9 October 2017

Namibia: Nimt's Case - No Law Against Employing Relatives

MORE than 30 out of 275 employees at the Namibia Institute of Mining and Technology (Nimt) are allegedly related, either as blood relatives or in-laws.

This practice has led to fellow employees at the institution accusing management of nepotism and denying them opportunities for promotion.

Some sources claimed that workers have, on numerous occasions, approached the Employment Equity Commission (EEC) to resolve disputes, but seemingly with no effect.

"We have valid reasons to believe Nimt's board of trustees and management have not implemented or followed a policy of equal employment, and continue to fail to redress existing and future inequalities," the source said.

Aggrieved employees further accused Nimt of being incapable of implementing an affirmative action plan, although it apparently has the resources, "as provided for through public funding".

Nimt's executive director, Eckhart Mueller, said of the 275 employees at its campuses at Arandis, Keetmanshoop and Tsumeb, it is possible that family members are employed.

In fact, he said the list of names with linkages provided by The Namibian to him was incomplete as there were apparently more family members employed, while some are prospective employees.

"If we have a personal assistant at Keetmanshoop and a computer lecturer [who may be related] employed at the Arandis civil trades campus years later, this is possible. The law does not prohibit this," Mueller stated.

He said Nimt tries to employ the best qualified and most experienced person, and to find suitable staff willing to travel to Arandis and back every day "is not easy".

By employing couples, the institution saves on benefits as Nimt does not receive any government subsidy at all, "and the money follows the trainee".

"We are always short of funds, and this year it is an enormous problem," said Mueller. He added that it was important to note that family members were not working in the same sections, and that some married while being in the employment of Nimt as many are working there for more than 15 years.

"If you send colleagues, let's say to Keetmanshoop, they refuse to move if there is not a position for the partner too," said Mueller.

"I think this matter is blown out of proportion as Namibia, with its small numbers of highly qualified Namibians, is employing closely related professionals in all ministries, schools, etc."

Employment equity commissioner Vilbard Usiku said they investigated the complaint. The findings were also relayed to the complainant.

He called the issue "complicated", and agreed that there is no law against employing relatives. There were legal procedures, though, that needed to be followed to ensure fairness is applied to promotions or employment.

"If the incorrect procedures are followed in which a relative is preferred above other candidates, this may be seen as discrimination," Usiku noted.

He said as long as an organisation follows the correct procedures - even if there are related candidates but they are treated equally to others and are interviewed by a fair panel - and the family member is found to be the best-qualified for the job, there should be no problem.

A deputy director at the EEC, Postrick Kapule, said Nimt was investigated in May over claims that previously disadvantaged Namibians are under-represented at its management levels, and that an affirmative action committee was not established.

"The findings were to the contrary. We could not find any substance to the claims," he added.

What was discovered was that Nimt's affirmative action committee, established in 2008, was appointed by the executive management, and not elected by its members.

"After discussing this with the management, it was agreed that every campus would elect its committee that would report to the main committee," he said, suggesting the latter would be elected.

Kapule explained that there was a difference between affirmative action implementation and corrupt practices of nepotism, and that the complainant allegedly confused affirmative action to be along ethnic lines, instead of the conditions set by the affirmative action policy that suggests preference to previously disadvantaged people, women and people living with disabilities.

"Doing it along ethnic lines is wrong. If, however, we do learn that family members are given preference above others, especially if the relatives are less qualified and do not do well in the interviews, and yet still get the job, this could be investigated as nepotism," he stressed.

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