SSC board did not snub Sioka

24 October 2013 Author  

front Sioka 25 octCHAIRMAN of the Social Security Commission board Rick Kukuri says the board never intended to snub Minister of Labour Doreen Sioka when it went against her advice not to suspend CEO Kenandai Tjivikua. Kukuri said the board’s decision to suspend Tjivikua never aimed at undermining Minister Sioka but only tried to follow company procedures.

At the time of the fallout between the board and Tjivikua, Sioka called on the two parties to engage each other and see whether there was no other alternative to suspending the CEO and invoking the disciplinary procedures of the company.

Kukuri said the board received numerous complaints both from staff members, trade unions and the public about the conduct of the CEO and it had no alternative but to investigate these through laid down company procedures.

However, what appeared to have broken the camel’s back and led to Tjivikua’s suspension was his alleged refusal to buy iPads for board members.

Kukuri yesterday said that the board had requested the minister to put her ultimatum in writing with reasons why she had chosen to take that course of action.

Ever since the board decided last December to suspend the SSC chief executive officer, they have been at loggerheads with the labour minister.

Sioka has now given the board an ultimatum to resign either today (Friday) or face the axe.

Kukuri on Thursday expressed concern over the minister’s decision to fire the entire board, as opposed to implementing the recommendation of a report compiled by the disciplinary committee, which found Tjivikua not guilty on the charges compiled by the board.

“The recommendations were a solution to what had obviously become a communication problem, based on the misunderstanding of the roles between management and the board,” Kukuri said.

He further explained that management often felt that the board had overstepped its mandate, without bearing in mind that it had an oversight function and created policy that guided the institution.

The board chair however, was not willing to confirm reports that he had sent a letter to the minister, challenging her in a very legal tone to substantiate her actions as per the SSC Act.

Sources with knowledge of the dispute have also indicated that Kukuri has requested a meeting with Prime Minister (PM) Hage Geingob on the matter, but has not yet received an answer.

Sources at the parastatal say Minister Sioka called in the board members individually and informed them of her of decision to boot them out if they did not step down voluntarily.

It has further emerged that Sioka merely read to board members from a prepared statement, and when asked to give reasons for her decision, her Permanent Secretary George Simata would intervene, stating that it is the prerogative of the minister.

Sioka was also very unhappy when she learnt that the suspension and the disciplinary process had cost the SSC a whopping N$1.5 million in lawyers’ fees and logistical arrangements.

She told the board members, in her individuals consultations where she gave them her ultimatum, that the SSC could have spent the money the board squandered on the wasteful exercise on other more pressing needs the country faces.

The disciplinary process alone made the SSC N$600,000 poorer

The board chair admitted that they had spent up to N$200,000.00 on paying lawyers.

However, he remarked that they had no way of anticipating that the operation would cost that much and added that following the correct procedures entailed certain costs.

“We cannot afford to cut corners in instances like these,” he said.

In the end, the disciplinary hearing acquitted Tjivikua on the charges of gross misconduct.

Kukuri further highlighted that the board members only have one year remaining on their contracts, and that they remained committed to seeing through the completion of crucial projects, such as the national pension and medical aid funds.

According to some board members the Windhoek Observer spoke to, Sioka said she had lost faith in the board. Asnath Zamuee, who was the only other board member prepared to speak on record, confirmed that the minister called her in alone and asked her to resign, and added that Sioka seemed determined to remove the entire board.

In her discussion with the minister, she highlighted that the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) had already recalled her because of the suspension of her union, the Namibia Financial Institutions Union (Nafinu), from the union federation.

She further emphasised that she played no real role in the decision to suspend Tjivikua, but her pleas received no sympathy from the minister.

“Because the minister who appointed you to the board never withdrew your appointment, you must take the responsibility,” Zamuee said the minister told her.

The SSC board consists of Kukuri, Zamuee, Albert Biwa, Helena Kapenda, Ottilie Kutenda, Derek Wright, Hofnie Shikongo and Evelyn Breuer, Connie Pandeni and Josef //Garoeb.

It has now emerged that the Friday deadline for the board to resign might in fact not see the end of the standoff between Minister Sioka and the board.

The latest indications suggest that if the prime minister does not intervene the dispute between the two parties may end up in court.

Such a move has echoes of when the previous board of the Road Fund Administration (RFA) took Finance Minister, Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila to court over her insistence that it should reinstate former CEO Penda Kiiyala. The minister lost the case, but by that time, the term of the board had expired anyway.
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