14 July 2017

Namibia: Be Patriotic With SME Bank, Prosecute Everyone Swiftly

editorial

Almost everything related to the setting up of the SME Bank was wrong from the word go. Worse still, those who raised red flags and delayed action on certain things were described as unpatriotic.

Now, we have not only been left with egg on our face and huge bills, but we also need to decisively deal with the 'patriots' who acted unpatriotically by contributing to the siphoning of millions.

Only swift prosecution and punishment will suffice. When the SME Bank was set up, there was a deliberate disregard of Namibia's banking laws and regulations. This was done with impunity.

As a newspaper and watchdog, we have been carrying stories since 2012 already on how the SME Bank ignored the Bank of Namibia's instructions, and did not bother to observe banking laws in the country.

For example, they did not produce audited financial statements in compliance with the banking laws of the country.

Only by March last year did the bank publish financial statements in newspapers. At that stage, it had already incurred N$182 million in losses since inception, which meant the bank had been running at a loss for four years. In 2012, the bank made a loss of N$4,2 million, and the loss grew to N$37 million the following year. In 2014, the loss grew further to N$69 million, and reached N$72 million in 2015.

Yet, the Namibian government continued pumping millions into the bank for apparent recapitalisation and operating expenses.

We are told that the Namibian government owns 65% of the joint venture, with 30% owned by the Metropolitan Bank (MetBank) of Zimbabwe, and the remaining 5% by dodgy Zimbabwean businessman Enock Kamushinda.

That ownership structure was already questionable because the SME Bank Pty Ltd's offices were not registered directly in the bank's name, but given to a certain Namibia Financing Trust.

Kamushinda was also a shadowy dealer, and as early as 2010, the Bank of Namibia already refused the SME Bank a banking licence because he was deemed to lack integrity and had no respect for corporate governance.

A substantial part of the central bank's findings at that stage came from Kamushinda's first 'home regulator' the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, which allegedly gave a negative review of him by saying he was a questionable businessman and had the ability to pressurise and twist boards' arms into making decisions that benefited him.

But all were ignored, as political connections were used to put pressure on the Bank of Namibia to issue the licence.

And soon, the SME Bank blew about three-quarters of N$60 million start-up capital from government by buying a building now owned by that mysterious trust whose identity its operator has declined to disclose. Around N$20 million was also spent on furniture.

In the meantime, Namibian institutions were forced to show patriotism by investing in the SME Bank.

One example was the Government Institutions' Pension Fund, which was requested to make a N$2 billion investment.

Although the SME Bank made a presentation to the GIPF, the fund conducted its own due diligence, which raised several questions about the way the bank was being run.

In the end, the GIPF, which was reluctant to invest, deposited N$100 million to satisfy those who played the patriotism card.

There are many such examples, and we would not want to bother readers with them.

The point, though, is that patriotism was used to push companies and individuals to invest in the bank.

If what Police Inspector General Sebastian Ndeitunga is reported to have said is true, when he said that there is a "high possibility of organised crime" that took place at the SME Bank, those who pushed patriotism should also be patriotic in making sure that heads roll.

In so doing, we will stop Namibia from becoming a haven for criminal activities, as is already being perceived by many.

Namibia

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