8 February 2019

Namibia: Government to Probe Squandered N$410 Million Loan

Photo: lejecos
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Works minister John Mutorwa says the government will investigate officials involved in the mismanagement of funds sourced through a loan to purchase 12 locomotives five years ago.

Mutorwa said Cabinet had directed his ministry to set up a forensic audit committee to compile a comprehensive valuation of the 12 sub-standard locomotives bought through a N$410 million loan from China, but which have become dysfunctional.

He added that the audit committee will also investigate the suspected mismanagement of funds by TransNamib officials.

Mutorwa announced this during the launch of TransNamib's five-year strategic business plan in Windhoek yesterday.

The new business plan requires over N$2 billion to implement.

The minister said Cabinet had also approved the parastatal's request to sell its non-core "unencumbered properties" to generate funds for the new operational and capital expenditure plan.

Under the new plan, other SOEs will be given priority to buy TransNamib properties, Mutorwa said.

According to the strategic plan, the railway company will need about 86 locomotives to implement it successfully.

Mutorwa also inaugurated the new board of directors who will serve TransNamib for the next three years.

The board consists of Josephine Shikongo, former board member Michael Ochurub, Gaenor Michael, transport and logistics specialist Oscar Kaveru, advocate Sigrid Tjijorokisa as well as Vincent Mberema.

Mutorwa strongly warned the new board not to repeat the mistakes by other boards, or else "you will not last for long".

He said the board should avoid personal fights, and focus on the job they are appointed to do.

"You are leaders appointed to lead and make sure that the policies of the government and the strategic business plan of TransNamib moves, and not concentrate on personalities," he stressed.

The minister added that he was not impressed with the previous board as it always gave him a lot of problems due to differing opinions among the members, and that "some of them were unnecessary".

"If you have problems, sort them out. But this business of saying if so and so are attending the meeting, then I am not going to attend the meeting ... That is ridiculous, and I don't think you will follow that line, but if you do, we will be disappointed, and you will not last long. It is not a threat, but it is reality. And we have to be frank with each other," he said.

Public enterprises minister Leon Jooste also warned the new board to avoid personal fights, and to focus on solving the troubles facing the national railway carrier.

He said board members should learn to solve their differences on their own without involving political leaders.

"We are more dealing with issues of personalities than focusing on the ball. That is what has caused the downfall of many public enterprises, and it has to stop. I mean what I say. Open a new page, and move forward," he urged.

On the entity's business plan, Jooste said TransNamib would no longer be allowed to come up with another turnaround strategy, saying the latest plan was the company's last hope.

He said his ministry will closely monitor the implementation of the plan, and was "convinced that this business plan is feasible".

"I don't even want to discuss the option of failure in this case. If it fails due to circumstances beyond our control (and beyond the confines of the plan), we will take the most responsible decision at that point in time. This will, of course, depend on the various economic, social and strategic realities at such a point in time," he added.

Jooste said the government will not entirely help TransNamib to acquire the N$2 billion funding, but will only contribute a fraction of that amount.

Governance controversies have plagued TransNamib for years.

The parastatal has a history of depending on government bailouts over the years to sustain its operations.

Several turnaround strategies which TransNamib had implemented over the past years that required millions from taxpayers have also not yielded any tangible results.

In 2015, the parastatal was given N$400 million by the government to maintain its operations as a short-term measure.

The Namibian reported in 2015 that Jooste estimated the cost needed to revamp the railways at more than N$7 billion.

Yesterday, TransNamib's chief executive officer, Johny Smith, said under the new plan, the entity plans to achieve an average growth of about 20% per year.

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