Daggers were already drawn for embattled Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) Chief Executive Officer, Hilya Nghiwete, long before her suspension last week, the Windhoek Observer can reveal.
Nghiwete was suspended by the NSFAF board led by Development Bank of Namibia Senior Communications Manager, Jerome Mutumba, on Monday last week, pending the outcome of an investigation, amid allegations of maladministration or administrative corruption, among other misconducts.
A July 2017 letter in possession of the Windhoek Observer shows the Minister of Public Enterprises, Leon Jooste and the Minister of Higher Education, Training and Innovation, Dr Itah Kandjii-Murangi, agreed to seek a legal opinion from then Attorney General, Sackeus Shanghala, on how to go terminate Nghiwete’s contract, citing her “inability to lead this important institution.”
“The outcome of the report (from a special investigation carried out in 2017 into the affairs of NSFAF) was presented to myself and the Honorable Minister of Higher Education, Training and Innovation at a meeting attended by officials from both ministries and consensus was duly reached that the CEO (Nghiwete) will have to be replaced in the best interest of the institution,” the letter signed by Jooste read.
The proposal, which according to sources, Shanghala advised against, could have cost the already struggling fund millions as part of a settlement agreement.
This week, Jooste said the purpose of the letter to Shanghala was to request a legal opinion based on the fact that the Chief Executive Officer did not have an employment contract at the time.
“We requested clarity on potential legal implications if the CEO was to be dismissed at the time,” he said.
The minister said he concurred with the latest request from the Minister of Higher Education to have the CEO suspended to allow for an unhindered investigation process.
Quizzed on why he had allowed Nghiwete’s suspension last week, despite previously warning SOE boards against suspending executives, Jooste said, “The situation at NSFAF has become unbearable and embarrassing for us with unnecessary consequences for the recipients of the funds (the students).
“When there are allegations of a serious nature and grounds for suspension, we have to consider duly. The situation must be arrested immediately while adhering to all internal HR policies and the provisions of the Labour Act.”
Sources said this week that the latest developments have dimmed any chances that Nghiwete might have had of returning as head of the fund, amid concerns that the planned “independent” investigation by the NSFAF board would largely be influenced by government’s position.
According to The Namibian, Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila had also joined the fray by instructing the then Attorney General, to advise Jooste on how to fire the Patty Karuaihe-Martin-led board and replace it with a new board, which would then deal with Nghiwete, who had claimed victimisation.
Nghiwete’s suspension has also created a management crisis at the fund after the surprise appointment of Kennedy Kandume, a Senior Operations Manager as acting chief executive officer.
Sources say the Mutumba-led board had curiously overlooked other senior executives, including current Chief Operations Officer (COO) and former National Commission on Research, Science and Technology (NCRST) Chief Executive Officer, Dr Eino Mvula.
Kandume previously reported to Mvula before his elevation and now the COO will have to report to him.
His appointment is said to have left a sour taste in the mouth of other NSFAF executive members, who were all overlooked for the position despite their senior roles.
Questions are also being asked why the Mutumba-led board had settled for Kandume, who oversaw the awarding of loans and grants in his previous role as acting COO, an area the chairperson has previously expressed his displeasure on as students around the country have struggled to receive their grants and secure funding over the years.
Mutumba and Kandume are former colleagues at the Bank of Namibia.
The NSFAF chairperson justified Kandume’s appointment, saying, “We need to appreciate that decision making takes into consideration a number factors and variables. The board should be given the benefit of the doubt on how they arrived at that decision.”
In a new twist to her suspension, Nghiwete, through her lawyer Sisa Namandje wrote to Mutumba, threatening to sue if she was not reinstated among other demands, which included that Company Secretary, Wise Immanuel's disciplinary committee findings, should be brought back.
Immanuel was found guilty of gross negligence after failing to submit a performance report, as well as board minutes.
Nghiwete also accused the fund’s board of victimising her, interfering in operational and administrative matters of the organisation.