A number of business owners who are members of the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) northern branch are threatening to leave the branch and start their own organisation to serve the same purpose after they have “lost confidence” in NCCI.
In addition to these threats, branches in other parts of the country are saying that the NCCI head office is not carrying out its mandate and has totally diverted from its purpose of serving the country’s business sector.
The Patriot spoke to Northern based businessmen who said that recent dealings at the institution and comments made by the NCCI president Sven Thieme, to not recognise the northern branch as a legal body, has cast doubt on whether the organisation truly exists for their benefit.
They are of the opinion that the NCCI is attempting to cripple business development in the north and is not beneficial to them.
Owner of Vendeb Group of Companies Ben Haupindi, who owns a number of catering entities, bakeries and mini markets said that Thieme needs to retract his statement regarding the legality of the northern branch.
He said that the branch has been assisting them as northern business people perfectly and he does not see how they have now become illegal.
“I do not remember Thieme doing anything for us here in the north so he must let us deal with our branch,” Haupindi said.
Businessman Gerson Okawu accused Thieme of making political statements.
He said that “politicians are starting to forget their job and now want to start doing our job for us,” Okawu said.
Another businessman Shaanika Mathew Shikongo said that he wants the NCCI head office to explain to him how the branch has become illegal if they [headquarters] have been receiving the contributions from the northern chamber.
“I think that he does not know what to tell the nation,” Shikongo said.
Veikko Haimbodi, a businessman registered with the northern branch said that “there is a group of people with NCCI that are benefiting at the expense of business people.”
NCCI northern branch head, Thomas Indji, refuted the claims by Thieme that his branch is illegal.
“It is surprising that the NCCI president only realised after his term expired, that the NCCI northern branch is illegal.”
Referring to Thieme as the former president of the NCCI, Indji said that he (Thieme) is not aware of the historical realities behind the establishment of the NCCI.
“The president of NCCI needs to be reminded that the NCCI commits itself to advocate for an atmosphere in which we can do business, gain business and share business,” he added.
“… You better concentrate on the issues that advance the interests of the Namibian business community rather than minor issues that are not worthy of your status in Namibian society,” Indji said.
Thieme told The Patriot that the northern branch was not properly constituted and that is why he called them illegal. Answering questions as to why he is still in office despite his term coming to an end around eight months ago, Thieme said that because the chamber has not hosted an annual general meeting for the past two years, he was asked to stay on as president until the next AGM is held and new leadership is elected.
Thieme said that he was brought in to clean up the NCCI and those who are complaining about the NCCI headquarters and questioning their efforts to “clean up” the institution, are most probably the very ones who will be charged for fraud.
“I just came in to clean up the NCCI. It was in a terrible state,” Thieme said.
He added that once the new leadership is elected, he is willing to stay on for some time to assist the new president in tackling the issues faced by the chamber.
Branch leaders not happy
Charity Mwiya, in her capacity as NCCI Acting Chief Executive Officer in a letter dated 26 March 2019 made submissions to the NCCI board recommending the freezing of the bank accounts of the Otjiwarongo, Tsumeb and Swakopmund branches.
The recommendation, the letter states, is to allow for investigations into SME grant funding at Tsumeb, for pressing charges against the Otjiwarongo branch chairperson for alleged fraudulent activities as well as for investigations at the Swakopmund branch.
Mwiya also asked the board to consider giving the NCCI president authority to approve bank accounts being opened for the branches.
This request comes after one of the branches opened a bank account with a bank whom they had secured an annual sponsorship with.
Chairperson of the Otjiwarongo branch Eddy Kgobetsi said that the branch holds a Bank Windhoek account, but they decided to open an account with the First National Bank because they sourced an annual sponsorship of N$20 000 from FNB.
“It made sense that we bank with them because they are sponsoring us. At the same time, we did not close the other account,” Kgobetsi clarified.
He added that his branch had on occasion invited the head office to go through their books to see that their financials are in order.
Chairperson of the NCCI Walvis Bay branch Johnny Johnson Doeseb said that he does not understand why the NCCI head office is calling the northern district illegal, because he does not see anything wrong with the different towns creating a conglomerate that works in the best interests of its business people.
He also said that the head office wants to close the branches’ accounts so that they can centralise the operations and have direct access to the funds collected by the branches.
“What is wrong with that, if they found a way to better make use of their resources and it works? They are well within their mandate,” he said.
Walvis Bay wants answers
Doeseb said that NCCI has failed the business community and the Namibian community that it is supposed to serve.
The chairperson said his branch is still waiting for a response to a letter he wrote to the Minister of Finance Calle Schlettwein where they complained about maladministration at NCCI.
“We have been waiting for a response for six months now. They must answer our letter so that they can tell the nation who is lying to whom,” Doeseb said.
In the letter, Doeseb told the minister that they have on occasions requested for insight on how funds at the chamber – including grants from government and membership fees – are disbursed in the best interest of the NCCI.
These requests, Doeseb wrote, fell on deaf ears. He in the letter also wrote that despite employees’ income tax being deducted, Pay As You Earn records showed that the NCCI head office owes the taxman N$2,6 million and Value Added Tax records show that they owe more than N$1,8 million.
He accused the head office of being the main reason behind the “mess” that the chamber finds itself in. Doeseb told The Patriot that while the NCCI was supposed to be the mouthpiece of businesses and create a blueprint for government on how to stimulate the economy of all sectors, they have in the past years done the direct opposite.
He added that a lack of leadership and proper corporate governance is at the centre of NCCI failing to carry out its mandate.
He said that they have not had an annual general meeting for the past two years and wants to know from the head office what budget they are operating from if no budget was ever approved.
He accused the NCCI of trying to micro-manage the finances of all the NCCI branches and also trying to centralise the operations of the NCCI.
“How can they want to centralise the operations if those who are supposed to serve the members are in the regions and therefore on the ground, knowing what the challenges are and what the members need?” he asked.
Doeseb said that in its current state, the chamber would be insolvent without the balance sheet of the Walvis Bay Chamber.
He boasted that the Walvis Branch is the only one with a clean balance sheet, money in the bank, million dollar investments and property.
“Head office asked us for an advance payment of N$1,5 million in December 2017. We refused to give them this, they still owe us N$200 000 from a loan they took from us in 2014. Our members are very happy with our decision to invest that money in something else locally,” Doeseb said.
The branch chairperson further accused the central leadership of not leading by example when it comes to corporate governance and compliance.
He questioned why the Chief Executive Officer position was not advertised.
“Why was the nation not given an opportunity to apply for the position, why did the company secretary not advise the council that the position be advertised? How do we know that there is really no other competent Namibian for that position,” he asked.
He also frustratingly asked how the NCCI expects Small and Medium Enterprises to be compliant if they themselves cannot even comply by paying their income tax.
While members of the northern branch threatened to pull out of the NCCI and start their own organisation, The Patriot understands that there are some corporates that have paid their contribution for the year and then opted out of the chamber.
The exit, sources within the chamber say, was as a result of the alleged corporate governance “mess” going on the chamber.
The NCCI Acting Chief Executive Officer Charity Mwiya could not be reached for comment by the time of going to print.