Windhoek — Tempers flared yesterday morning when irate customers of the now defunct SME Bank queued up in Katutura to get back their deposits.
Although the provisional liquidators, Bruni McLaren, requested Katutura branch customers whose first names start with letters A to C to claim their deposits, customers with names from A to Z flocked to the bank's branch in Katutura, hoping to get their money back.
The hordes of customers were even more disappointed though when the bank's acting CEO appointed by the provisional liquidators, Benestus Herunga, told the angry crowd that no cash would be given out, but that the money would instead be transferred to their other bank accounts.
Speaking to New Era on the sidelines of the commotion, Herunga confirmed that while those with names starting from A to C were called, people flocked to the bank in droves and in no particular alphabetical order.
He added the SME Bank would be back in court on Friday, September 15 to find out if the provisional liquidation order would be extended. He also noted the SME Bank had approximately 24,000 small depositors (those with less than N$25,000) and some 380 larger depositors (those with more than N$25,000 in the bank).
"I can confirm that all staff pay-outs due have been made, including all pro-rata payments, as well as leave days. However, we are still waiting for all pension pay-outs to be made and hope that this will be done by the end of October," said Herunga.
However, customers were up in arms yesterday when remaining SME bank staff informed them that they should have alternative bank accounts, where their deposits would be transferred to.
"I don't have another bank account." "Why can't they give us cheques?" "How can I open another account when all my money is here?" "When they took our money there was no talk about the alphabet," shouted some of the customers.
Most of the people who queued up yesterday were small business owners, who bemoaned the fact they cannot access their funds to keep their businesses running. Deposits at the SME Bank are protected by law up to N$25,000 after the bank was placed under provisional liquidation, following dubious investments of about N$200 million in South Africa.
"The SME Bank was a good bank offering low interest rates. Even though they disappointed us we still hope to get all our money back," said Hilia Peter, who arrived at the bank shortly after 08h00 to get her money back.
"I opened an account last year and since then they have always been telling me that their system is down. I received an SMS yesterday to come and get my money. Now they have started talking about an alphabet. They should just take us one by one and give us our money," said another small business owner, Ndahafa Hamutenya.
Another SME customer, Joseph Kamutjemo, said he has been an SME Bank customer for more than two years.
"I thought they should've alerted us before they closed down. They never informed us directly about what is happening. I just found the ATMs closed and the branches locked. Now, it looks like they will take another month to give us our money and there aren't even any claim forms. They need to inform us directly," Kamutjemo said.
The SME Bank has been closed since July after the Bank of Namibia assumed control of it following the discovery of alleged dubious investments. When the provisional liquidators were appointed all payments and withdrawals were halted immediately.