Panelbeaters Cry Foul

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By Suzette Apollus WINDHOEK Mutual & Federal, one of the biggest insurance companies in the country is accused of alleged discrimination when it comes to giving jobs to panelbeaters. Some aggrieved panelbeaters allege Mutual & Federal has been discriminatory in choosing panelbeaters to do repair work for their clients – who are mainly black – by disadvantaging black panelbeaters. They allege that these firms get the jobs even when their quotations are more expensive than those quoted by black-run companies. Panelbeating is said to be raking in millions of dollars mainly from the motor vehicle insurance industry, thereby creating much-needed employment. A number of disgruntled panelbeaters belonging to Namibia Panelbeaters Association (NPA) say it is ironic that while most Mutual & Federal clients are black, the company has been favouring white panelbeating companies at the expense of their black counterparts. The NPA last year launched a complaint against Mutual & Federal during a meeting where both NPA and the Independent Panelbeaters Association were present, calling for more transparency in the process of allocating claims. Mutual & Federal is allegedly one of the few insurance companies in Namibia who work with an exclusively selected suppliers’ list. New Era’s investigation has revealed that several white-owned panelbeating companies favoured by Mutual & Federal include Autoboss Panelbeaters, Colour Spraypainting, Monarch Panelbeaters & Spray Painters, PZN Panelbeaters, Rupping Body Works, Start Body Repairs and Thiel’s Auto Body Repair, whereas only one registered firm – Monarch Panelbeaters & Spraypainters – is the only black-owned panelbeater on that list. It emerged that in cases where clients apparently insisted on having their cars repaired by panelbeaters other than those on the list while being insured with Mutual & Federal, they first had to write a letter of consent, which had to state that the client is taking the car to another supplier at own risk. Panelbeating has become a very lucrative business as one can earn between sixty and three hundred thousand dollars per month, and that is only if you are a small business owner. On the other hand, some panelbeaters also believe that the blame should not only be placed on the insurance company as some black panelbeaters also cheat their clients by merely fixing broken parts instead of replacing the entire part that the insurance company paid for. According to these disgruntled panelbeaters, the chairman of the Namibia Panelbeaters Association, Dippies Dippenaar, was supposed to convey these grievances to the management of Mutual & Federal, and as yet nothing has been done in order to improve the situation. His company’s name also appears on Mutual & Federal’s suppliers’ list. When New Era contacted Dippenaar, he maintained that he was “shocked” to hear that there were grievances within his association. He said he was not aware of any hostility between panelbeaters. He urged all disgruntled panelbeaters belonging to the NPA to write a letter listing all their grievances in order for him to solve this matter as soon as possible. He also states that the association cannot and does not have influence in any way as to the selection process of Mutual & Federal. The managing director of Mutual & Federal, Gerson Katjimune told New Era that he was unaware of the fact that there was “bad blood” between members of the NPA with regard to suppliers working with Mutual & Federal, and that he also never received any complaint regarding the grievances of the panelbeaters. The only agreement that Katjimune is aware of is the service level agreement. This is an agreement that stipulates all criteria used when selecting the service providers and everybody at the meeting agreed to it. However, Katjimune declined to provide New Era with the selection criteria of Mutual & Federal.