Are Namibian SOEs suffocating women?

By Timo Shihepo

Windhoek – Since 2013 Namibia’s ruling party Swapo has been striving for greater women representation at all levels of leadership. The party amended its constitution to make provision for a 50/50 gender representation at all its structures.

As a result women representation in the National Assembly went above the 40 percent mark in 2015, pushing the country to be one of the few in Africa and the world where women have high representation in parliament.

The same, however, can not be said about Namibian women occupying executive positions, especially at state-owned companies.

Over the years, Namibian women occupying higher positions at various state owned enterprises have either been fired or forced to resign, in a move that some say boils down to victimisation and discrimination.

A small number of women leads public enterprises. There are 97 SOEs in the country that operate in different areas of the economy including fishing, finance, education, mining, tourism, media, health and many others.

But even those still occupying executive positions, are continuously fighting off charges instituted against them by the male-dominated board of directors.

A high profile example is that of former TransNamib chief executive officer Sara Katiti, formerly Naanda. Katiti was suspended during October 2014 with full pay barely a year after she was controversially appointed as CEO.

Katiti was facing charges relating to alleged breach of confidentiality, conflict of interest and breach of trust.

To end the fights between the two parties, TransNamib reached an agreement with Katiti last year in April. The amount reportedly given to Katiti was R7 million.

Theo Namases former Air Namibia managing director, much like Katiti, was also suspended with full pay in 2014 before the company agreed to give her a golden handshake believed to be worth about R4 million.

While Katiti’s and Namases’ cases are done and dusted, knives are now out for Namibia students’ financial assistance fund (NSFAF) CEO Hilya Nghiwete.

NSFAF is a fund owned by government created to fund tertiary education for the less privileged Namibian students who are unable to afford university fees.

Students are now suffering because the board is entangled in a never-ending tug of war with the CEO.

Sources at NSFAF told The Southern Times that the fund’s board of trustees have been planning to fire Nghiwete. Although she has not been formally charged, the board allegedly want to bring insubordination and negligence charges against her.

The Southern Times has it on good authority that the NSFAF board has asked Nghiwete to resign or risk being fired. Impeccable sources further added that Nghiwete’s firing is so immanent that she is not guaranteed to be CEO come January 2018.

Her dismissal could however be frozen after higher education minister Itah Kandjii-Murangi, this week announced that the ministry was planning to reincorporate NSFAF back into the ministry as a department or directorate.

TransNamib former company secretary Eugenia Tjaronda, spent nearly two years on suspension between 2012 and 2014. She was then reinstated, only to be fired in 2017. The board accused her of leaking information and insubordination. Tjaronda is still fighting what she says it’s an illegal dismissal.

Former Namibia Training Authority CEO, Maria Nangolo-Rukoro was perhaps the one who was hit hard the most. She was on suspension for almost two years since 2013 until her contact ended in 2015. The Anti-Corruption Commission even cleared her on the charges instituted against her. When her contract ended, the board told her that it was not going to be renewed but she was free to apply once her post is advertised in the media.

After reapplying for the post, the independent recruitment agency contracted to run the process on behalf of the NTA selected Nangolo-Rukoro as one of the short listed candidates for the job.

Speaking to The Southern Times this week, Namases was still counting the cost of the ordeal she experienced with her dismissal. “I know that the story analysis is a great idea to help young women and women at large who might be going through the same trouble but dear, it is better if I don’t comment,” she said before politely hanging up the phone. 

In a statement she released two days after reaching a settlement agreement for an amicable divorce with the national airline, Namases said she had to leave Air Namibia even though she wasn’t guilty because the matter had “dragged on longer than expected, and I am just too tired and want to move on with my life.” It appears she does not want to be reminded of the past.

PowerCom CEO, Alisa Amupolo who is still part of few women leading government institutions said women are equal players, they can add value, and they are just as talented as a male counterpart and even when it comes to pay, women deserves equal pay as men.

PowerCom is a government owned ICT Infrastructure Company with an asset portfolio of 300 towers and also managing 29 rooftops.

Katiti has hardly spoken about the events that led to her parting ways with TransNamib. She agreed to reply to the questions sent by The Southern Times as it might help other women but had not done so at the time of going to print.

Namibia’s Ombudsman Advocate John Walters told The Southern Times this week that what’s lacking for women is access to justice. He has recommended for an informal cheaper tribunal that addresses inequalities especially for the marginalised women.

“The cheapest form of court available to these women is the Labour Court after that it’s the Judiciary, which is expensive. Many of the women do not lay complaints and are not aware of the equality provision in the Labour Act. I have recommended to the ministry of labour to raise awareness of this provision. Women are in general not treated equally. They face victimisation and sexual harassment and it’s high time we change that.” 

While the public know about the cases that involve women occupying higher positions, there are women who are going through the same ordeals but their stories are not published.

The discrimination against women managers could however be a thing of the past. Earlier this year, the Namibian government adopted recommendations made by the committee that monitors theconvention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women 2017-2020.

Even in the private sector only a handful of women are entrusted with higher positions. Women like Nangula Uaandja, Country Senior Partner at Price Water House Coopers Namibia and Bank Windhoek Managing Director Baronice Hans are some of the only few women still occupying top positions in the country.

December 2017
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