Windhoek-President Hage Geingob has set the record straight by explaining that the establishment of the SME Bank came about because of a Cabinet resolution to convert the government’s former credit guarantee scheme into an SME Bank.
Geingob made the remarks during a media briefing yesterday that he convened to provide clarity on some of the pressing issues that have been preoccupying the minds of Namibian citizens.
He spoke on the state of the Namibian House; the state of the economy; the closure of the SME Bank; alleged cases of corruption, such as the Avid Social Security case, the Development Capital Portfolio of the GIPF, the Offshore Development Company and recently the Kora music awards and NAMDIA; on land reform matters; and tribalistic utterances by some national leaders. Last month, the SME Bank, majority-owned by government, closed after High Court Judge Hannelie Prinsloo issued a provisional order for its winding-up.
Noting that he is not inclined to interfere in the functioning of the courts and the due process of law, Geingob rejected partisan allegations that he is quiet about the fate of bank he had helped to create, where close to 250 recently lost their jobs.
For this reason, he said, government did not intervene to stop actions taken by the Bank of Namibia against the SME Bank, “although we asked them for more time to allow us to take up the matter with our political counterparts in South Africa and Zimbabwe”.
“I am not quiet on the SME Bank. Let me make use of this opportunity to clarify that the SME Bank was never a ‘Hage’ project, as portrayed by some,” Geingob said at the wide-ranging briefing, where he explained that since the matter resorted under the then Ministry of Trade and Industry and he was the line minister at the time, he attended to the execution of the Cabinet resolution.
He further said the presidency could not at present comment in detail on the matter, as it is before the courts, hence it is sub-judice.
Geingob said it was regrettable though that since then the bank has been put under provisional liquidation and that so many ordinary Namibian workers have lost their jobs as a result. “Their loss directly and indirectly affects us all,” he said.
“We encourage all concerned stakeholders to contact the liquidators that are now in charge of the process,” he further advised.
Asked whether he is one of the depositors whose money is stuck in the SME Bank, Geingob said he had spent most of it before the liquidation and only has about N$40,000 left in the bank. In 2015, he declared that he had about N$1,4 million in an SME Bank account.
“We have not only dreamt during the past two years, we have also taken bold decisions to demonstrate that we mean business,” Geingob said.
These decisions – some of which the president says were taken before the Harambee Prosperity Plan – include the cancellation of the N$7 billion Hosea Kutako International Airport upgrade tender; the re-evaluation of the Xaris Power Plant; the launch of investigation into the National Oil Storage Facility, and the cancellation of crude oil purchases from Angola for further scrutiny.
Further, he noted that drastic action to reign in wasteful public expenditure were taken, as well as the increase in old age pension grants by 66 percent in year one and the doubling thereof over the subsequent two years, were some of the bold decisions taken under his watch.
“That is a big and bold decision. Go and ask the old people,” he remarked.
Other major decisions he noted included his meeting with land activists to avert a potentially eruptive turn of events, which could have destabilised Namibia, as well as mediation with the National Teachers Union (Nantu) to avert prolonged and potentially devastating industrial action that would have negatively impacted on schoolgoing children.
In all, the message from the president yesterday was clear: we may have come through some stormy economic waters in recent months, but the ship is strong, steady and still on course.