NCCI infights reach boiling point

By Hilary Mare and CJade McClune

RACKS within the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) have widened, with the future of the organisation and the reputation its leadership on the line as accusa- tions of mismanagement, fraud and corruption are slung back and forth between branches and the head office, Confidente has learned.

In recent weeks, NCCI chief executive officer (CEO) Charity Mwiya has come under fire from branch chairpersons around the country who have accused her of mishandling the organisation’s affairs and causing fissures that threaten the future existence of the chamber.

The contest of wills between Mwiya and branch chairpersons of Windhoek, Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, Otjiwarongo and the northern regions is feared to be causing irreparable damage to the NCCI, with some members believed to be contemplating pulling out.

In an interview with Confidente last week, Mwiya said she had no intention of breaking the organisation down, but was only clearing up the mess that had long been allowed.

“The main issue with all these challenges that have found their way to the press has been around governance and compliance issues that we are trying to address at branch level. NCCI, just like any other organisation, has a leadership that is accountable and responsible for all its activities.

“I, as the CEO am accountable for anything, particularly issues involving member subscriptions. What we have simply done is to try and give the head office more control on the activities of the chamber and these chairpersons are not happy with it.

“We cannot have branches that want to have power independent of the head office. In actual fact, branch chairpersons are volunteers that are only supposed to do advocacy work for the NCCI and not administrative work. That is the work of the secretariat.

“We had grave concerns
at branch level, such as cash handling, which would make ac- countability difficult for us and we had to plug such loopholes. At times we had situations where we conveyed messages to members through the branches but this information would never reach the members. This is why centralising functions was important,” Mwiya said in her defense.

Tension over SWAITEX

Despite calls from the Swakopmund branch that the 7th Swakopmund International Trade Expo (SWAIT- EX) be postponed due to “undue interference” by Mwiya’s office in Windhoek which left the local initiators of the expo sidelined and frustrated, the expo was launched in Windhoek last Wednesday.

In a letter to Mwiya last month, executive chairperson of the branch Paul Ndjambula wrote that “The Swakopmund branch exco has been completely sidelined in the SWAITEX engagements and we have waited patiently for feedback on the way forward, to no avail until September.”

Addressing himself to the secre- tariat, Ndjambula said of SWAIT- EX that the profitability was not a new issue: “... that is why we have many times in past years asked for support to help growth the revenue of the expo. These requests never received positive support from the secretariat, aside from promises.

SWAITEX partners asking me why there was no launch and why the sponsorship request letters are signed by the CEO and not the local branch leadership, as in the past.”

One of the sources of tension between NCCI branches and the head office has been the move to centralize all income, member
fees and decision-making at the top. Njambula said SWAITEX sponsors “expressed concern about the sponsorship funds being paid into an account outside the region and asked about the partnership packages provided and how can they commit to them if not all benefits can be met if the event is three weeks away.

“Looking at the above, it is ridiculous to talk about long term sustainability and assume you can organise and control an event of this magnitude from Windhoek... Trying to control a local branch initiative like SWAITEX from Windhoek contravenes the idea of a chamber of commerce having branches in the regions.”

Impasse in the North

Following the election of a new leadership in the northern regions, Tomas Iindji, who previously led the branch for 15 years,

wrote to the Oshana Regional Govenor Elia Irimari saying his office had not been informed of any election of new leaders and neither

was the current leader- ship properly consulted, which raised suspicion. “We also have not participated in any new elections. The elections at branch level are normally supervised by the northern regions committee and this

process has been working for many years without head office intervention. We have operated this organisation for over 15 years and it would be a mistake to undermine the members of the north.

“We don’t want to cling to leadership, but we want things to be done in a proper manner so
as to protect the interests of the businesses here, most of which we have walked this journey together with, and [they] have conferred high level of trust in us,” Iindji told the governor.

He further said that if the elec- tions held recently in the north were in accordance with the rules and procedures of the NCCI he would congratulate the new lead- ers, but in his own view “There should be a leadership transformation properly constituted and in consultation with the current one under my office supervision for better continuation, supported by an approved transition. Things need to be done in unity for the interest of the business community not individuals.”

Confidente understands that Mwiya wrote to Governor Irimari on 18 September to introduce the new leadership, to which the govenor responded saying: “Your letter and the NCCI Northern re- gion letter have counter [-factual] content and it is on that basis that our office would like to request your good institution to rectify and align the letters’ content to be in line with the due procedurals of your institution.”

Windhoek joins fracas

Confidente in October published details of leaked NCCI correspondence, in which Walvis Bay branch chairman Johnny Doeseb demanded the resignation of the CEO.

Doeseb said: “Core business values, being morality, honesty, integrity, fairness and transpar- ency are not forthcoming from the head office of the chamber.” He said the NCCI was aiming “to centralise all administration func- tions” and “suppress the indepen- dence of the branches and control the members.”

In addition, he complained of NCCI “draft financial state- ments unsuccessfully tabled for adoption at meetings held in August 2016 and August 2017, which referred to an amount of N$2,512,103 described as ‘Un- known Expense’ and an amount of N$479,350 described as ‘Fraud’, both to be written off as expenses in the income statement,” and complained that these cases were never resolved.

Looming AGM

There are now moves afoot to hold an extraordinary AGM in mid-October, but NCCI branch leaders have questioned the tim- ing, saying they were not properly notified, but only learned of it via unofficial WhatsApp messages.

In letter to Mwiya on 26 September, Windhoek branch chairperson Martin Shipanga said their branch had not been officially informed of the rumoured AGM, which was reportedly scheduled for 14 October.

He also dismissed an earlier communiqué from Mwiya titled “General notice regarding Branch Administration and Abolishment of illegal ‘Northern Branch’ structure” to be of no force and effect, saying “We wish to highlight that we are not employees of the NCCI, but elected business lead- ers to serve and guard the interest of our fellow business.”

“Our branch is concerned about the ongoing disputes in the NCCI structures, which are negatively affecting both image and further compromising the ability of the business leadership to focus on pertinent members and business challenges. We wish to place it on record that we are ready to collaborate and work with all NCCI structures nation- ally in the best interest of serving Namibian business, big or small.”

In a WhatsApp message to all NCCI branches marked “Confidential”, it was said that: “Given the situation at the head office with the CEO, who is now clearly calling for an ... illegal AGM on Monday 14 October 2019 at a venue not yet specified; branches not yet informed as per constitutional requirements; an agenda of items not yet set and sent out to branches... “

The author, said to be a prominent branch leader, said the branches should call for an AGM and in the event the CEO failed to organise the meeting, as per the branches’ resolution, a “vote of no confidence in the acting CEO would be tabled as part of the agenda item at the next AGM.”

In response, Mwiya told Confidente that the NCCI council is the highest decision making body of the organisation and should
be respected at all times. “The constitution makes provision for measures to be taken against those that are defying the organisation’s structures. These measures will be taken at the appropriate time,” she warned.

Official information regarding the AGM would be issued in due course and for the branch leaders to say ongoing preparations were being done in “secret” even before the official announcement has been made was wrong and misleading, she said.