Meatco Chief Executive Officer, Vekuii Rukoro, has been suspended by the meat processor’s board pending an undisclosed investigation into operations at the company.
The suspension, which was communicated to the executive on Wednesday, is indefinite.
According to insiders, Rukoro’s suspension is meant to allow the board to initiate an investigation into the company without the CEO’s influence.
The move by the board, which some have labelled as a witch hunt, comes at a time when the executive was having a troubled relationship with the Martha Namundjebo-Tilahun-led board, which recently received a new mandate to lead the meat processing and marketing company until 2020.
Sources at Meatco questioned the timing of Rukoro’s suspension, whose contract is up for renewal at the end of the month.
Contacted for comment on the board’s decision, Namundjebo-Tilahun was tight-lipped on the reasons for the suspension and the specifics of the planned investigation.
“It’s purely an internal matter, nothing personal. It’s true he has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation,” she told the Windhoek Observer.
Quizzed whether the outcome of the planned investigation will influence Rukoro’s possible return to the company, Namundjebo-Tilahun was noncommittal.
“So far, it’s to investigate. It means anything, but let’s wait until the investigation has been completed,” she said.
Rukoro said his suspension is based on an audit report by Ernest and Young (EY), which questioned the appointment of a certain Katjomuise as a livestock agent, resulting in the company suffering a N$300,000 loss.
“This is patently unlawful and I shall not leave it unchallenged! I did not interview the man for the job, I did not appoint him, he was never managed by me as CEO nor was he accountable to me,” Rukoro said.
“The report of EY investigation relied upon for my suspension does not contain a single finding or recommendation that the CEO is to be held liable for Katjomuise’s losses or that any action be taken against him. This is purely a naked act of political victimisation in gross violation of both the labour law and good corporate governance principles, but I shall overcome.”
Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF), John Mutorwa, said the Meatco board did not need to consult him before they suspended the CEO. “They have taken a decision and that is that,” the minister said.
The board has on numerous occasions clashed with the Rukoro-led executive, with their latest spat being over how to handle the closure of Okapuka feedlot, which was closed last year after the detection of Zeranol, a banned substance, in one of the urine samples collected from some cattle. This decision is said to have cost the company over N$40 million.
Bad blood between the board and management reached its peak in August last year, after the board survived being booted out at a special members meeting.
The development saw Namundjebo-Tilahun declaring the August 12 meeting a nullity, accusing company executives of defying a board resolution by proceeding with the elective special members meeting.
From there, the relationship has remained strained, with the board having previously tried to have Rukoro suspended and eventually fired, only for Public Enterprises Minister, Leon Jooste, to come to his aid after he announced that his ministry, which is charged with supervising the operations of public enterprises (PE), will no longer tolerate suspensions of PE heads.
When contacted this week, Jooste said he had not been formally notified of the Meatco board’s decision to suspend Rukoro.
“I have not received any formal communication on this matter,” he said.