SME Bank workers weep

14 July 2017 Author   Eric Nyasha Mhunduru
Employees of the troubled SME Bank, which was placed under provisional liquidation on Tuesday by the Windhoek High Court, have accused the Government of forsaking them in their hour of need.
The workers, who were served with termination of employment letters on Thursday, said they feel left out of the Namibian House, since they were now left jobless with mounting debts and daily needs that they do not know how to handle going forward.
The distraught employees noted how Government had readily bailed out several parastatals over the years with amounts running into billions of dollars and yet it remains mum regarding the SME Bank and has left the liquidators to resort to the most basic retrenchment precepts, which were detrimental to their future livelihoods.  
Several stunned employees were still gathered at the institution in Windhoek late on Thursday with egg in their faces, as they tried to comprehend what had just been delivered to them by the bank’s liquidators, who served them with the termination letters.
Several female employees, who could not contain themselves, were seen sobbing.
The development followed a ruling on 11 July, placing the SME Bank under provisional liquidators David Bruni and Ian McLaren.
The services of all 208 staff were terminated effective from 31 July 2017 and the liquidators said the order stood to be made final on 15 September 2017, when the matter will be heard again in court.
The workers were offered one month’s full salary as notice pay; leave pay, according to the leave records of the bank; severance allowance calculated at one week for each completed year of service and arrears wages and salaries.
“In the meantime certain staff will be offered temporary employment by the provisional liquidators to perform the essential duties of maintenance of the assets of the bank, to protect the integrity of its data and records and to assist in the orderly collection of monies due to the bank.
“A decision on the details hereof will in all probability be forthcoming next week. The provisional liquidators will use their best endeavours to ensure that any party which may take over the bank from them as a going concern will re-employ staff on a call-back basis.
“The bank will prepare claim forms for the convenience of all and these claims will be paid as soon as cash may be available,” read the termination letter issued to employees.
Efforts to get comment from the liquidators on why they had resorted to minimal provisions of retrenchment proved futile as both their mobile numbers went unanswered for the better part of Thursday.
They also did not reply to emails and text messages sent by the Windhoek Observer.
Employees, who spoke to the Windhoek Observer at the bank’s main branch in Windhoek, on condition of anonymity, expressed utter dismay at the termination of their employment, saying they had dedicated their lives to working for the bank, putting in several hours of work and sticking by the rules, only to be kicked out onto the streets like they were rubbish.
Several of the workers said they had barely worked for the troubled institution for more than two years; hence they do not qualify or only qualified for two weeks’ pay as retrenchment packages, leaving them facing a very bleak future ahead of them.
“It is not only us the 208 employees that are affected by this; we have families that are dependent on this income that has just been taken from our mouths right now. Although my husband still has his job, we were taking care of our extended families on top of our three children,” one of the employees said.
“His mother is old and frail, the same with both my parents, which is the reason why we were taking care of them on a monthly basis. Besides that, we have smaller siblings that were solely dependent on us; mortgages that we took for our house; personal loans and also the cars that we drive.
“Now all these will just be taken away from us since we will not be able to pay our debts going forward. The GRN has really forsaken us now. They at least could have given us half our salaries, for us to be able to move along while they try to fix this mess as it is not our fault that the bank is in this position.
“We complained a long time ago for them to fix this problem when it first came to light, but they left it to come to this, and they are enjoying their lives out there while we have to scrounge around now for a living.”
Some of the workers said they were recently hired after they were offered lucrative packages at the peak of the crisis at the SME Bank since the institution needed their expertise when most of the Zimbabweans were booted out.
They said, had they known what was in store for them, they would not have accepted the offers since they had left prominent institutions that were never going to close shop in such a manner.
 “I bought a car three months ago on credit and now I do not know how I will pay back that money going forward. My other colleague, also not from Windhoek, took a housing loan just over five months ago and we are here now. We do not know what the way forward is since we were of the thinking that GRN was empowering us,” one of the workers said.
“We left our former jobs for greener pastures and it will be difficult for us to go back there now since all of us employees of the SME Bank are now linked to the fraudulent activities that happened here following the looting of these funds.
“So, we are unemployable now and we do not know where we will end up. Some of us are renting and we will end up having to relocate to cheaper and smaller places due to this, as we will not be able to continue without any income.”
The employees felt some relief when the Namibian Financial Institutions Union (NAFINU) said it would engage the services of a lawyer, as they had not been consulted by the appointed liquidators on the process they had taken.
NAFINU General Secretary, Asnath Zamuee, said in an interview that they were surprised by the termination of services and the packages offered to the bank’s workers.
“Firstly, we are going to appoint a lawyer who is going to advice on this issue and then we take it from there. The liquidators never consulted us on this matter and we are even surprised that they just went to the employees and served them with letters of termination of employment without even considering any other alternative for their welfare going forward.
“They only received the letters today (Thursday) and that is why we are gathered here now to map a way forward regarding this issue. So, we will definitely try to make contact and engage them on the way forward, but for now appointing a lawyer is our main concern.
“I can guarantee you that it is not going to be a walk in the park for them if they think this move was that easy for them.
“Honestly, we feel that they are putting the cart before the horse because they needed to consult us first and arrive at a fair outcome regarding this matter, as it is not just about clearing out the mess, but there are people’s live to consider also,” Zamuee said.


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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