By Chrispin Inambao WINDHOEK In what could spell the end to the perceived “honeymoon” at Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR) at Sesriem, a NWR manager and his lover were recently arrested for alleged theft. The high-profile arrest last Wednesday of the Acting Resort Manager at the NWR-run resort at Sesriem, Agapitus Shikongo, who faces alleged embezzlement in excess of N$230 388, was made by agents of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). Shikongo’s arrest took place with that of his lover Erika Links who was the financial consultant at the resort. ACC Director Paulus Noa confirmed the arrests that involved agents from the graft-busting agency and members of the police tasked to probe cases of a commercial nature. Noa believes the money allegedly embezzled by Shikongo “can rise as the auditing is still in progress” . Another source said thefts in which a demoralized, undisciplined workforce is involved in pilfering of groceries, meat, rice, tea, macaroni, spices, bedding and cutlery coupled with under-funding from the State nearly brought the company to its knees and its present predicament that prompted a raft of resuscitation measures. The two employees have already appeared in court and they now languish in police cells because no bail was granted as the probe continues. The Sesriem saga took another twist when the current resort manager and his common-law wife were detained yesterday on suspected financial impropriety. Preliminary investigations revealed the current resort manager at Sesriem allegedly advanced a “loan” in the amount of N$11 500 to another resort manager at Swakopmund. The suspect further “borrowed” N$5 000 from the resort’s money and kept quiet about these transactions until auditors and investigators started asking probing questions. His lover, who is also employed by NWR that last year secured a lifeline in the form of a N$120 million guarantee from government, “embezzled huge amounts of money from the sale of tele and flexi-call cards money,” according to the ACC chief. Due to the complex nature of these alleged underhand dealings and embezzlement the NWR, whose turnaround strategy could face a substantial reversal of fortunes, had to enlist the services of its chief auditor and a financial consultant. The duo will appear in court today. NWR under the management of Tobie Aupindi is sailing through financial rough seas and had it not been for the N$120 million the youthful managing director secured from financial institutions with government collateral, NWR was on the verge of collapse. The money is being used to refurbish its resorts at Etosha and Waterberg while a brand-new up-market lodge is nearing completion at Sossusvlei. Training is also receiving priority and recently NWR purchased a fleet of all-terrain Land Rovers that would be used to transport big-spending tourists to the flagship in local tourism, the Etosha National Park. At its formation in 1999, NWR inherited a workforce consisting of 840 people from Environment and Tourism and some observers claim the ministry retained the best. On the recent dealings at Sesriem, another source said most of the workers have been together for a long time and true to the adage familiarity breeds contempt, the trend has been not to expose others for wrongdoing because “they know each others’ secrets.” “If you work in a place like that, you grow up together. And logically you all know each other’s secrets,” said a source well acquainted with the happenings at NWR resorts. It is also an open secret that despite NWR being in a tourism business selling liquor and food, its workers at Sesriem are in conflict of interest as they also operate “mbashus” – informal pubs that sell roasted meat and liquor in direct competition with their employer. And absenteeism and insubordination are chronic, particularly during weekends when workers have to operate their “mbashus” selling Punya Punya, a highly potent red wine. Despite the setback, Aupindi and his team are optimistic they will turn around NWR’s fortunes for the better. They now have a training scheme to rehabilitate workers.
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