Namibia Tender boss faces coup d’etat

Swartz and his deputy Lischen Ramakhutla.jpgThe majority of the Central Procurement Board (CPB) members have decided to remove their chairperson, Patrick Swartz, from his position due to continued infighting and lack of progress at the state tender agency.

Three people familiar with this matter confirmed to The Namibian yesterday that the majority of board members passed a vote of no confidence in Swartz on Thursday. Swartz, the de facto chief executive of the organsation, is accountable to the board for his administrative work.

Swartz and his deputy Lischen Ramakhutla are also accountable to the finance minister.

According to sources, the board members – who pulled off the boardroom coup d’etat – decided after complaining about Swartz’s incompetence and that his continued clash with his deputy, Ramakhutla, had paralysed the tender agency.

The Namibian understands that the vote of no confidence comes a week after Ramakhutla allegedly told fellow board members that they had failed the organisation.

Sources said Ramakutla even suggested that the board should be replaced with an independent governance committee.

A document seen by The Namibian shows that the board members complained about the sour relationship between the two.

”The relationship between the chairperson and deputy chairperson has become strenuous over the period. The board had to intervene to divide functions amongst the two heads. However, the relationship breakdown continues. The deputy chair displays absolute disregard to the board by walking out of meetings. The chair does not have the capacity or perhaps feels not legally empowered to reprimand her,” an internal February 2019 CPB memo said.

The document said the board proposed “professional coaching to inculcate mature leadership skills”.

The Namibian understands that finance minister Calle Schlettwein has not yet been formally briefed about the latest decision, but sources said the minister is losing patience with the continued intra-board fights, especially at the agency that is supposed to be helping the government.

A senior finance official said the latest vote of no confidence is a signal of failure by the entire board.It is unclear whether Schlettwein will agree to remove Swartz.

Sources said the finance ministry asked the tender agency to explain why Swartz should pack his bags.

Schlettwein has powers under the Procurement Act to remove a CPB board member, but he has to do so “after giving such member a reasonable opportunity to be heard”.

According to that law, the minister can remove a member if they are physically or mentally unfit or unable to perform their functions as a member effectively, neglects his or her functions as a member; or leaks confidential information.

Swartz and Ramakhutla were not reachable for comment yesterday and did not respond to text messages sent to them.

Besides the two, the board which was appointed in 2017, consists of finance deputy executive director Titus Ndove, former Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA) Fund chief executive turned-businessman Jerry Mwadinohamba, Epafras Shilongo, Maria Nakale, Maria Iyambo and Hendrik Loftie-Eaton.

Unlike Swartz and Ramakutla who were appointed on five-year contracts, the terms of the other seven members ends next year, but they can be renewed.

Infighting and allegations of incompetence have rocked the board that was formed to end corruption and mismanagement in the government’s tendering processes, for the past two years.

Ramakutla, a new entrant into the tender system that has been dominated by technocrats for decades, is also fighting to save her job.

Her relationship with Swartz strained further after the finance ministry started investigating Ramakutla in August last year over a N$14 000 information technology tender awarded to a company where her brother was employed.

The tender was for the CPB website and escalated to around N$40 000 after the company continued to maintain the agency’s website and to provide extra services, such as hosting the website.

Ramakhutla believes she is innocent since accounting officers do the awarding of contracts. She also believes that the case is being used by her detractors to get her out of the way because of her clashes with Swartz.

Sources said another issue pinned on Ramakhutla and Swartz is that they employed up to 13 people who are close to them, or to their associates at the procurement agency.

The Namibian reported last year that the tension between Swartz and Ramakhutla often reaches fever pitch, such that on 14 March last year, Ramakutla exploded from her chair during a board meeting and appeared to want to attack Swartz physically.

The tender agency has failed to take off smoothly since 2017 with continued reports of infighting, dishing out tenders to Chinese companies and lack of stability in terms of the workforce.

There are also concerns that some board members are already forming cliques to dish out state contracts to their favourites.

Despite all the negativity, the board blocked several tenders worth N$1,4 billion earlier this year after picking up information that the rules favoured certain companies while another contract was cancelled because it was “dodgy”.

Sources: The Namibian