NHE CEO Refutes Charges against Him

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK National Housing Enterprise (NHE) CEO Vincent Hailulu on Friday refuted a number of allegations made against him by General Secretary of the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) Evilastus Kaaronda. At a press conference last Tuesday Kaaronda accused Hailulu of using the NHE’s resources wastefully. He made a number of specific allegations, including the alleged purchase of a chair for N$14,233-62, N$46,074-95 relating to a trip to China, excessive reliance on consultants and general financial mismanagement. Kaaronda further questioned what qualifications both Hailulu and Agribank CEO Ambassador Leonard Ipumbu have for the positions they hold at the two respective institutions. The NUNW leader proved correct on one score at least, when he alleged that Namibia’s politicians have deserted Agribank and NHE staff. That very same evening, on NBC-TV News, Prime Minister Nahas Angula more or less confirmed that government has hung staff at the two institutions out to dry, making it clear they can expect little sympathy from that quarter. According to Angula, the government would not intervene in the dispute, advising employees of both institutions to seek legal recourse in the courts if they feel aggrieved. One observer, with intimate knowledge of labour affairs, questioned whether the new hands-off policy signalled a new direction for the government in labour matters. “If they are not going to intervene in the case of parastatals, does it also mean they are not going to intervene when it is private sector companies, or is there going to be a double standard? “The labour tactics employed at NHE are extremely ruthless, more ruthless than anything so far seen from the most aggressive capitalists in the private sector. “The public sector should be setting an example for the private sector. There is a serious need for civil society and the legal fraternity to debate this issue,” she suggested. The current standoff appears not to bode well for employees at both Agribank and NHE. Lawyers for the two parastatals could drag the legal process out endlessly in an attempt to break the will of the retrenched or redundant employees. By the time the courts conclude the case, creditors might have repossessed the houses and virtually all other possessions of employees at the two institutions. In the well-publicised unfair dismissal case of Rosa Nakale at the Roads Authority, it took one year and seven months for the District Labour Court to reinstate her. Nakale remained out of work from 14 December 2004 to 1 June 2006. She however happened to be a shrewd and successful businessperson with independent income outside her job at the Roads Authority. Hailulu convincingly defended himself against the allegation of squandering N$14,233-62 for an executive chair in his office. He explained the company spent the N$14,233-62 on a large boardroom table and set of chairs, although knowledgeable sources have suggested that amount would cover either the chairs or the table, but not both. Some of Hailulu’s other explanations however are on far shakier ground, and are impossible to verify without closely scrutinising documentation. He also made the claim that since the 18 retrenched employees that did not accept the NHE retrenchment package engaged Metcalfe Legal Practitioners to represent them in court, it meant they had fled their union. Following Hailulu’s sometimes inscrutable logic, it presumably means that since he has hired PF Koep & Co, he himself has ipso facto fled NHE and his position as CEO. Hailulu said that all 18 ex-employees have given Metcalfe Legal Practitioners their power of attorney. The company would therefore not engage in any further negotiations with the unions, but deal only directly with Metcalfe. He said that contrary to the allegation that the company was losing money the company had reduced employment costs by 23%. Others however question how Hailulu arrived at this figure since the posts of all retrenched workers will in all likelihood be refilled – some at higher salaries. He also addressed the question of the N$46,000 he spent during a trip to China, which he allegedly failed to account for. He and NHE Board Chairperson Professor Gerhard TÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶temeyer visited China in December 2006 at the invitation of the Chinese Ministry of Construction. “Such expenses were fully authorised with respect to the coverage of expenses related to transport, accommodation and other matters,” Hailulu said. The specific allegation by NHE employees however is that Hailulu failed to submit a proper expense report to the company’s finance department. The NHE CEO further announced the company would apply for a court interdict for the eviction of retrenched employees that have intermittently picketed the company’s premises for almost three months now. “We will not stay with this situation any longer. We want to go back to normal. We have put our last offer on the table, and it is now up to the court to decide. “We accepted the picketing in the spirit of negotiation, but since there is no more negotiation there is no reason for us to continue to allow it,” he stated.