5 December 2017

Namibia: Airports Face Closure Threats

THE national air travel regulator is threatening to shut down two of the country's busiest airports over claims that the Namibia Airports Company (NAC) was failing to do upgrades as promised.

Documents seen by The Namibian show that the Namibia Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) wrote to the NAC on 30 November, threatening to close down the Ondangwa Airport and the Hosea Kutako International Airport within two weeks.

The Namibian has, however, picked up that a clique in the works ministry wants to force through questionable airport renovation tenders worth N$360 million under the smokescreen of safety and security concerns. This agenda is allegedly being pushed through the NCAA.

The closure threat comes after the NAC cancelled two tenders because of a lack of money, and because the previous board had awarded the contracts irregularly.

People familiar with this saga said the threat to shut down the two airports was also part of a plot to pressurise and remove NAC chairperson Rodgers Kauta and his deputy, Beverley Gawanas-Vugs.

Efforts to get comment from Kauta and Gawanas-Vugs were unsuccessful yesterday.

Kauta and Gawanas-Vugs blocked the Ondangwa airport upgrade contract worth N$210 million, and the tender to partly renovate the Hosea Kutako International Airport for N$150 million.

According to sources, the NAC board suspects that the Ondangwa airport upgrades were inflated by over N$60 million, some of which was allegedly already paid in bribes to senior government officials.

The works ministry wants China State Construction Engineering Corporation to do the Ondangwa airport upgrades, while the Hosea Kutako upgrades were awarded to Egyptian Muhamed Omar in 2016.

The two NAC board members face increasing pressure from senior government officials over the two contracts.

The latest to apply pressure is the director of the NCAA, Angelina Simana, who wrote to Kauta last week, and threatened to start airport closing procedures if the NAC does not undertake to renovate the airports.

She raised safety concerns, and referred to promises made by the previous corruption-tainted NAC board to question why the two airports have not been upgraded since 2014.

Simana did not respond to questions sent to her yesterday.

Her threat to close the two airports, on the eve of Christmas, has attracted accusations that she is acting in bad faith, a person briefed on the matter said.

Senior government officials are questioning why Simana is threatening to shut down the airports if the licences of the two airports were renewed a few months ago.

The licence of the Hosea Kutako International Airport, which is situated east of Windhoek, was renewed in August this year, while the Ondangwa Airport's licence was renewed in September.

NAC executives also accuse Simana of not providing clear reasons why she wants to close the airports, instead using half-baked explanations.

The Namibian was told that Simana gave the NAC, as from 30 November 2017, around 14 days to undertake to upgrade the Ondangwa Airport.

She also gave the NAC seven days, after 30 November 2017, to explain what will be improved at the Hosea Kutako International Airport.

Officials familiar with this matter have described her deadlines as unrealistic, since she was vague in her threatening letter to the NAC.

The airports company has over the past year maintained that it did not have the N$360 million for the questionable tenders, and that irregularity had been at play in their awarding. One of the contracts is in court at the moment.

Simana joins the list of state officials accused of applying pressure on the NAC to do costly upgrades at the airports.

The Namibian reported earlier this year that attorney general Sacky Shanghala, works minister Alpheus !Naruseb and works permanent secretary Willem Goeiemann have been piling pressure on the NAC to approve an airport upgrading contract.

The three have denied any wrongdoing in the past. Deputy works minister Sankwasa James Sankwasa has also been accused of applying pressure on the parastatal to implement the Ondangwa airport contract. He has also denied wrongdoing.

The NAC board is quietly being lauded in the state sector for not giving in to the political pressure, but sources said the board could give up if they are not supported by the country's leadership in battling corruption.

It is not clear if President Hage Geingob will stop any attempt to remove the two NAC board members if the matter is raised in Cabinet.

RESIGNATIONS

The NAC board's tough stance on corruption has also led to the resignation of former NAC chief executive Tamer El-Kallawi and engineering executive Courage Silombela.

El-Kallawi, who was on suspension, resigned on Friday, bringing the disciplinary action against him to an end. He faced 36 charges of corruption, including bribery and fraud.

El-Kallawi's resignation comes less than a month after Silombela, who faced 15 disciplinary charges of fraud, forgery, dishonesty and abuse of company property, and who resigned in mid-November.

The two were reportedly charged for their roles in awarding tenders worth N$450 million.

An August 2017 Deloitte forensics report confirmed the alleged corruption at the NAC, and sketched how El-Kallawi and Silombela operated.

The report referred to several incidents in which El-Kalawi attempted to bribe NAC officials to favour certain companies in tender awards.

El-Kallawi had the support of the works ministry, which was of the opinion that the evidence against him was not strong enough.

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