Leading human rights lawyer Norman Tjombe has poured cold water on the idea of private prosecutions to recover the alleged N$600 million that was lost from the Government Institutions Pension Fund (GIPF) in one of Namibia’s biggest financial scandals.
The Women Lawyers Association, chaired by firebrand activist Ruth Herunga, had the public excited last Friday when it announced that it is contemplating private prosecutions as contemplated under Section 8 of the Criminal Procedure Act 51/1977.
In a statement that was widely circulated, Hengura announced that after careful consideration of statements made by the Prosecutor-General and the Government Institutions Pension Fund, the Namibian Women Lawyers Association resolved to pursue this matter on behalf of its affected members and in the public interest.
Critics, however, said Friday’s statement by the Namibian Women Lawyers Association was just ‘nice political talk and dream’ that would never be realised.
Hengura did not answer questions sent to her on how she and her team would go about the private prosecutions and how they would fund what appears to be a costly exercise, among other questions.
But in an interview with the Windhoek Observer on Thursday, Tjombe said the envisaged private prosecution would be difficult to pursue. To his knowledge, there is no precedence in Namibia.
“Without the organizational support of state institutions (such as the police), it becomes even more difficult. However, it is not impossible. And those who want to take on the GIPF looters through private prosecution should be encouraged and applauded. There are a number of forensic reports that may be of use in any prosecution - public or private,” Tjombe said.
He suggested that instead of private prosecution, the Prosecutor General must be taken to court to explain her reasons for not prosecuting, and if the reasons are not satisfactory, the court should compel her to prosecute.
“There are so many different offenses that could have been investigated - not just corruption, which seems to be the PG’s focus. There could be offenses under the insolvency laws or company laws (such as reckless conduct by the Directors of these companies),” Tjombe opined.
“GIPF and whoever has the forensic reports must immediately make those available to the public. The public is entitled to see - and the authorities are obliged to show - to whom and how the monies were lost.”
In a previous interview with the Windhoek Observer, the Government Institutions Pension Fund (GIPF) painted a rosy picture of the financial scandal, saying it made a profit of N$146 million from its infamous and now-defunct Development Capital Portfolio (DCP), which ran from 1995 to 2005.
In October 2017, GIPF’s Manager of Unlisted Investments, Sara Mezui-Engo, said the fund made a profit of N$146 million out of the DCP, with only N$70 million lost.
“One can write off losses on some investments and realise profits and increase in value from others,” Mezui-Engo said, adding that the fund’s success stories include the Windhoek Country Club investment and shares in FNB Namibia.
She said while there were companies that did not return a single cent, others did to varying degrees.
“When we aggregate the ones that returned capital and take into account the businesses that increased in value, we see that our gains are more than our losses,” Mezui-Engo added.
The DCP granted loans to the Namibia Grape Company, Namibia Plastic and Liquid Foods Project, Windhoek Country Club, Swakopmund Station Hotel and Namibia Pig Farm. Other beneficiaries were, Omaheke, Tsongang Investments Company, Sepiolite Investment, Omna Investments, and Multi-time Investment (Pty) Limited.
Last week, the fund gave another figure, saying it had made a profit of N$458 million from DCP and lost N$386 million, not N$600 million as widely believed.
Prosecutor General Martha Imalwa stunned journalists last week when she announced that N$600 million from the GIPF is lost and would not be recovered because of a lack of evidence.
Auditor General Junias Kandjeke, however, told The Namibian that someone should be held accountable for the N$600 million allegedly lost from the public service's pension fund after some loan beneficiaries of the fund did not pay back the money they had borrowed.
Kandjeke said he produced a forensic report into the GIPF several years ago for the Cabinet and former president Hifikepunye Pohamba.
“I did my report a long time ago. Made the presentation to the former president [Pohamba], and I presented facts based on terms of reference,” he stated.
“My report also showed who paid back, and who didn't.”
Minister of Finance Calle Schlettwein also weighed in and said: “whatever the reasons, it is a sad day for Namibia when we have to admit that an amount of N$600 million pension money cannot be traced, is lost and we do not know who lost it.”