SME Bank employees feel ‘used’

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Kuzeeko Tjitemisa

Windhoek-Confused, stunned and anxious, employees at the troubled SME Bank yesterday alleged they were asked to hastily leave their previous jobs to join the bank so that it could secure a banking licence during the preparations for its launch at the time.

They also had a dig at the Bank of Namibia, which they said had assured them their jobs were safe but has now provisionally succeeded in having the bank closed down.

This follows a decision by the High Court yesterday provisionally ordering the liquidation of the poorly administered financial institution.

Relating their woes to New Era yesterday, the Namibia Financial Institution Union (Nafinu) shop steward at SME Bank, Aluta Garoeb, said that during a recent meeting with staff, reserve bank governor Iipumbu Shiimi made the staff believe they (reserve bank) are taking control to rescue the SME Bank, while in fact he led the charge to have the bank wound up.

“It is very painful that nobody is talking about the employees, not mentioning anything about us, not even government, the main shareholder. Everybody is just talking about the missing N$200 million, what about us?” he charged angrily.

Another SME Bank shop steward, Renny Uiseb, revealed they were requested to resign within 24 hours from other commercial banks operating in Namibia, as SME Bank needed to fast-track its recruitment process in order to be granted a banking licence, but the employees are now left to lick their wounds.

Meanwhile, SME Bank employees yesterday held a demonstration in front of the bank’s head office in Windhoek against the closure.

They handed a petition to the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and SME Development, Gabriel Sinimbo.

Nafinu general secretary Asnath Zamuee said employees in 2014 had alerted the government and the Bank of Namibia about mismanagement at the bank, which however turned out to be in vain.

“Our concerns were met with silence, and now we are the ones to pay the price of the government’s inability to control foreigners in our country,” said Zamuee.

The Namibian government owns 65 percent of SME Bank, while the Metropolitan Bank of Zimbabwe and World Eagle Properties, both from Zimbabwe, are minority shareholders.
Zamuee said that at the time the union questioned why all the strategic positions in the bank were occupied by Zimbabweans while the government is the majority shareholder.

She further said the union also questioned how Zimbabweans obtained work permits and requested the ministry of home affairs to revoke such permits.
“We were ignored,” she added.

“It is surprising and shocking to us that the government waited for N$200 million to be embezzled before taking any actions, and now is using the same reason to justify closure of the bank.”

“What hypocrisy and double standards,” she said.
Zamuee further expressed her disappointment with the manner in which the SME Bank issue was handled. She said it was handled in an insensitive manner and without any consideration for the well-being, future and emotions of Namibian employees.

“We will particularly follow closely if Air Namibia, TransNamib, NBC and other state-owned enterprises will be bailed out, and we will remember how we were treated by our own government.”

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