19 March 2019

Namibia: Tender Agency Directors Want Admin Powers

THE Central Procurement Board of Namibia wants to appoint three fellow directors to manage the day-to-day operations of the troubled institution.

However, there are concerns from insiders and at the finance ministry that this move could be construed as blatant interference, likened to one being a referee and a player in the awarding of state contracts.

"The board proposes three executive directors to serve as part-time directors, and assist administration to set up the foundation by spending three days in a week at CPBN," a board report titled "CPBN challenges" dated February 2019 said.

The tender agency board consists of nine directors, and two of them - the chairperson and deputy chairperson - have executive powers to run the day-to-day operations of the institution, while the other seven are non-executive directors.

The board wants to change that set-up.

According to the February report, the board proposed that non-executive directors serve as executive directors, on a part-time basis, "for a limited period".

"In the interest of assisting administration, three non-executive directors offered to provide administrative assistance, three times a week, for the duration of the board's tenure, alternatively until the permanent positions are filled. Both parties will define the terms of engagement," the board stated.

The report did not name the directors who want to take up this opportunity, but sources said the board asked the attorney general for a legal opinion on this suggestion.

An official familiar with this matter queried why the board wants administrative powers, amid reports of a scramble for tenders at the organisation.

Government sources believe that the finance ministry would reject the plan to appoint three board members as part-time executives since this would be illegal.

Patrick Swartz is currently the chairperson of the board, and is deputised by Lischen Ramakhutla.

Swartz's position makes him the chief executive officer of the organisation by default, and he is accountable to the board for his administrative work.

Swartz and Ramakhutla are also accountable to the finance minister.

Besides the two, the board, which was appointed in 2017, consists of finance deputy executive director Titus Ndove, former Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA) Fund chief executive turned-businessman Jerry Mwadinohamba, Epafras Shilongo, Maria Nakale, Maria Iyambo, Hilya Nandago-Herman and Hendrik Loftie-Eaton.

The same board report focused on the contract of chairperson Swartz and of his deputy, Ramakhutla, for intentionally failing to account to the board.

"The board has no recourse to such non-compliance. Can the board enforce accountability, and if such enforcement is ignored, is the board legally empowered to institute disciplinary measures?" the board asked.

The board thus suggested that Swartz's contract should be changed to force him to account, and to be disciplined by the board.

The employment contract of deputy chair Ramakhutla should also be reviewed to allow for a clause which explicitly empowers Swartz to supervise her, the report said.

The Namibian reported last week that the majority of directors at the procurement board decided to remove their chairperson, Swartz, from his position due to continued infighting and lack of progress at the state tender agency.

Some see this as part of a plot to get rid of Swartz to line up tenders for certain business people.

A person familiar with this matter said the board directors wanted to force Swartz to resign, or admit that he is incompetent.

The continued infighting in the agency which is supposed to help Namibia's failing economy has not pleased finance minister Calle Schlettwein, who confirmed to The Namibian yesterday that the finance ministry's executive director, Ericah Shafudah, received a report from the national tender board, explaining why they are unhappy in how the organisation is being managed.

He said he had written to the officials mentioned in the report to hear their side of the story before he decides on the way forward.

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