While the nation is distracted by the Hanse-Himarwa situation, something weird is quietly happening with Namibia Post and Telecom Holdings (NPTH). It has disbursed or plans to give out over N$300 million in the last few months to cover different state financial obligations.
Are NPTH’s profits, largely generated by MTC, now an open bank to finance government’s cash shortfalls? Is that board watching the store?
In July 2014, Cabinet voted to dissolve NPTH and redistribute its properties and liabilities. This was supposed to be done within two years (2015-2017). Here we are in 2019 and NPTH is still active and writing big cheques to government. Surely there are reasons the dissolution of NPTH has been delayed and those with more information on this issue understand this better and can inform the public.
NPTH was registered in 1992 in terms of the Post and Telecommunications Companies Establishment Act 1992 as the Holding Company for NamPost, Telecom and MTC. The latter is, of course, the goose that consistently lays the multi-million dollar profitable golden egg.
The highly talented Ally Angula who was a chairman of NPTH, resigned a couple of years ago due to interference in her board’s work by the line Ministry. ‘Someone’ wanted to run an N$1.1 billion infrastructure building deal involving NPTH money and Angula felt wasn’t in the best interest of the company. Angula did the right thing and took her skills elsewhere. But, the caution flag about who uses NPTH money has been raised.
Apparently, NPTH has been roped into the nightmare of the ‘in-limbo’ RCC by being ordered to pay N$100 million to purchase the building that the moribund roads SOE owns. This building is on the cusp of being confiscated by Bank Windhoek to cover an overdue N$105 million loan. By purchasing the building, the asset would be owned by another SOE (NPTH) and the wolf at the door (Bank Windhoek’s collection agency) would be paid off in full. Questions – what happens to this building when NPTH is dissolved? And, is buying that building in the interest of NPTH and its core businesses?
We can only assume proper approvals for this building ‘purchase’ have been obtained, as a recent ‘donation’ to drought relief of N$60 million was announced on a whim without approval from Treasury as the law requires.
The subsequent weak response by NPTH officials downplaying the lack of Treasury approval for their N$60 million ‘donation’, saying that such permission is a mere ‘administrative’ step, speaks volumes. Rules are only for the peons of the world, not the powerful.
What is happening with NPTH’s money sets a dangerous precedent. With alarms already being raised in the media about the use of GIPF’s billions for government priorities that may or may not be that board’s stated priorities, it is fair to say that the few commercial SOEs with positive bank balances should beware - people with power are lining up with forks and knives to carve up your earnings, regardless of the best interests of your SOE.
To make matters worse, it was reported that N$130,000 in S&Ts were provided from Bank NPTH for Information Minister Stanley Simataa’s trip to Russia last month. If this report is true, I can’t understand why a responsible NPTH board would allow it. The ICT Minister’s travel is his ministry’s problem, not the core business of NPTH.
There is no doubt that the drought is a major national emergency and funds must be properly sourced to help the people, but use of N$130,000 for one person’s travel ease and the purchase of a building owned by another SOE (on the heels of an interim dividend payment) raises questions.
Who is supervising the use of NPTH’s N$60 million ‘donated’ for drought relief? Due diligence obligations would require the board to be reasonably certain that money will be verifiably used for the purposes stated. Accountability statements from whichever government agency received those funds, should be an obligation. However, I suspect none of this is on the cards.
My cynical side wonders which tenderprenuer or business owned by previously advantaged Namibians will get their profit percentage of those funds as they purchase imported goods at inflated rates in order provide goods needed by our drought affected people.
I find it interesting that the president is starting his drought effect familiarization tour around the country nearly simultaneously with this hastily-done N$60 million ‘donation.’ Let us see how much money is handed out Father Christmas style to the various regional authorities for ‘drought relief’ (during this election year).
This is not to say that our people are not in need of drought relief – they are! Nevertheless, tainted cash, even if a portion of it is used to help others, is dangerous money. Monetary short cuts, once taken, open the door to clever people to do the same thing for their own purposes. Where does it stop and who is watching the bank balance? - Unchecked millions flying around have a habit of sticking to the palms of those who handle it.
Government coffers are bare and yet, major social service obligations are pressing. These are cold, hard realities and the temptation is to find a quick fix. However, there are huge downsides to using a commercial SOE’s healthy bank balance as a ‘fix-it’ slush fund. The NPTH board must close the bank and use whips to keep the power-people’s desperate hands off their profits or resign en masse in protest.