The leadership of the National Fishing Corporation of Namibia (Fishcor) is divided on who should lead the corruption-tainted organisation as chief executive officer (CEO) amid concerns that the recruitment process is at risk of being ‘cooked’.
The new Fishcor CEO would replace Mike Nghipunya, who is currently in jail awaiting trial on charges of money laundering, fraud and corruption of more than N$75 million as part of the Fishrot scandal.
Sources say the current acting CEO of Fishcor and board member Ruth Herunga is questioning the legitimacy of the leading candidate’s academic records.
Another bone of contention unfolding at Fishcor is the double role of Herunga, whose short-term appointment lapsed last week.
She was appointed from 6 April to 6 May 2021 and is still acting.
Herunga’s acting allowance is around N$68 000 per month after tax has been deducted.
Fishcor said they would decide this week whether Herunga’s term as interim boss of the state-owned fishing company would be extended.
Information seen by The Namibian shows that the CEO of the Fisheries Observer Agency (FOA), Stanley Ndara, emerged as the leading candidate from interviews for the Fishcor top job with 71,8%.
He declined to comment yesterday, saying he could not comment on a recruitment process.
Ndara was followed by the Namibia Institute of Public Administration and Management (Nipam) finance and administration director Beatus Amadhila, who scored 59,5%, while Tunacor CEO Peya Hitula came third with 55,4%.
Hitula runs Tunacor, a fishing consortium that is highly politically connected.
Its owners include children and family members of two Namibian presidents – president Hage Geingob and former president Hifikepunye Pohamba.
The Namibian has in the past reported that some Fishcor board members preferred Hitula.
Magdalena Nawases came fourth with 50,4%.
Whoever takes over as Fishcor boss would have the huge task of reforming the corruption-tainted organisation that has been used as a conduit for crooked deals for decades – especially during former minister of fisheries and marine resources Bernhard Esau’s reign.
Fishcor is a key puzzle in the Fishrot corruption scandal.
The new boss could also be key in determining some opaque partnership between Fishcor and private companies.
Sources say the board was ready to meet with minister of public enterprises Leon Jooste on their recommendation yesterday, but the meeting was called off.
Among the reasons for the delays is the lack of consensus among board members.
Fishcor board chairperson Heinrich Mihe Gaomab II yesterday said the board would meet this week “to assess the situation as a collective and resolve conclusively on the way forward”.
“Due to the management vacuum and the need to ensure control, direction and to attend to urgent operational and pertinent matters, the board thought in its wisdom to request Ms Ruth Herunga to caretake for a defined period,” he said.
Gaomab said they aim to submit the CEO recruitment report on the conclusion of the process on the board’s part to Jooste.
People familiar with this matter say the majority of the board is leaning towards appointing Ndara, but Herunga appears to be poking holes in Ndara’s academic qualifications, including the legitimacy of his master’s degree.
Herunga declined to comment on key details of the “verification” process.
She said verifying qualifications depends on the board.
“I cannot comment on who was the leading candidate either, since it’s an ongoing process which has not been concluded. What I can say though is that the duty to verify the qualifications of all candidates and due diligence was assigned to me by the board,” she said yesterday.
She said: “As a board or panel member there is a legal and ethical duty to be objective regarding all candidates. I consider myself bound by that duty.”
Some at Fishcor say disqualifying Ndara could leave the door open for Tunacor’s Hitula to compete for the job.
Hitula refused to comment on the matter.
Herunga denied any wrongdoing.
“I received a salary of N$68 000 after tax. The position was offered to me with a housing benefit only. The rest I had to pay myself. I used my vehicle to drive up and down, since at times I was requested to be in Windhoek,” she said.
Herunga claims she spent “thousands” on her vehicle, including on a breakdown.
“Serving Fishcor at the moment is a sacrifice I decided to make, and not a financial benefit,” she said.
Her leadership role at Fishcor has been under the microscope since she was appointed in the position last year.
One of the public concerns is her proximity to State House.
Herunga is a member of the Swapo think tank that serves as a research arm of the party on policy formulation.
The Fishrot scandal largely implicates Swapo. It also includes a secret scheme that was allegedly used to keep Geingob in power. The president has in the past denied any wrongdoing.
To some, such as the Affirmative Repositioning movement, Herunga is compromised.
Last year, AR leader Job Amupanda blasted the decision to shortlist her for the prosecutor general position.
The position is key in investigating the Fishrot scandal.
Amupanda described Herunga as “a friend of State House and a person who is a functionary of the Swapo machinery”.
Asked whether she was interested in the Fishcor job, Herunga said: “The position of CEO was advertised. I did not apply for it.”
According to her, she provided plenty of information to the Bank of Namibia and the Financial Intelligence Centre in the spirit of absolute transparency and the commitment to root out any form of corruption.
“I am currently still gathering more information they requested, apart from dealing with the day-to-day operations of the company, which is much needed under the circumstances,” she said.