TransNamib infighting opens can of worms

28 September 2018 Author   CHAMWE KAIRA

Infighting between members of the TransNamib board and a poor relationship between directors and the Ministry of Works and Transport has exposed a can of worms at the railway parastatal. Infighting between members of the TransNamib board and a poor relationship between directors and the Ministry of Works and Transport has exposed a can of worms at the railway parastatal. 

It emerged this week that the appointment of CEO, Johny Smith, was done without the blessings of the board. 
It also emerged that a plan by the board to raise money using its multi-billion dollar assets, was rejected by the government, a move that has left the company in a precarious financial position.
The board members themselves have not been seeing eye-to-eye and accuse each other of representing various self-serving interests and not declaring conflict of interest in some instances. 
Deputy Chairperson, Elize Angula, has been caught in conflict of interest allegations because she also sits on the board of the Frans Indongo Group, which has declared a dispute with TransNamib over the leasing of an Erf in Windhoek.
The leasing deal was signed in June 2012 between TransNamib and Quenet Capital, a company, which later roped in the Frans Indongo Group.
The agreement is currently the subject of litigation between the two parties after TransNamib cancelled the lease in October 2014 following a directive from the ministry of transport. 
Angula admitted the conflict of interest, but said she declared it to both companies.
“Yes, I have a conflict of interest.  I sit on the board of Frans Indongo which has an interest in Quenet. I declared this conflict at both TransNamib and Frans Indongo Group. I had recused myself in so far as decisions are taken in respect of this matter at both companies. 
“As property Committee Chairperson at TransNamib, I had delegated the dealing of this matter at TransNamib to the chairperson, Paul Smit, due to this conflict.” 
Smit confirmed that Angula had declared her interest. “Yes she does as any other (board member).”  
Angula said the legal dispute existed before she became a board member at TransNamib and that the award of the lease to Quenet was equally done way before she became a board member. 
She added when the matter came up last year and this year, she recused herself and that Smit attended to it in her absence. She also declared her interest in respect of Ohorongo Cement as well.
Angula this week set the cat among the pigeons when speaking at an event organised by the Affirmative Repositioning Movement described the chaotic way in which the board has been operating. 
She said the government had rejected a “brilliant plan”, which would have seen the company’s assets worth N$4.5 billion being leveraged to raise N$800 million that the railway operator requires for operational needs over a three-year period.
Angula said although the current board, whose mandate expires on 3 November, presented a plan to Cabinet on how TransNamib can use its assets to raise cash for operations, nothing has happened in the last three years because of infighting between board members and the different interests of members of Cabinet.
“The company is broke. We have never been allowed to do anything,” she said during a discussion on Good Governance and Citizenship.    
She said some board members make the work of the board difficult because they represent the interest of Cabinet ministers who have vested interests in the operations of the company. 
Angula said she will not be seeking an extension when her mandate expires in November.
She said Cabinet appointed TransNamib’s new Chief Executive without the blessings of the board.
Smith is said to report directly to the transport minister and not the board. But Minister of Works and Transport, John Mutorwa, denied that he had forced the board to appoint Smith.
“Read the law. The board appoints the CEO and the CEO is directly accountable to the board,” he said denying interference in the day to day running of TransNamib.   
Board member, Dantagos Jimmy-Melani, who has been accused in media reports of being opposed to the appointment of Smith, told the Windhoek Observer this week that although she took part in the process to recruit the CEO, she was then ‘unlawfully’ suspended in October 2017 and was not involved in the final recruitment process.
“The timeline is there,” she said, adding she never personalised issues and merely recommended that people who made the scores during the interview of the CEO should not be involved in the final selection. 
Smith said his appointment letter was signed by the TransNamib chairperson, but added that it was an open secret that the board had recommended a South African. 
“It is a blatant lie that I was appointed by the minister,” the CEO said. 
“The minister said why you should appoint a foreigner when you have a capable Namibian? They wanted a puppet to help them do illegal things. I just found out that they did an illegal procurement behind my back. I only found out because the supplier called me,” he said refusing to give details.
“The board is being dishonest and they want to do illegal things.” 
The Namibian reported last week that the TransNamib board chairperson had requested Mutorwa to stop interfering in its affairs because his actions were undermining the board.
Smit made these comments in a 3 August 2018 letter addressed to Mutorwa, and copied to President Hage Geingob, Prime Minister, Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila and Attorney General, Albert Kawana, the paper said. 
During the, AR event, Angula also said that government should close down the loss-making State airline, Air Namibia, and make TransNamib vibrant because rail transportation was more important to the development of the country. 
This comes as Air Namibia recently said it needs N$3 billion to become profitable. 
“We want to fly the flag at the expense of the poor,” she said, arguing that Air Namibia must just be a domestic airline. 
“There are only six profitable airlines in the world. Railway transport can really make a change,” she said.
Angula further argued that board members of parastatals must not be selected by Cabinet ministers, but by committees, which recommend a list names to the minister from where they can be appointed. 


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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