THE Namibia Airports Company spent N$15 000 in travel allowances alone on a three-week sponsored trip for its acting CEO, Pamer El-Kallawi, to Mozambique and China.
The trip was sponsored by a Chinese company that now appears to be the favourite to clinch a N$2,5 billion contract for the upgrading of the Hosea Kutako International Airport, long before a decision is to be taken on the tender.
NAC sources said the Chinese approached Works Minister Erkki Nghimtina with a proposal to do the renovations and that a request was put through to the board to consider it.
To rub salt to the wounds of the beleaguered NAC, the married El-Kallawi took along a 'girlfriend' with whom he apparently made marriage vows in China.
The Hosea Kutako International Airport has a number of non-compliance problems.
Nghimtina confirmed that the Cabinet had already approved in principle that the airport should get a facelift.
"The airport is very congested and this leads to delays. The idea is to separate the departures and arrivals halls, build a proper VIP hall for dignitaries and get a second runway in case there's an accident on the first one," Nghimtina told The Namibian.
It was on his request and approval by the NAC board of directors that the three-week trip started on December 15 last year to visit an airport in Mozambique and one in China.
The company that was indirectly hand-picked by Nghimtina for the fact-finding mission was An Hui Foreign Economic Construction, which paid all the expenses, including those of the 'girlfriend'.
When approached for comment, El-Kallawi pretended not to know about the upgrading of the Hosea Kutako International Airport, despite the fact that the Chinese company had indicated to the NAC that the estimated cost for the upgrading work would be about N$2,5 billion.
However, he confirmed that he went on the trip and only returned to Windhoek on January 17.
"We were requested by the minister to go on the trip to familiarise ourselves with the work that the company has done on airports in Mozambique and China. If there is work to be done on the Hosea Kutako International Airport I can tell you we don't have the money for it. We even don't have enough money to carry out the maintenance on the airports in Namibia. However, normal procedures such as to issue a tender would be followed if the work has to be done on the Hosea Kutako International Airport," El-Kallawi said.
He could not explain how this Chinese company was hand-picked and why he went on this paid trip even before a tender has been advertised. He also pretended not to know the communication manager of a parastatal (known to The Namibian) whom he had taken along to China.
"Is she working for the NAC? If not, what should she do on the trip," he said as he denied knowledge of such a person on the trip.
The Namibian is withholding the woman's name as she could not be reached for comment by the time of going to press.
Nghimtina said nowadays everyone pretends to be an expert, adding that it is better for the NAC to see for themselves what the company can do.
"What is more important is that companies market their services and will approach the ministry or company to go on these trips. This practice is done worldwide. But I was not aware of a 'girlfriend' who accompanied the CEO."
The Chinese company apparently also wanted to sign an agreement that they would get preferential treatment with regard to the airport job.
Sources said El-Kallawi signed minutes of a meeting in China to commit him to the signing of an agreement with An Hui Foreign Economic Construction.
"The NAC cannot sign a MoU. It should be the government and I am not aware that we are going to do that," said Nghimtina.
The government is responsible for all the capital projects of NAC and would apparently have to take up this in the form of a loan from the Chinese financial institution, the China Exim Bank.
The fear is that this will disqualify all Namibian companies from tendering for the project, because in terms of an agreement between Namibia and China, the Namibian government would not procure goods, workers and related services under the normal national or international competitive bidding procedures
During a visit to Namibia by Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2007, the Namibian and Chinese governments entered into a concessionary loan agreement which covers transport infrastructure, among other things.
In the meantime the father of El-Kallawi's wife said he was deeply disappointed by his son-in-law since his daughter was being treated for cancer.
"What type of a man is he? His wife needed him the most now and then he married another woman," he told The Namibian. He maintained that the two married in China even though Namibian laws do not allow marriage to two people at the same time.
NAC board chairman Ndeuhala Katonyala said since the NAC did not pay for the 'girlfriend' on the trip there is nothing wrong with it.
"What they have done in China for the three weeks is not my business and I don't want to get involved in the private lives of the employees," Katonyala told The Namibian.