The Namibian (Windhoek)

26 June 2012

Namibia: Super Golden Handshake for Aupindi

Tobie Aupindi, the former Managing Director of Namibia Wildlife Resort (NWR), walked away with about N$5 million when he decided to resign from the company - a deal that the board of directors boasted had saved the company N$7 million.

Reporting in March/April at the Annual General Meeting of the firm this year, and specifically to Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, the Minister of Environment and Tourism who represents the government as the shareholder, the directors described Aupindi's contract as "poorly written", thus leaving them with no alternative but to pay out the huge sum.

At a salary of N$1,8 million a year, according to the contract that was heavily weighted in the employee's favour, Aupindi was entitled to a payout just shy of N$12 million even though he voluntarily decided to leave the company in December 2010, four months before his five-year contract expired.

People with knowledge of his employment contract say that Aupindi was paid a salary of more than N$150 000 a month, in addition to yearly bonuses.

When he was hired as MD of the NWR in 2006, the contract stated that the MD must be paid a "severance package" that is equal to five times his current salary "for whatever reason" he leaves the company.

The contract also said that he "must be paid" a bonus every year, regardless of his performance and irrespective whether the company was doing well financially.

Aupindi took over NWR in financial shambles with tourism resorts that had fallen into a state of decay after years of poor management and a failure to recapitalise the business.

The government has since pumped in more than N$400 million, most of which was used to renovate a few resorts, but substantial amounts have been reported missing or paid for ghost work, casting doubt over the success of Aupindi's much-vaunted "turn-around strategy".

Aupindi got the yearly bonus despite the company performing poorly and failing to submit its financials as per law. The Namibian has learnt that KPMG, withdrew as NWR's auditing firm, but it is not clear what the exact reasons are.

The board at this year's Annual General Meeting boasted that it had saved the company nearly N$7 million after successfully negotiating a severance agreement with Aupindi, which saw him walk away with a cash payout of only N$4,5 million. In addition, Aupindi was also paid for "unused leave" after he had allegedly worked for several years without going on holiday in the almost five years he was the MD of NWR.

The current board of directors, who were appointed towards the end of Aupindi's reign, put the blame for the "poorly written" contract on the company's previous board comprised of Klemens /Awarab, Rieth van Schalkwyk, Tobie Aupindi (as Managing Director), Maria Kasita, Dr Kalumbi Shangula, Epsom Jossop and Ananias Abner.

The current board declined to comment, saying that there was a "gag agreement in play".

"Contractually, neither party can speak of its (contract) contents or details," said the board.

Contacted for comment yesterday, Aupindi declined to comment, saying his contract with NWR had expired a long time ago and that it would serve no purpose to comment on it at this time.

From the side of cabinet, Prime Minister Nahas Angula said the drafting of the contract in question at the time was the responsibility of the NWR board and the ministry concerned and not in the domain of the State-Owned Enterprises Governance (SOEs) Council as is currently the case. "That contract was done a long time ago and the board at that time recommended it to the minister concerned," he said.

The Minister of Environment and Tourism at the time was Reverend Willem Konjore, who, when asked about the contents of Aupindi's contract, said he could not remember anything about it now as "it has been a long time since then" and termed the contract as an administrative issue.

The NWR is currently headed by Nghidinua Daniel on secondment from the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

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