.
She added: “We are in desperate need of revised animal protection and welfare legislation in Namibia. The fact that it has taken nearly 58 years for this subject to get the attention of the legislator, and now, that it is finally getting attention, the process is being protracted is, unfortunately, a less proud moment for Namibia.”
She warned that if the bill is “not treated with the sense of urgency it deserves, it will soon become a disgrace to our country, which prides itself on the protection of its natural resources”.
The animal protection and welfare bill, while still under the leadership of the justice ministry, was slated to go before the Cabinet Committee on Legislation by February 2020. By May 2020 it was envisaged that the bill would be tabled at National Assembly.
Dr Albertina Shilongo, chief veterinary officer of veterinary services at the agriculture ministry, last week emailed a brief response to questions on the progress of the bill. “The bill was transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture last year and it needs to be finalised. However, we could not make progress with a stakeholders’ workshop to finalise the bill due to Covid-19 restrictions and the ongoing outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in the Northern Communal Areas.”
Lewies noted that Namibia’s 2020 state of emergency and restrictions “understandably, may have contributed to some delay in enacting the new legislation. Since I’m not privy to what the current status of the bill is, I can’t say with great certainty whether the delay is reasonable or not. What I can say with certainty, is it is the animals of Namibia are suffering the consequences of the delay.”
Hanna Rhodin, national director of SPCA Namibia, said the slow-down of the bill’s progress since the onset of the pandemic is understandable.
“However, we keep our hopes high that the ministry prioritises the bill and that stakeholders will be consulted again soon, so that the bill can be finalised and go through the necessary next steps to become law," she said.
The current Animals Protection Act 71 of 1962 is close to 60 years old and has never been reviewed, supplemented or updated. Currently, the maximum penalty for the contravention of the Act is N$200, irrespective of the severity of the offence.
NAWA’s Craemer added that the current law makes any prosecution of cruelty cases in Namibia unlikely to succeed. Moreover, apart of domestic animals, the current law contains no protection for livestock production animals or regulations around the treatment of livestock.
The proposed new law would include robust and stiff prison sentences and fines for those guilty of animal neglect, abuse and other cruelties. These range from five to 15 years behind bars, fines of between N$10 000 and N$200 000, or both.
The bill further enhances the powers of animal welfare officers and organisations and addresses pet breeder regulations.
Rhodin said the revamped bill would not only better protect and ensure animal welfare, but give Namibia the chance to make a statement internationally.