Tuesday 13 April 2021
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SME Bank expats under fire

…While Zim embassy claims expatriates did not willfully break Namibian laws


A frantic effort to keep 24 Zimbabwean expatriate workers who worked at the trouble-ridden SME Bank in the country is underway, with the resident Zimbabwean Embassy claiming the expats ‘did not willfully disregard the country’s laws.’
The group were informed by Namibian immigration authorities last week Wednesday that they have 48-hours to leave the country after their applications for new work permits were rejected. Their permits expired a week ago.
This has seemingly resulted in a diplomatic rebellion after the Embassy of Zimbabwe in Namibia wrote to the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation appealing for the expatriates to be accorded more time to sort out their things in the country.
In a letter dated 30 March 2017, seen by The Patriot, the Embassy appealed “that the expatriates be given more time to wrap up and leave the country. The mission also defended the record of the expatriates saying “they have not willfully disregarded the country’s laws”.
“The Embassy of the Republic of Zimbabwe presents its compliments to the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic and has the honor to inform that it has been brought to the attention of the Embassy that there are 24 Zimbabwean SME Bank expatriate employees who were unfortunately only informed in the afternoon of yesterday 29 March 2017, to leave Namibia after the rejection of their application for renewal of work permits that are expiring on 31 March 2017,” reads the letter.
It further reads: “It is against this background that the Embassy is urgently appealing on humanitarian grounds that the expatriates be granted ample time to wrap up and leave the country.”
“Due processes need to be followed in the termination of their contracts and time requested will ensure a smooth transition. It should be underscored that the Zimbabwean expatriates have not willfully disregarded the country’s laws as they are serving at the SME Bank under the auspices of the Management Agreement,” concluded the letter.
According to the Embassy, due diligence and administrative procedures should be followed to terminate their[expatriates] employment contracts.
The Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration’s permanent secretary Patrick Nandago yesterday indicated that his ministry has no knowledge of the letter.

“Diplomatic missions normally deal with the international relations ministry, and if the letter you are referring to has been submitted to that Ministry than they are probably still in the process to bring it to us,” he said during a brief telephonic interview.
Zimbabwe’s Deputy Ambassador to Namibia Doreen Matemba yesterday refused to acknowledge or deny the existence of the letter when approached. Matemba was more interested to find out how this publication got its hands on the said letter.
“How did you get the letter you are referring to? We will never do such a thing[write such a letter]. That is government to government correspondences and the person who gave it to you has sinister motifs. I will not acknowledge its existence,” she said.
Efforts to get hold of the Minister  International Relations and Cooperation Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah proved futile as her mobile phone went unanswered. The letter comes at a time when the leadership of SME Bank and BoN are battling it out in court after the leadership approached the High Court seeking recourse after claiming that they were unfairly dismissed.
Last month BoN assumed control of the operations and affairs of SME Bank to allow for an objective and thorough assessment of the investment portfolio of the SME Bank to make a full determination of the soundness of the investments made.
The applicants(SME Bank CEO Tawanda Mumvuma and others) filed an urgent application comprising of Part A in terms of which interim relief pending the finalisation of Part B (main review application) is sought. Under Part B the applicants seek to have the decision of the first and second respondents taken on or about 24 February 2017 and announced on 1 March 2017 reviewed and set aside.
“We contend, in the main, that given the glaring and material illegalities committed by the first and second respondents and the resultant continuous, harmful, stigmatizing and invasive consequences thereof to the applicants, the public and the third respondent, interim relief sought pending the finalisation of review proceedings in due course is inevitable as a refusal thereof will necessarily perpetuate and, with respect, sanction a continuing illegality,” claimed the applicants.
Media reports suggest that former SME Bank board chair Frans Kapofi wrote a letter to the ministry of home affairs in 2014, saying “the declining of the majority of the SME Bank Zimbabwean expatriates’ work permit applications and current negative media publicity might be misconstrued as going against the very spirit of brotherhood between the two nations”.
Critics also accused the home affairs ministry of according work permits to individuals who take up jobs that can be taken carried out by Namibians. In this case, some of the 24 workers held positions at SME Bank such as finance manager, credit risk manager, accountant, information technology and company secretary among others. Bank of Namibia governor Ipumbu Shiimi reportedly asked the trade minister to consider budgeting anything between N$250 million and N$300 million as recapitalization of the SME Bank. Revelations of fund mismanagement at the SME Bank sparked an unprecedented public face-off between shareholders, especially when Bank of Namibia stepped in and placed the bank under curatorship.
It is not known how the SME Bank scandal will affect relations between Zimbabwe and Namibia, seeing that most of the top officials at the bank hail from Zimbabwe.
Since the revelation of the dubious transactions at SME Banks, Namibians have been up in arms with some claiming that taxpayers money is being used to benefit outsiders while locals are sidelined. The fight to keep the SME Bank expatriates in Namibia has a long way to go, because should the expatriates win the court case and get their jobs back, they would still have to cross the hurdle at the immigration offices. “If these funds are lost and not recoverable, the SME Bank will immediately become insolvent and will need recapitalisation by the shareholders for the bank to continue with its banking business. “In this regard, we would like to advice (sic) the Honourable Minister to consider including a contingency amount in the current budget in the rage of N$250 million to N$300 million to recapitalize the SME Bank if it becomes necessary,” a local weekly reported.
Cabinet last year resolved that the Development Bank of Namibia (DBN) must completely disengage from financing small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and concentrate on major infrastructural development projects and other big economic contributors.
The decision was taken to give both the SME Bank and the Development Bank of Namibia ample space to execute their mandates.
Inside information suggests that DBN’s SME portfolio was in the region of N$350 million. This money is yet to be transferred, and is likely to only move once SME Bank’s troubles are over.

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