Windhoek-Police had to be called to restore order at the Meat Corporation of Namibia’s 31st annual general meeting (AGM) in Windhoek on Saturday, after tensions boiled over regarding the legitimacy of the company’s current board of directors.
The meeting, attended by hundreds of farmers, producers and observers, came to a temporary halt after members failed to agree on whether the legality of the board should be discussed at the AGM, or be reserved for a separate meeting.
“Step down with your cohorts,” a farmer shouted when the chairperson of the disputed board, Martha Namundjebo-Tilahun, attempted to bring the meeting to order. She accused those questioning the current board of having ulterior motives.
“We are not going to tolerate or allow any activity to the detriment of the company,” Namundjebo-Tilahun said, as tensions simmered.
“We had to take the bold and very decisive move in order to infuse the corporation with special skills from respected, tried and tested experts because we cannot do it by ourselves.”
“We are already reaping the benefits of having these new colleagues joining us,” she added when introducing the new board members.
The company’s CEO, Vekuii Rukoro, is on forced leave pending an investigation at the company.
Namundjebo-Tilahun reported on the Ernst & Young investigations that led to Rukoro being sent on ‘administrative leave’ recently.
“The investigation continues and it is clear it has reached a very definite stage,” she briefed those in attendance.
“We, however, had to expand the scope of the investigation into other areas of concern that emanated during the course of the investigation, thus we have placed the CEO on administrative leave, to afford auditors an opportunity to further their investigation.”
Agriculture minister John Mutorwa, who was not present at the meeting, also came under fire from some farmers and producers because of his decision to use his discretion in appointing the new board.
Mutorwa appointed the board on a temporary basis in December last year before announcing early this year they will serve the full three-year term.
Some farmers argued they were never approached to nominate their own candidates and that Mutorwa exercising his sole discretion was not procedural.
After deciding to proceed with the meeting, despite attempts to the contrary, a group of farmers started chanting “viva, farmers, viva” while Namundjebo-Tilahun was introducing the board and delivering her speech. Some farmers walked out during her address.
After realising that the chairperson was not fazed by their chants, the group gathered together and walked to the podium while preparations were being made to present the company’s financial report.
But in less than 15 minutes about eight police officers arrived at the venue, while the board tried to explain to the group that their concerns regarding the legality of the board had been noted and would be discussed at another meeting.
The meeting proceeded but tension hung thick in the air. Rukoro, who is also the Ovaherero chief, was quoted as having said the national meat producer will end up slaughtering dogs if it pushed ahead with its plan to get rid of him. He warned there would be serious consequences to both Meatco and the entire meat industry.
Rukoro claimed that his subjects felt his forced leave is political harassment of both him and them.
Rukoro maintains his suspension was carried out by an illegal board, which is “dancing to the tunes” of Mutorwa.
Rukoro also vowed he would contest the legality of his suspension and demand that the Meatco board members personally pay for what they did to him.
In terms of Meatco slaughter cattle, 25 percent of the commercial market share originates from communal farmers, some of whom are Rukoro’s subjects.
Rukoro’s contract runs until the end of March next year. He was quoted as saying that the Ernst & Young report the Meatco board used as the basis for his suspension contains nothing that warranted such an action.
Mutorwa has publically stated he was not involved in the appointment of Meatco CEOs.