More details have emerged on the N$47 million that five foreign-based lawyers are demanding from Government for services rendered as part of the genocide reparation negotiations with Germany.
A breakdown of the N$47m invoice handed over to Government by the foreign-based lawyers, shows that they are claiming money for spurious expenses like waiting for Attorney General Sackeus Shanghala at a London airport, sending emails, messages and receiving air tickets.
Documents seen by the Windhoek Observer reveal that the “legal fees” that the foreign-based lawyers are demanding are based mostly on administration work such as reading and studying documents, clerical preparations of the arrival of Shanghala, receiving telephone calls, messaging Shanghala, receiving flight tickets from Shanghala and confirmation of dates.
For such “legal work”, the lawyers charged fees ranging from £10,800 to £12,000.
The lawyers also claim to have worked up to 20 hours a day, according to the documents.
This has raised concerns among prominent local lawyers and academics, who have argued that the fees and working hours are highly exaggerated and ridiculous.
The local legal experts argued that no lawyer can work for over 70 hours in a period of four days.
The experts further accused Shanghala and his foreign-based lawyers of using the genocide reparation negotiations as an excuse to milk money from the Namibian Government.
A prominent lawyer, who chose to speak on condition of anonymity, told the Windhoek Observer that Shanghala’s lawyers appear to have provided administration assistance rather than legal work.
“Basically, it appears that (Anna) Uukelo charged several items related to admin matters, such as emails, checking of flight tickets and travel arrangements. Now, I’m not sure if she practices as an attorney/solicitor in the UK or at the Organised Bar Council.
“Her letterhead seems to provide a Bar Council number, but members of the Bar would not be dealing with admin issues such as that and therefore not charge clients regarding those matters, as opposed to having done real legal work.
“It also appears that she worked for about 70 hours over a period of four days, which does not make sense. Making travel arrangements and checking bookings, etc, cannot possibly amount to 18hrs in one day,” the lawyer argued.
Another lawyer, Henry Shimutwikeni, argued that if it is indeed correct that the invoices of Uukelo indicate that she worked for 20 hours a day for four consecutive days at a rate of £600 per hour, then that will make the authenticity of the items on the invoice highly questionable.
Leading professor at the University of Pretoria, Henning Melber, praised Finance Minister, Calle Schlettwein, for his enquiry into the matter.
“Transparency and accountability have a different meaning and Schlettwein deserves recognition for being inquisitive instead of rubber stamping a dubious affair that smells of plundering State coffers in violation of fundamental guidelines.
“Shanghala claims that he acted out of a patriotic duty. But patriotism would require abiding with the formal rules and regulations serving the State office he holds in the spirit and obligation of the oath he took. He seemingly acted without appropriate authorisation in a matter, which cost the Namibian taxpayers N$47 million, for which it seems there were no budgetary provisions made. This is a violation of the fiscal prerequisites and bypasses the lawmakers, who authorise an annual budget.
“Shanghala has violated the duties of his office in multiple ways, unless he is able to provide evidence that he only acted upon orders from higher up (State House). But even then it would remain a dubious affair in violation of the prescribed procedures, with which as Attorney General he should have complied.
“The fees charged are outrageous and tantamount to looting public money. For most of the time claimed, there is no factual evidence in terms of a visible result, which would be able to substantiate the claims. Fees for services include among others such ridiculous items as a ‘trip to Hosea Kutako airport’ to drop off a document. I would have assumed that this could be the duty of a driver, who does not charge £600/hour.
“This matter seems to suggest that the old slogan from the struggle days, ‘a luta continua’ nowadays translates into ‘the looting continues’,” Melber said.
The Windhoek Observer reported last week that Cabinet had not approved the move by Shanghala to appoint five foreign-based lawyers to assist Government with the Genocide negotiations with Germany.
Schlettwein also confirmed to the Windhoek Observer that the legal fees had not been budgeted for.
Chairperson of the Genocide Technical Committee, Tonata Itenge-Emvula, also declared that the committee was not involved in the hiring of the UK-based lawyers.
Shanghala defended his decision to appoint the external lawyers, saying his decision was in the best interest of the country.
“Knowing that Germany is a great contributor to the development of European law and international law, a peer review of the work generated as a Government was needed from lawyers who are familiar with the European and international law principles that may become applicable as this matter progresses, lest we be accused as a Government that we did not do all that we could have done to ensure that we represented the sacrifices of those that were brutally killed and those generations that continue to suffer as a result thereof,” Shanghala said last week.
But social commentator and political analyst, Ndumba Kamwanyah, said he was not convinced by Shanghala’s explanation.
“I am not convinced with the reason why we needed European lawyers to deal with this issue. We have many good Namibian lawyers and African lawyers that have legal standing in European courts, who could have represented us at a cheaper rate,” Kamwanyah said.
“What were the selection criteria and how was the decision made to settle at that particular lawyer? For me, so far it does not meet the Harambee principles of accountability and transparency.
“Why does the AG handle it himself, but not his staff? All these are questions of accountability and transparency and more questions should be asked until more clarity is provided.”
In Namibia, the maximum allowable rate for civil matters such as the genocide is N$2,500 per hour, compared to the £600 (N$10,400) charged by the foreign-based lawyers.