Former Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, John Mutorwa, remains unapologetic for his decision last year to appoint the highly contested Meatco board, a move that was recently declared illegal and unconstitutional by the Windhoek High Court.
Mutorwa told the Windhoek Observer in a brief interview on Wednesday that if he was still minster responsible for the meat processing and marketing company, he would have already appealed the ruling by Windhoek High Court Judge, Hosea Angula, to set aside his decision to appoint the six-member board last year.
The board consists of Chairperson Martha Namundjebo-Tilahun, Israel Ngangane, Sophia Kasheeta, Ronald Kubas, Stephanus Oosthuizen and Mushokobanji Mwilima.
Only Oosthuizen and Mwilima were new to the board, while the other four served on the previous board, whose term of office ended in September 2016.
“Why are you calling me and not calling the responsible minister. I stick by my decision. If it were up to me, I would have appealed the court’s decision already,” said Mutorwa, who was appointed Works and Transport Minister in a mini cabinet reshuffle in February this year.
Mutorwa was dragged to court by a five-member group of Meatco producers led by Amon Ngavetene.
The group argued in court that the appointment of the Meatco board was not in line with provisions of Section 5 of the Meatco Act, read together with the relevant provisions of the Public Enterprises Governance Act, No. 2 of 2006 (“the Public Enterprises Act”).
They also argued that the appointment was a further violation of Article 18 of the Namibian Constitution and the common law.
“It is only where nominations are not received that the minister may appoint board members without input from the interest groups referred to in section 5(1) of the Act,” the five applicants had argued.
Current Minister of Agriculture Water and Forestry, Alpheus !Naruseb, told the Windhoek Observer that he was still internalizing the court’s ruling before making a decision on the way forward.
“I have no comment, it is still a process. We are internalizing the issue then we will make a decision,” !Naruseb said.
Mutorwa appointed the board in December 2016 on a temporary basis to serve for six months, prompting the then Chief Executive Officer, Vekuii Rukoro, to challenge the appointment in court.
The temporary board members, who took up their seats on 4 January 2017, were to serve for only six months, but were later appointed permanently for a three-year term by Cabinet after Acting High Court Judge, Collins Parker, had ruled that the Meatco Act does not provide for the appointment of a temporary board of directors, or the appointment for a period of six months only.
“The members of the board and the board can in terms of section 7(1) only be appointed for a period of three years, subject to the automatic extension of their terms of office for a maximum term until successors have been appointed,” the judge said in his ruling.
Last week’s ruling by the high court comes in the wake of yet another successful challenge by Namibia Airports Company Board Member, Beverley Gawanas-Vugs, who through her lawyer, Sisa Namandje, challenged Mutorwa’s decision to remove her from the board.
Namandje filed an urgent court application in October to challenge Mutorwa's decision to remove Gawanas-Vugs from the NAC board, arguing that the law did not give the minister powers to remove a NAC director.
These incidences have caused critics to ask whether the usually efficient minister is cracking under pressure or whether he is taking such decisions without proper legal advice.
Mutorwa has been in and out of office following an unspecified major operation in September.
Public Enterprises Minister, Leon Jooste, said he was still waiting to hear from the line minister on the way forward.
“I spoke to Hon !Naruseb and he said he would come back to me after they consult internally. Still waiting for the response,” Jooste said.
Former Meatco Chief Executive Officer, Vekuii Rukoro, said he and the producers who opposed the appointment of the board feel vindicated by last week’s High Court ruling.
The board had on numerous occasions clashed with the Rukoro-led executive on several issues, including the handling of the closure of the Okapuka Feedlot last year, which cost the company over N$40 million, mainly because of the provision of feed to the over 9,000 cattle that had been quarantined in the feedlot by the Department of Veterinary Services.
The development resulted in management and the board communicating different positions regarding the closure, leading to a gag order being imposed on the management by the board.
Rukoro is convinced that there was an “agenda” to get him out as the top executive at Meatco and Mutorwa’s appointment of that new board, now deemed illegal, was a part of that process.
“Only a political fool will think otherwise. It was obvious from the beginning,” Rukoro said.