• For alleged forged qualifications and S&T abuse
• Close links to legal firm will also be probed
• Hengari welcomes probe, says “claims are malicious”
Namibia Wildlife Resort’s board is in the process of roping in a private firm to probe the company’s head Zelna Hengari for suspected forged qualifications, abuse of subsistence and travel money and her alleged scheme to milk the company through lawyers, The Patriot can reveal.
The board’s resolve to probe the MD follows a series of articles published by The Patriot which exposed several alleged management lapses at the company under Hengari’s watch.
The board has however been at odds over how to deal with corruption allegations against Hengari.
The decision to probe Hengari taken at a board meeting held on 29 August 2018, is the first decisive action taken by government to rein in Hengari, who is tasked to steer government’s interests in the multimillion dollar tourism sector.
Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta on 20 August 2018 wrote to the board and tasked it to investigate claims against Hengari.
“The letter received was discussed during our board meeting that was held on the 29th August 2018 and collectively agreed that the Board members should not directly conduct the investigation. It was then moved that an independent external company be appointed to investigate and report on the matter,” reads a letter authored by the deputy board chairperson Janet Wilson-Moore to Shifeta on 3 September 2018.
Wilson-Moore and board member Rudie Putter have been tasked to initiate the process and to get a written quotation from the service provider where after they will be appointed to start the investigation.
The decision to probe Hengari came after a lengthy meeting between board members who took the decision in the absence of board chairperson Ambassador Leonard Iipumbu, as he was out of the country on official duty.
Iipumbu has been accused of being sympathetic towards Hengari in the past.
According to the letter, Iipumbu agreed with the decision to probe Hengari.
Iipumbu could not be reached for comment yesterday as his mobile phone was off.
When approached for comment, Hengari said she has not been made aware of the decision to rope in an external firm to investigate her, adding that she welcomes any investigation as she has nothing to hide.
Asked whether she thinks the allegations made against her are an attempt to cast her in bad light, Hengari retorted that the allegations against her are malicious and that they are made anonymously because they are not true but rather defamatory.
She also spoke about the tedious process of turning the company around to put it on equal footing with private tourism entities.
“Turning around the fortunes of NWR as we have evidently done is a team effort.
I merely have the privilege to lead and we are focused on the future and won’t be side-tracked by investigations based on unfounded allegations. Recently, we had a very successful AGM where we reported to the shareholder on the considerable progress we are making.
Our Business Plan and Budget was approved there and the focus now at NWR is on implementation,” she said.
While the board will report to Shifeta regarding the outcome of the probe, a board source said the board wants the probe to be completed in a reasonable timeframe to see if the allegations against Hengari hold any truth.
With the terms of the investigation having been set out, there are mixed feelings over whether Hengari should be suspended for the duration of the suspension.
With tensions running high between the board members and no unanimity on the matter, there is no indication yet whether Hengari will be suspended or not.
It is a common trend amongst most state owned enterprises whereby CEOs who are under investigation are suspended to ensure that investigations are done smoothly and without undue interference.
While one view is that there is no evidence on which to base a suspension, and that she only faces allegations, others argue it is normal for an individual who are subject to a forensic probe to be suspended or at least be placed on special leave.
“I am surprised that the CEO has not been suspended, this smacks of favouratism and protection of a person who might be on the wrong side of the law once the investigation commences,” said a governance expert who chose not to be named.
The Patriot asked the Minister of Public Enterprises Leon Jooste whether it is compulsory for boards to suspend CEOs being probed for alleged offences committed at their respective entities.
“Not at all. In fact, we’re trying our best to stop that practice entirely. There’s very seldom solid reason to suspend a person in order to conduct an investigation. Boards usually allege that the CEO will interfere but my point is that a person can then be charged if they do (interfere) and that would be a serious offense,” he explained.
Jooste said CEOs should be investigated and charge him/her according to the company policy and Labour Act as required. If corruption is found, it must be handed over to the ACC, he said.
Blowing the whistle
The forensic probe into Hengari will centre on allegations made during the course of the year by whistleblowers in NWR who claimed that Hengari got the job by using forged qualifications.
In the letter authored by staff members at the head office of NWR and its campsites, a request is made by “concerned employees” to Public Enterprises Minister Leon Jooste on 13 August 2018, where the group asked for Jooste to probe Hengari for allegedly holding forged qualifications, abuse of subsistence and travelling allowances and her alleged involvement in allowing NWR to rake up a legal bill of about N$4 million in less than three years.
“We the employees of NWR herewith submit our deepest concern with the status quo in the manner the Managing Director conduct herself to looting the company to its complete shutdown with impunity,” wrote the workers.
In a detailed response to articles published by The Patriot, she argued that the claims are a mere campaign to “tarnish my good image”.
In July this year Hengari, who is also said to have violated the country’s labour 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.
Hengari has in the past told The Patriot that all procedures regarding the pay-out for her leave days were followed.
“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 at the time.
Staff members also want answers on why NWR spent close to N$3.8 million on a single law firm between June 2014 and May 2018.
They claim most of the disciplinary hearings which were conducted by the Tjitemisa & Associates law firm, could have been conducted internally.
They further allege that between 13 January 2014 and 8 March 2018, Hengari, Martin Kantika(General Manager ICT) and Zandry Haimbodi(Chief Risk and Audit) and Elago Ipinge(Manager ICT) racked up an S&T bill of N$3.5 million.
Sources close to Hengari who spoke to this reporter at the time claim there is a witch-hunt against her while others claim there is a well-orchestrated internal campaign to sabotage Hengari’s efforts to grow the parastatal.