Thursday 15 April 2021
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Developments at the SME Bank and implications on corporate governance and interstate relations

The purpose of this article is to reflect on the recent developments at the SME Bank with the expectation that Namibia might learn future lessons from the current developments. It is generally accepted that knowledge societies invest resources in foresight and in describing, analysing and predicting the future with the view to prepare for it. Application of knowledge that we acquire through formal, non-formal and informal learning becomes essential in managing the affairs of a modern state. I am aware that the case regarding the disempowerment of the previous SME Bank Board of Directors is before court.

I am also conscious of the doctrine of presumption of innocent until proven guilty by a competent court of law. This does not prevent Namibians from reflecting on the developments at the Bank. The objective being to manage future cases in an intelligent manner. It is common knowledge by now that the Bank of Namibia has assumed control of the entire property, business and affairs of the SME Bank. The previous Board have been disempowered. The Bank has subsequently appointed new Board of Directors to conduct the business and affairs of the SME Bank. The explanation for this unprecedented action according to the media release by the Bank of Namibia dated 01 March 2017 was lack of conformity to sound investment principles and potential risk to the stability of the SME Bank. According to media reports, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration has also notified some Zimbabwean nationals who were employed at the SME Bank to leave Namibia within 48 hours. The media has further reported that the Embassy of the Republic of Zimbabwe to the Republic of Namibia has communicated to the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation through diplomatic channels pleading that Namibia gives the Zimbabwean nationals sufficient time to leave the country.

It was also reported in the media that the Embassy has requested the Namibian authorities to treat the nationals in a humane manner, as they did not find themselves in Namibia on their own accord, but through legal processes. I am of the considered view that the non-renewal of the work visas and subsequent 48 notices to leave the country were done in bad faith. It has implications on interstate relations notwithstanding any explanation that Namibia might offer. On which grounds did the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration issue the work visas in the first instance and when did the Ministry realize that they do not possess the required skills? The background context on the developments at the SME Bank poses fundamental questions regarding corporate governance and management of interstate relations against the backdrop of pursuance of good neighbourliness as a foreign policy objective. The first question to ask is how did we arrive at this stage despite various media reports that have suggested that all is not well at the SME Bank?
Where was the oversight of parliament over the executive on this matter? How could the legislative and executive organs of state allow wastage of public resource intended to give hope to the needy? Secondly, was the establishment of the SME Bank based on solid statutory instruments to guide its legal, financial, human and other banking operations? If yes, why were they not applied to manage potential risks?

Thirdly, was the appointed Namibian Board of Directors both previous and the disempowered ones the best that the country offers, and therefore, were appointed on merit taking into account relevant professional qualifications, experiences and personal integrity to give effect to the object establishing the Bank? These fundamental questions suggest that Namibia should have handled the issues intelligently to avoid being reactive as it has become the norm. One lesson that we should learn from this saga is the need to appoint future boards solely on merit and understanding of fiduciary responsibilities and not on patronage and political expediency.

The second lesson is the need to embrace and promote ethical and moral leadership in all spheres of life in Namibia. We will not succeed in the fight against corruption, dishonesty, greedy and self-centredness, if the fight is not morally and ethically grounded.
The third lesson is that Namibia needs to build strong institutions manned by professional bureaucrats. The notion that the country has already strong institutions and competent professionals, hence the justification to withdraw from the ICC is a fallacy. The long-term consequence of the developments at the SME Bank is that its moral standing and reason for existence have been completely compromised. The Bank according to its mission statement was established by the Government of Namibia “to provide superior, well designed, targeted banking products and services to small, medium, micro and informal enterprises that will enable them to start, grow, compete and prosper in a global setting.” Namibia will continue to be embarrassed both nationally and internationally, if we do not manage the affairs of a modern state based on the dictates of knowledge application and a coherent manner.

The right hand should know what the left hand is doing. Patronage and political expediencies is recipe for disasters. They create opportunities for others to regard and treat us as ill-informed due to our inabilities to engage intelligently and advance our national interests beyond narrow political party considerations.

*Dr. Marius Kudumo is the Director of International Relations at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. His areas of expertise are Public Policy, Governance and International Relations.

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