16 November 2012

Namibia: Unwell Coeln's Contentious Retirement

Walvis Bay — Compounded leave days have drawn a rift between the outgoing Chief Executive Officer of the Erongo Regional Electricity Distribution company (Erongo RED) Gerhard Coeln and the company's board of directors.

Coeln tendered his resignation in October citing ill health, and he was supposed to serve a four-month notice period.

In an unusual twist of events, the company's board called a hasty media briefing on Monday, to clarify allegations that the board wants Coeln to vacate his position immediately without serving the contractually stipulated four-month notification period.

Board chairman Coenraad Botha rubbished the allegation of a 'soft dismissal' saying the board decided on November 9 to "give Coeln a very well deserved holiday as he has over the last seven years spent literally his strength and life on this company."

However, when pressed for clarification Botha did admit that the board decided to send Coeln on forced leave, because the company would not be able to afford paying out all of the accumulated leave days.

According to insiders, the value of the accumulated leave days would equal a very handsome golden handshake for Coeln.

Coeln's four months notice period ends in the middle of February and the board's generous 'very deserved holiday' starts from November 12 until January 2013, effectively giving Coeln two final weeks at work when he returns from the 'very well deserved' period of rest.

It remains unknown whether Coeln will return to serve for two weeks after the holiday. He did not return calls and messages left on his cellphone, and he did not entertain questions during the press conference.

Coeln in October publicly announced his resignation from the company he helped set up in 2005, citing health related problems.

Botha said the board's decision on Coeln's holiday was taken in the interest of both the company and Coeln.

"There was never a golden handshake or any negative relationship and in line with the direction that the board wants to take Erongo Red, the very least we can do is to acknowledge his efforts and give him a well-deserved holiday," Botha said.

Coeln's reign has not been without ups and downs with the latest tussle involving the Walvis Bay municipality, the largest shareholder in the energy company.

The municipality withdrew as an Erongo Red shareholder for nearly two years, a decision that it could not be made permanent due to legal and legislative reasons.

Walvis Bay resumed being an active shareholder following last week's board meeting, with the municipality representative on the board officially resuming duties on the board.

Over the last two years, Coeln had to contain a series of wild protests by residents of the towns in the region who felt the company is charging exorbitant energy tariffs compared to other regional energy distribution companies.

There was also mistrust regarding the manner in which the company was managed, especially the allegations that the company has for several years failed to provide timely financial results.

Meanwhile, the general manager of commercial services Robert Kahimise has been appointed as the acting CEO until the board identifies a suitable candidate to replace Coeln.

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