…over information leakages
• MD’s leave bonanza unlawful: Legal expert
• Same legal firm paid N$3.7m in three years for consultations
Namibia Wildlife Resorts(NWR) boss Zelna Hengari, who stands accused of violating the nation’s labor laws after being paid over N$198 000 for accumulated leave pay while still working for the company, clamped down on the company’s management saying she will use all avenues to expose those leaking company information to the media.
A host of newly leaked memos and documents, which some NWR executives confirmed to The Patriot as being authentic, reportedly show that the public tourism company has been involved in several questionable deals and transactions that has threatened the stability of the company.
Some executives also warned, internally, that NWR use of the “2008 turnaround strategy” to secure deals was open to violating public procurement rules – a position it has allegedly ignored, and actively worked to tip-toe around as it continued to sign lucrative deals with firms.
Hengari is seemingly unimpressed with her Exco team after The Patriot exposed the dubious pay out for her leave days as well as joint venture agreement between NWR and Sun Karros. Further leaks reveal how NWR paid almost N$4 million between 2014 and 2017 to a local law firm for disciplinary matters, despite having a fully-fledged human resource department.
“Dear Exco members, I want to know who is behind these leakages and I want to know very soon. Few people had access to this information and I will get to the bottom of this finally. I will use all available laws to expose the culprits-it is about time I do this,” said Hengari in an email sent to NWR’s Exco members.
The Patriot last week through a series of leaked documents revealed that NWR had paid Hengari as much as N$198 000 for leave days despite never having left the company.
Although the board had initially claimed not to have known about the pay out, investigations by The Patriot at the time found that the payment was done with board approval, while other staffers had to go on long leave, in some cases as long as five months.
At a board meeting in February 2018, the board approved the pay out because: “It was unrealistic for the Managing Director to take long leave.”A legal expert confirmed that the Labour Act prohibits the payment of money in exchange of leave days, even if the employee requests it.
According to Board minutes on the matter, NWR discussed the matter and determined that since the leaves days were accumulated when Hengari was a company secretary, it was paid out to her as she is now the MD of the company. Before her appointment as acting MD in 2013 and later substantive MD in 2014, Hengari served as company secretary from 2007. The company secretary position at NWR is a permanent job, not on contract basis. “The fact that the company secretary position is permanent makes it worse because it means there was no contract that had expired for her to claim that money because she never parted with the company,” explained a legal expert.
The legal expert commented that Hengari remained an employee of the company, with only her job designation and description changing.
“The Labour Act does not make a distinction between different employees – all are employees and her contract of employment as an employee of NWR was never terminated. Therefore the payment was unlawful and it has to be paid back to the company,” said the expert who chose to speak under anonymity.
Although NWR board chair Ambassador Leonard Iipumbu last week said the board was not aware of the payment, board minutes seen by The Patriot clearly indicate that on 19 February 2018, the board approved the pay out of Hengari’s leave days accumulated prior to her current position as MD.
Considering the austerity measures that the government is continually implementing, it remains to be seen if the Minister of Finance and Minister of Public Enterprises will act in the matter in the same way as they did with Business and Intellectual Property Authority (BIPA) which bought a property valued at N$4 million for N$18 million. Government investigators are currently in hot pursuit of the cash. Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta is scheduled to have a meeting, together with finance minister Calle Schlettwein and public enterprises minister Leon Jooste to discuss the recent developments at NWR.
Mass legal fees
Doubts have also been cast on the capacity of NWR’s human resource department and the manner in which internal disciplinary matters are handled. Between 18 June 2014 and 14 November 2017, NWR paid N$3.7 million in legal fees to Tjitemisa and Associates law firm for consultations.
The lowest amount paid for a single consultation was N$45 on 11 November 2015 while the highest was N$193 811 on 14 June 2016.
NWR explains itself
In a press statement issued this week, NWR’s spokesman Mufaro Nesongano justified Hengari’s payment.
However the statement did not explain why Hengari only sought to request the payment for leave days four years after her appointment as MD. Hengari, worked at NWR for close to a decade as a company secretary until she was appointed as managing director in 2014. Nesongano said she had to resign from her previous position as a company secretary and sign a new five-year performance-based contract with the board as managing director (this applies to all affected staff members whose contract of employment comes to an end).
“The board, therefore, and in accordance with legal advice received, paid her outstanding leave days which accrued and were due to her in terms of her old permanent employment contract as company secretary,” said Nesongano.
In a response to the claims regarding the “doctoring” of minutes, Mrs Hengari became acting managing director in February 2013 and from that time onwards, she had nothing to do with board minutes as Hilma lita was the board acting secretary.”
Furthermore, Nesongano said, at the point of the current board takeover, there were no signed minutes nor a handover report to date.
The company also gave an overview of some controversial joint venture (JV) agreements it had entered into in recent months, especially with the Swapo-linked Sun Karros.
Nesongano said the suggestion that its selection of its partner, Sun Karros, is because of political connections or purported links with the Minister of Environment and Tourism, Honourable Pohamba Shifeta, such is devoid of truth.
According to Nesongano, the partnership between Sun Karros and NWR precedes the tenure of the current Minister of Environment and Tourism. He said it was during the tenure of previous Ministers of Environment and Tourism Willem Konjore deputised by Honourable Leon Jooste and Dr Malan Lindeque as the permanent secretary and an NWR board member by virtue of his position when the NWR Turnaround Strategy was submitted to Cabinet for consideration and resulted in the Cabinet decision that affirmed NWR’s need and right to partner with the private sector. Nesongano failed to provide details to substantiate his claims.