Ex-SME Bank staff turn to govt for bailout

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Selma Ikela

WINDHOEK – Former SME Bank employees are requesting the government to pay their salaries dating back to nine months following the abrupt closure of the bank last year.

They have financial commitments and the situation has turned desperate as they are struggling to meet their financial obligations, they said during a demonstration yesterday.
They also want their loans with the defunct bank written off, as they are unable to meet these obligations while unemployed.

SME Bank closed last year after N$200 million went missing, and at the same time employees lost their jobs. Yesterday about 30 of the former 208 employees marched to the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and SME Development and the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare to hand in their petition, saying they have engaged these ministries and the Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amathila and President Hage Geingob for support, but have been sent from pillar to post without any assistance or direction from the government.

Employees gave the government until May 28 to revert to them and if they don’t receive a satisfactory response by then they will be demonstrating every month until their demands are met.

“It’s been an agonizing nine months during which we discovered we have an inconsiderate and uncaring government,” said the group’s spokesperson Justine Gebhardt.

Gebhardt said the current situation would lead to increased poverty in the country if not rescued, which is against the developmental goals of the government.

She said the retrenchment has had dire consequences for them and their dependents, adding that the majority of former SME Bank employees were headhunted from other banks.

“We were requested to resign within 24 hours to assist the SME Bank in obtaining its licence. Having resigned under those conditions makes it difficult for those institutions to receive us back,” she said.
Given the insolvency of the bank, she noted, the liquidators were only in a position to offer them one week’s wages for each year of service. Several problems arose with this exit package.

She said since the bank was fairly new the highest an employee could receive was five weeks’ pay.
“The majority of employees received between three and two weeks’ pay which is less than a month’s salary. Some employees were recruited early in the year and had not clocked a year’s service at the date of retrenchment. Such employees received nothing in severance pay. As can be expected, we were having financial commitments and this situation is depressing,” she said.

An SME Bank client who deposited money in the bank, Herbet Tjongarero, said some of the depositors had N$1.1 million in the bank that they have lost. Tjongarero appealed to the labour ministry to assist them to get their money back.

“We have employees to pay. I am appealing to you to help us get our money back so that we can pay our employees and for the economy to prosper because we have to jump-start the economy. This government was not elected by foreigners but by majority Namibians. We put you in power and have power to remove you from there as Namibians – it’s just that we haven’t done it,” said Tjongarero.

The deputy director at the labour ministry Penny Munkawa, who received the petition, promised to hand it to the labour minister.

Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and SME Development Gabriel Sinimbo and Deputy Minister of Finance, Natangwe Ithete, said they would facilitate the petition to the relevant authority.

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