3 December 2018

Namibia: Rebuke for Mutorwa As Meatco Loses Board

Former agriculture minister John Mutorwa did not approach the appointment of a board of directors for the Meat Corporation of Namibia early last year with an open mind and readiness to listen to reason.

This was the remark made by a senior High Court judge in a ruling in which the appointment of Meatco's directors was declared unlawful and set aside for the second time in less than two years.

Mutorwa's decision to appoint the Meatco board of directors on 16 February last year was in conflict with the Meat Corporation of Namibia Act, the Public Enterprises Governance Act and the Namibian Constitution, deputy judge president Hosea Angula declared in an order handed down in the Windhoek High Court on Monday last week.

Judge Angula also reviewed and set aside Mutorwa's decision to appoint Martha Namundjebo-Tilahun, Ronald Kubas, Israel Ngangane, Sophia Kasheeta, Stephanus ('Fanie') Oosthuizen and Mushokobanji Mwilima as directors of Meatco.

The deputy judge president's full judgement on a challenge that five livestock farmers and Meatco members - Amon Ngavetene, Elia Kandjii, Peter Kazongominja, Gottfriedt Tsuseb and Tjakazapi Mbunguha - mounted against Mutorwa's appointment of the directors became available on Friday.

In the judgement, the judge found that Mutorwa failed to give persons affected by his decision to appoint directors for Meatco an opportunity to be heard before making his decision, and that he further did not act fairly or transparently when he made the appointments.

"It is clear that the minister's insistence on 'unwarranted adherence to fixed principles' and strict observance of formal communication channels and protocols, under those circumstances, was 'grossly unreasonable'," judge Angula stated in his judgement.

"It is clear that he did not approach the situation in a pragmatic manner and with an open mind and the readiness to listen to [and] yield to reason."

Mutorwa extended the appointment of Namundjebo-Tilahun and her fellow directors as members of the Meatco board for six months in December 2016.

Meatco, its then chief executive officer, Vekuii Rukoro, and one of its members challenged that temporary appointment in the High Court. After Mutorwa conceded in mid-February last year that the board had been unlawfully appointed, he again appointed the same directors on 16 February last year, for a three-year term.

Ngavetene alleged in an affidavit filed at the court that in terms of the Meatco Act or the Public Enterprises Governance Act, Mutorwa had no power to decide to appoint a new board of directors on 16 February 2017, while the temporarily appointed board was still in place until its appointment was set aside by the High Court on 15 March last year.

He also alleged the directors were appointed contrary to the Meatco Act after Mutorwa failed to have regard to nominations from Meatco members that had been placed before him. According to Ngavetene, Mutorwa "simply ignored" nominations sent to him before he appointed the board in February last year.

Defending the correctness of his appointment of the directors in an affidavit also filed at the court, Mutorwa claimed a meeting at which Meatco members on 12 August 2016 nominated persons to be appointed as directors was unlawful, and said he could not give effect to the resolutions passed at that meeting.

A spokesperson of the ministry of agriculture, Margaret Kalo, said on Friday the agriculture minister had an option to appeal against the judgement, and that an appeal would suspend the operation of judge Angula's order and leave the current board in place in the meantime.

She did not indicate whether a decision to appeal against the judgement had been taken yet.

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