The journey of now suspended Managing Director of the Namibia Wildlife Resort, Zelna Hengari, has been marred with controversy around the authenticity of her qualifications, her leadership abilities and alleged incidents of her making unauthorised million dollar decisions.
Individuals who described themselves as previously being friends of Hengari said that having known her from as far back as 2007, Hengari’s rise up the corporate ladder was “just very questionable”.
“She was hired by the then Managing Director Tobie Aupindi as the camp manager at Halali, [one of NWR’s camps in the Etosha National Park] in early 2007,” a former colleague said.
The colleague who claims to know her very well said that Hengari was moved from Halali to the head office, within three months.
The former colleague added that someone had to replace her at the camp, so that they can “clean up the mess she managed to cause during the short three months there”.
“Her capability to occupy that position had always been questionable to many of us who know her,” the source said.
Though former colleagues continued to question her academic qualifications, the University of Namibia confirmed the authenticity of the qualification to The Patriot saying Hengari registered for the Master of Laws (Economic Law) (16MLEC) programme between 2002 and 2005.
Her other qualifications, according to her CV also include a professional training in quality management, which she, according to the certificate dates obtained from 1 July 2004 to 30 June 2005 in Germany.
The same former colleagues stated that suspicions regarding her papers were also fuelled by evidence available on her German Language Quality Management Certificate stating that it was issued to her in Bonn, Germany on 16 June 2005 while the official translation to English of the same certificate indicates that it was issued 20 June 2004. This qualification was questioned because the issue date was reportedly before she started her actual training.
Despite the questions around her qualifications and concerns by her then colleagues, Hengari was appointed as the Managing Director in the middle of 2014 after she was acting in the position since February 2013. Hengari was appointed as the Company Secretary in 2007, a position she held for almost a decade until 2014 when she was appointed as MD.
In July 2015, exactly a few days shy of a year since she was appointed, Hengari was quoted in the media saying she was yet to receive and sign her employment contract and performance agreement for the MD position Hengari became a regular name in the media for the contributions she made to increase the parastatal’s profitability, but mostly for controversial matters such as allegations of maladministration as well as NWR employees complaining about the way she leads them and runs the organisation.
The Patriot last year reported that the NWR claimed to not be aware that Hengari received a N$ 198 033.48 payout for leave days she did not take. The payout raised further questions because the now suspended MD reportedly approved her own payout without prove that it received Board approval.
She was also criticised over the leave-day payout, because she directed employees in 2017, who had more than 60 leave days, to take leave days. She again landed in hot water when an August meeting last year decided to probe her for not only the age-old allegation of forged qualification but also allegations on S&T and an alleged scheme to milk the company through lawyers.
The Patriot reported last year that The Board’s decision to probe the MD comes after a series of articles published by The Patriot which exposed several alleged management lapses at the company under Hengari’s watch.
The Board was believed to be at odds over how to deal with the allegations against Zelna and that the probe was the the first decisive action taken by government to rein in Hengari who was tasked to run the million-dollar parastatal.
The probe followed a letter by Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta on 20 August 2018, tasking the Board to investigate Hengari.
The Patriot again reported that Hengari ignored the concerns of cabinet ministers Calle Schlettwein and Shifeta who expressed concern over a joint venture agreement between NWR Sun Karros.
Schlettwein in 2015 warned that NWR’s plan to enter into a joint venture with Sun Karros could adversely affect its balance sheet because it poses potential conflict or competition to NWR managed facilities. Sun Karros seems to not have been the first he-said-she-said dilemma between the Board and Hengari, as she reportedly also claimed that the board had authorised her payout while the NWR Board Chairperson, Leonard Iipumbu stated that he carried no knowledge regarding the approved leave-day payout.
Golden pot of suspensions
The past decade has seen the suspension of a number of parastatal and municipality Chief Executive Officers that in a number of cases resulted in government having to fork out millions to settle with golden handshakes.
Minister of Public Enterprises, Leon Jooste told The Patriot that many of the suspensions may have been done un-procedurally and therefore resulting in prolonged disciplinary processes and the failure to conclude successfully.
“I suspect that some Boards have also used suspensions as a punitive measure rather than the intended purpose which is to remove the person to allow for smooth investigations,” Jooste said.
Asked whether the suspension of Hengari will be a repeat of history, Jooste said that while he initially turned down the board’s request to suspend her, he, upon receiving more details from the Board, he and Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta had little choice but to agree to the request.
“The suspended person may want to negotiate an early exit if he or she chooses to do so and this is left to the Board to negotiate on and to agree to. Such an agreed settlement will usually entail a financial component in line with the provisions of the Labour Act,” Jooste said.
Jooste said that his concern is always to put the interest of the entity before that of the individual.
“I will always want to see that these cases are concluded as soon as practical.
Having said that, we have observed calculated delaying tactics being implemented by CEOs in certain cases resulting in unacceptable prolonged disciplinary processes,” Jooste added. She was suspended with full pay. NWR’s Strategy and Projects Chief Officer Matthias Ngwangwama has been appointed as the acting managing director.