Windhoek-Zimbabwean employees of the beleaguered SME Bank, who are suing government for the non-renewal of their work permits, said studies at the bank have shown that their skills are rare among Namibians.
The Zimbabwean nationals, in papers filed in the High Court, tore into Home Affairs Minister Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana and the bank’s acting CEO, Benestus Herunga, as being behind the impasse regarding their work permits.
The 21 applicants claim to have occupied positions that not many Namibians could take up because not many Namibians possess the required special skills.
They were employed, amongst others, as head of ICT, head of security, and team leader at SME Bank – positions that, arguably, many Namibians qualify for. Others occupied even lower ranking posts of ICT administrator, accountant, personal assistant to the CEO and clerk or help desk officer.
The former employees argue that SME Bank “has in the past undertaken a number of studies to determine whether or not [their] employment in the positions is likely to be one in which a sufficient number of Namibians are already engaged or could be engaged.”
The findings of those studies, they argue, have “at all times found that [their] positions are ones in which not many Namibians are qualified.”
That they occupied positions that could not be filled by Namibians or for which few Namibians are qualified, they argue, is evidenced by the fact they have for the last three years had their work permits renewed on time and been allowed to occupy such positions.
It is on that basis that the 21 former employees are now arguing before the High Court that the only reason that their work permits were not renewed was because of illegal interference by Iivula-Ithana and the SME Bank, particularly Herunga.
For its part, the Immigration Selection Board is accused of having been “influenced by ulterior motives and purpose in taking the decisions against the [21 former employees]”
They claim that the Immigration Selection Board that convened when it rejected their applications was not legally constituted, because it was purposefully convened by Iivula-Ithana.
“On the basis of their [applicants’] own investigation last week has found that the [Immigration Selection] Board was not properly constituted and established by [Iivula-Ithana]. The decision was therefore taken by the Board that was unlawfully constituted, convened and established,” they argue in the court papers.
In their founding affidavit, the 21 Zimbabwean nationals cited the chairperson of the Immigration Selection Board as first respondent, the home affairs minister as second respondent, SME Bank as third respondent, Bank of Namibia as fourth, and Herunga as the fifth respondent.
Lawyer Sisa Namandje is representing the 21 former employees. They gave the respondents 15 days to respond and asked that if respondents do not oppose the application, the court move to hear the application on June 30.
They also accuse SME Bank of interfering with the work of the Immigration Selection Board, saying SME Bank had no reason to liaise with the board to the prejudice of the 21 former employees, without first consulting with the employees.
Herunga found his name on the legal suit, because the former employees allege he has no legal power to make any representation as acting SME Bank chief executive, because his mandate and appointment were still subject to a court case that brought by former SME Bank directors and Zimbabwean shareholders against the Bank of Namibia.
The former employees contend that the lawsuit is their last option after having failed to settle the issue through other means, which included using diplomatic channels through the Zimbabwean Embassy.
They also claim to have penned an official letter to President Hage Geingob for the presidency to intervene, but to no avail.
They further told the court that many of those who have returned to Zimbabwe could not return, as they do not possess valid work permits that would allow them to enter the country. They want the Immigration Board to set aside for review its decision and for the former SME Bank employees to be allowed back into Namibia.
They also seem to say that the absence of the work permits was the reason they had not been paid by SME Bank for several months and are now facing financial difficulties, as many are unable to pay for their properties in Windhoek, as well as other financial obligations they had undertook when still employed by SME Bank.