By Megameno Shikwambi
The leadership of the beleaguered national airline, Air Namibia, is caught in a brewing storm following allegations that the executive management team deducted and had allegedly misappropriated pilots’ pensions and tax contributions without their consent.
While the company’s financial woes are now public knowledge, a source close to Air Namibia’s affairs has disclosed that Air Namibia is deep in arrears with payments to most service providers like Hilton Hotels in Europe.
Air Namibia’s crew reportedly got evicted from Hilton where there is an outstanding bill of 500 000 Euros.
For this reason, it is suspected that the airline has gone after the pilots’ tax contributions and pension to make up for other payments.
In a letter by legal firm Ellis & Partners, the minister of works and transport, John Mutorwa is informed that their “members are deeply concerned about any amounts indicated above which remain outstanding and unpaid.”
In two separate letters, one written on 8 July 2019 and another on 22 July 2019, deep concern is expressed due to the fact that Air Namibia has neglected to transfer the monthly pension fund deductions to Alexander Forbes.
In terms of international law, there is a requirement that pilots operating across international borders must be adequately insured.
“From an EASA, ICAO and European Union (EU) regulatory perspective, pilots may not operate in international airspace if not adequately insured. This has implications for both the airline and the government under whose bilateral air services agreement its registered aircraft operates,” revealed a source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, legal practitioners for the Namibia Airline Pilots Association (NAPA) are said to be alluding to criminal conduct on the part of the executive committee. “You will certainly, Honourable Minister, appreciate that the legal implications for an agent who receives money from its principle, for payment to a third party, but then uses that money for its own purposes, has criminal implications for the agent,” read the Ellis & Partners letter in part.
The association represents in this case, more than 50 of Air Namibia’s employees.
The union said it sought the minister’s attention after attempts to resolve the matter using traditional means failed.
NAPA wants to find out from Mutorwa the exact amount of both the employers’ contributions and the employee contribution in respect to pension payable to Air Namibia’s pension fund which has not been timeously paid to the employee’s pension fund.
According to NAPA, the fund is controlled by a number of trustees including the Acting Managing Director of Air Namibia, Xavier Masule, and interim senior accountable manager Ingrid Cupido.
NAPA has also complained that pension fund contributions have been deducted from their monthly salaries but that the contributions have not been paid over for March and April 2019.
As such the pilots are at risk of not receiving their full benefits, NAPA alleges. “The trustees who have all been appointed in a fiduciary capacity are not addressing the matter in a meaningful manner. The situation remains unabated and needs to be addressed urgently,” said the association.
Air Namibia has been accused of the misappropriation of funds and face being dragged before the courts. Air Namibia is also said to have not paid its workers’ PAYE to the Receiver of revenue and NAPA demands disclosure of the outstanding amount. Reminding Mutorwa of his “ultimate responsibility for Air Namibia (Pty) Ltd.,” the association’s lawyers detail the categories for which exact amounts are sought.
These amounts include employer contributions in respect of pension payable and the arrears, the exact amount for medical aid and the exact amount for the pay-as-you-earn.
NAPA asserts that a large portion of these owed monies belong to Air Namibia pilots and therefore there is a need for these to be fully paid back to their respective recipients on behalf of the workers.
“Once we have a full understanding of these amounts involved (if any) we intend approaching your esteemed office again in order to determine how this matter could be dealt with most appropriately,” said NAPA.
The association requested that Mutorwa give them a response by 31 July, saying their matter was of an urgent nature.
It was not clear at the time of going to print what these monies were used for. Questions sent to Air Namibia spokesperson Paulus Nakawa remained unanswered at the time of going to print.
The Air Namibia interim chief executive officer Xavier Masule however, has said the monies “are safe and there is therefore no need for you to take the action as contained in your communication.
I can assure you that Air Namibia has not misappropriated the funds belonging to any of its employees and is definitely able to operate in the normal course of business and able to provide a safe and reliable air service as per the Air Services Act,” said Masule.