Settling old scores and a bid to control the Namibian Students Financial Aid Fund seem to be the factors behind the alleged victimisation of the fund’s chief executive officer, Hilya Nghiwete. Details emerged this week about the badly-hidden feud between NSFAF board chair Patty Karuaihe-Martin and Nghiwete, but inside sources allege that plans to oust her are part of a bigger plot, which includes ministerial plans to introduce a quota system when it comes to allocating funds to universities. It is alleged that those who want Nghiwete out have been harassing and victimising her.
“I have endured the treatment for a long time and raised my concerns informally at various meetings and other platforms. I would fail in my duties should I not formally register my grievances,” she said in a complaint letter written to the Minister of Higher Education, Training and Innovation; finance minister, public enterprises minister and NSFAF board members last week. Her letter comes a few months after higher education minister, Dr Itah Kandjii-Murangi, said she is not aware of a rift between Karuaihe-Martin and Nghiwete. In the letter, Nghiwete further continued: “The chairperson of the board informed me on one occasion that she needs to assist me in building a good relationship with the Ministry of Higher Education, Training Innovation. I inquired from her why she concluded that I do not have a good relationship with the line ministry. She informed me that the permanent secretary has so much hatred towards me.”
Nghiwete further alleged that she noticed in meetings that the permanent secretary raises his voice when talking to her and points fingers at her, adding that: “At one point the honorable minister stopped him and told him that we cannot speak while pointing fingers to people.” She said she approached Van Kent last year to clear the air, but to her surprise, he said he had no issue with her but rather with former education minister, Dr David Namwandi. “Why that had to affect our professional relationship was not made known to me,” she said. Although with little evidence, Van Kent has long been accused of leading a crusade to frustrate Nghiwete, who is known to have been close to Namwandi during his time as minister, after Namwandi allegedly refused to appoint Van Kent as the National Commission on Research, Science and Technology (NCRST) top job in the past. The PS laughed off the allegation.
“He served as the director for research, science and technology in the ministry. Because of that he thought he would automatically get the CEO position when NCRST was established, but sadly for him Dr Mvula got the position. This is why you are seeing these acts of intimidation going on,” said another source who is privy to the appointment of the NCRST boss. Nghiwete also indicated that she is yet to sign her performance agreement. “We set a meeting to discuss the agreement, but the meetings are cancelled at the last minute. I have forwarded documents to her, but these are not attended to. The performance agreement was sometimes forwarded to the chairperson of the Human Resource Committee with no proper briefing as to what should be done. It is draining to go through such a chase for something that is supposed to go smoothly, especially when one has already discussed it in detail and all inputs and improvements have been incorporated,” she lamented. The NSFAF CEO also alleged in the letter that she has established that there are plans to get rid of her.
“On Tuesday, 11 October 2016 a source informed me that the Chairperson of the Board had a discussion with somebody to whom she revealed that she is under serious pressure from the Minister of Higher Education, Training and Innovation to see to it that the CEO is fired at all costs. Apparently, the minister got the information from the company secretary. Based on the above, it is now clear that there is an agenda, as I was always looking forward to a moment where there is a cordial relationship between myself and in particular with the board chairperson,” she said. She said the bad-blood between herself and the board chairperson has been going on for the past two years.
In email exchanges between Nghiwete and Karuaihe-Martin, the CEO indicated on 31 March 2016 that she wants to engage the PS to ask him about comments he allegedly made regarding the changing political landscape in the country and other NSFAF operational matters. In her response the following day, Karuaihe-Martin said: “Hilya regarding your comments on our PS, Dr Van Kent, I reserve my rights and will not be drawn in your personal matter you have with anybody. I remain committed to focus my positive energy on the NSFAF mandate and its very important objectives.” Approached for comment, a perplexed Van Kent said he cannot recall having a fallout with Nghiwete. All the issues that are cited have to do with the board, he said, we are just mentioned on the side as a ministry.
“We are in the process of handing NSFAF over to the finance ministry as per the Cabinet directive so these things need closure. We are willing to work with the board and we had several meetings to mediate between the board chair and the CEO, so to us this comes as a surprise because we thought the issues were resolved.
The minister even instructed the board to look into the grievances that were filed. “As a ministry, all we can do is give directives to the board, because as soon as we interfere then we are overstepping our boundaries,” he said.