By William Mbangula OSHAKATI Endless squabbling by the Ondangwa Trade Fair Steering Committee is set to derail the staging of a trade fair scheduled for end of April following accusations of mismanagement and underhand dealings against the Mayor of Ondangwa, Priscilla Kauna Nashandi. Nashandi who is also the chairperson of the Steering Committee, vehemently denied the accusations. Some questionable payments made by the trade fair on the alleged recommendation of the mayor include N$1 600 paid to the mayor?s husband Sackaria Nashandi, N$36 000 to the Dogg Music band, N$33 850 paid for services rendered instead of a cheaper offer of N$29 000 whereby the electrical facilities were supposed to have become the properties of the trade fair. According to the minutes dated 14 March 2006 of the first Steering Committee meeting of Ondangwa Trade Fair (OTF), the Town Council should have 55 percent shares while the rest of the business community would have 45 percent shares. Members of the first Steering Committee were: Paulina Nangula Paulus, Ndangi Shipanga, Theodor Amkongo, Maria Kapia, Arno Berti, Vilho Kalambi, Priskilla Kauna Nashandi, Lydia Mulunga and Sackaria Nashandi. Everything appeared to be going well until after the event that was held 26-30 April last year, when infighting started among the shareholders following accusations of cheating and mismanagement levelled against the mayor and her supporters. This resulted in disunity among the Ondangwa town councillors and the entire community, with some supporting the mayor while others are on the side of Deputy Mayor, Naftali Andimba. It is said that Mayor Nashandi developed an attitude towards other shareholders including Ondangwa Town Council, which she was supposed to represent in her capacity as the first citizen of the town. The squabbling was taken to Oshana Regional Council and Swapo Regional Head office in Oshakati for arbitration. In his response dated 31 August, 2006 addressed to the Deputy Chairperson of the Steering Committee, Theodore Amkongo, the Chief Regional Officer (CRO) of Oshana, John Kandombo, urged the Steering Committee to pass a resolution authorising the appointment of an independent auditor. He said: “As a sub-national Government with a zero tolerance for corruption, Oshana Regional Council has no other choice but to recommend this course of action because we need to send a very clear message to whom it may concern that crime does not pay. It is on this basis that the law must take its course without fear or favour should the findings detect irregularities in the management of the trade fair account.” There are conflicting reports about the implementation of Kandombo’s recommendations. Andimba told New Era that Nashandi rejected the recommendations. But Nashandi told New Era that she is not aware of any recommendations from the CRO. She said she authorised an independent audit by the Tsumeb-based Immanuel Awene who allegedly did not detect any wrong-doing. Asked whether Awene’s report was forwarded to the office of the governor, Nashandi said this was not done because no request was received from that office. With regard to the position of the Ondangwa Town Council in the trade fair this year, which is scheduled to take place from 27 April to 3 May, 2007, Andimba said the local authority will not participate because it has been forced out of what was supposed to be a joint venture between the Town Council and the local business community. Apparently council’s forced resignation from the event was engineered by the mayor, who appears to have personal vested interest in the matter instead of representing the council. The mayor’s apparent authoritarianism resulted in some disgruntled members of the first Steering Committee resigning and seeking recourse to legal means. In a letter dated 10 April 2007 from their legal representative, Hilma Tukale Hitula of Lorentz Angula law firm, the mayor is requested to resign from the Steering Committee of the Trade Fair. The letter stated: “You led our clients to believe that the members’ interest was registered in the Ondangwa Town Council’s name. However, it has come to our client’s attention that you actually hold the 55 percent members’ interest in your personal capacity, which we have informed our clients as being contrary to the law. We have further informed our clients that the Town Council may also not in law be a member of a close corporation and hence the arrangement that the Council holds members’ interest was a fallacy from the start. We have also advised our clients that the purported members holding shares other than the 10 members of a close corporation as is by law entitled to have, was in law not possible.” The letter further referred to alleged irregularities saying they were tantamount to corruption. Disgruntled shareholders are apparently in the process of reporting the case to the Anti-Corruption Commission. In the meantime, said the letter, an independent auditor will be appointed to look into the financial affairs of the close corporation after which a report would be provided to the mayor if she so requires. The letter further pointed out that the mayor’s conduct is prejudicial to the close corporation and as such actionable in terms of section 36 of the Close Corporation Act. In the premise, said the letter, the legal representative was instructed to demand Nashandi’s immediate resignation as a member of the close corporation and to relinquish members’ interests, that she ceases to do or cause to be done anything that relates to the close corporation or trade fair and more specifically to cease to use or procure the use of the money in the account of Ondangwa Trade Fair pending the resolution of the dispute. Should she resign, states the letter, the close corporation will be converted into a company and all the shares will be converted including that of the Ondangwa Town Council which will be the majority shareholder. The mayor was given a deadline of April 19, 2007 to resign or face an application for removal or an interdict in terms of which she will be prevented from dealing with the affairs of the Trade Fair. Disgruntled members are among others Theodor Tonata Amkongo, Magano Maria Kapia, Sackeus Ndangi Shipanga, Paulina Nangula Paulus and Arno Deberti. At the moment new members of the Steering Committee have been appointed reportedly at the recommendation of the mayor. The new members are: Abraham Kaushi, Arnold Betty, Penina Akudhenga, Magdalena Jesaya, Helena Nashandi and Lydia Mulunga. Contrary to the minutes of the meeting of March 14, 2006, which Nashandi chaired, she wrote a letter dated January 12, 2007 in which she requested Ondangwa Town Council to refrain from involving itself in the affairs of the Trade Fair. The letter clearly shows that the Ondangwa Town Council, in the view of many people and the mayor, was not a member of the Trade Fair despite having spent public funds to promote the event last year under the understanding that it was the major shareholder. In terms of the letter from Nashandi, which is co-signed by Dr Gabriel Uahengo, the secretary, Ondangwa Trade Fair is a private business idea. The Town Council can become a shareholder by its choice and consent. In an interview with the Deputy Mayor Andimba, it was revealed that most of the councillors were not aware that the Town Council was not part and parcel of the event until receiving the letter that was co-signed by the duo. Said Andimba: “After we were told by the mayor that it is a private matter, the Council was obliged to reconsider its position with relation to the expenses used during the event of last year. We are now trying to recover all the cost from Ondangwa Trade Fair because there is no way public facilities could be used for private business. Our understanding was that the event was a joint venture hence our participation last year. At the moment we have nothing to do with it. All what we will do is to recover all the costs incurred last year.” Documents in possession of New Era have detailed some of the costs incurred by the local authority. Some are related to equipment used and service rendered such as sprinkling of roads to reduce dust, back hoe excavator, sanitation fixture, light grading, artisan work and many others. This was done at a cost of close to N$66 000. The trade fair itself used N$170 000. The rest of the money, N$180 000, is frozen in the Standard Bank because of the squabbling and alleged misuse until the resolution of the matter.