Friday, November 27, 2020

NBFIRA – It’s not what you know, it’s who you know

“You are many things and I have not yet told you what you are.” Hardly five minutes into our meeting with Non Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority (NBFIRA) officials and Richard Hobart throws a spectacular tantrum. For sometime, the NBFIRA Chief Executive Officer ranted, yelled and threw a wobbly.

The cause of his rage? The Sunday Standard ran a story suggesting that NBFIRA did not carry out adequate due diligence before employing Mercelina !Gaoses as the parastatal’s Director of Licensing.

We soon learn that Hobart is no stiff upper-lipper. He is not one to spend time seething through gritted teeth into a polite and long-suffering grin.
After every few sentences, the meeting would break into a shouting match as he hurls teddies out of the pram. The meeting ended on a light note, but none could forget the bulging eyes and the frothÔÇôflecked mouth.

Two days later, I was on the phone, quizzing Hobart on allegations that NBFIRA had employed a board director’s son without advertising the post. I had to grin and bear it as he dumped on me, before answering my question. His reaction was not surprising, after all, nepotism is an ugly word. It reeks of old school ties, cliques and clubs; daddy putting a word in with the boss, or mummy pulling a few strings. In our new flexi-friendly, egalitarian parastatal organizations, it might seem that there is no place for nepotism any more; success is now based on skills, creativity and a willingness to put in the hours.

But some NBFIRA watchers say the old adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, has never been more true. NBFIRA bosses had broken the parastatal code designed to combat corruption.
The code of practice was breached in terms of independent scrutiny, equal opportunities, openness and transparency. There was fear that this could undermine the public’s faith in NBFIRA’s appointment process and open up the parastatal to cronyism.

Hobart explained that the post was not advertised because the appointment was an emergency and only temporary.
Perhaps Hobart’s tantrums this time were because of some media know-nothing weighing in at a time of pain with difficult and comfortless questions. He had just come out of a stormy board meeting where the board chairman, Kenneth Matambo, had taken him to task over the appointment of the board member’s son and the Licensing Director.
A no nonsense man and former Chief Executive himself, Matambo had ordered Hobart to fire Mohohlo’s son immediately and to do a thorough background check on the Licensing Director Mercelina !Gaoses.

A Namibian citizen, !Gaoses was recently appointed Director of Licensing at NBFIRA, but her fellow citizens in Namibia have already started warning the Botswana Government that she is a high risk employee who should not be given such a sensitive position.

Citing !Gaoses’ past problems with the law back in Namibia, her compatriots have warned the Botswana government on the follies of appointing her Director in a sensitive institution such as the Non-Banking Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority (NBFIRA), an institution whose only stock in trade is integrity.

It is said !Gaoses resigned her position of General Manager at the Namibia Financial Institutions Authority (Namfisa) amid allegations of corruption.

In its front page story carried in last week’s edition, Sunday Standard wrote that with !Gaoses already having taken up her appointment as Director of Licensing at NBFIRA, indications are that there was not sufficient vetting and “due diligence” at NBFIRA to check on her past record before she was offered the position ÔÇô an appointment her Namibian compatriots insists Botswana Government will live to regret.

At a stormy meeting with Sunday Standard editors, NBFIRA bosses insisted that they had carried out adequate due diligence and demanded an apology. The board chairman’s order, however, threw a spanner into the works.
In a letter to the Sunday Standard, two days before the decision by the board, Hobart stated that “on the basis of the candidates’ CVs, the results of the interview process and reference checks the CEO recommended to the NBFIRA Board of Directors that Ms Marcelina !Gaoses be hired for the position”.

Hobart further stated that !Gaoses “produced a positive reference letter from the Swaziland Registrar, which in part, stated, “We recognize her professionalism and exceptional industry credentials and unreservedly recommend her services to the regional and international regulators and organizations with our most sincere plaudits.”

“During the interview Ms !Gaoses was asked if she would receive the same type of positive reference from NAMFISA. She indicated that she would not receive such a reference in that she had resigned from NAMFISA. She further indicated that her resignation was a result of a regulatory dispute within the organization.”

Indications are that NBFIRA only took !Gaoses’ side of the story and did not inquire with NAMFISA.

The NBFIRA boss further states that the regulatory policy dispute within NAMFISA was the result of regulatory action taken against an insurer registered to conduct business in Namibia. “Based on a forensic investigation initiated by Ms !Gaoses and conducted by a firm of auditors, the High Court of Namibia placed the insurer under curatorship. As a result, the directors, management and sole shareholder of the company were removed from office.

“Subsequently, the Court returned the insurer to its owners. At that point the owners of the insurer appear to have set out on a mission to publicly attack and discredit key people involved in placing the company under curatorship.”

Hobart further stated that, “many of the adverse media articles in the Namibia press regarding Ms ! Gaoses appeared in a newspaper called Informante. It is noteworthy that this newspaper is owned by the holding company that owns the insurer investigated by Ms !Gaoses. These articles have caused considerable stress to Ms !Gaoses and have adversely affected her reputation. As a result she has filed a defamation claim in the High Court of Namibia (Case N0 12181/08) against both the holding company and the newspaper.”

Sunday Standard can however reveal that the story was also carried by other Namibian publications besides Informante. Namibia’s Republiken newspaper ran an article on September 4, 2006 alleging that !Gaoses failed to provide proof of her qualifications upon which her employment at Namfisa was based.

Botswana’s High Commissioner to Namibia, Norman Moleboge, has received a letter, copied to the Botswana Public Officers Pension Fund (BPOPF) and other leading Asset Managers in Botswana warning them against the dangers of a recent appointment of !Gaoses as director of NBFIRA.

The online version of Namibia’s Zero Tolerance for Corruption Campaign reported that !Gaoses resigned from Namfisa, Namibia’s equivalent of NBFIRA “with immediate effect” and that “it was reported that she was about to be the subject of an internal Namfisa investigation into possible conflict of interest”.

It is alleged that at the time !Gaoses resigned, she was about to be suspended from her post and to be investigated for financial irregularities.

It would seem like !Gaoses was reeling from a deep financial crisis by the time she was appointed to Botswana’s NBFIRA. At some stage, a Namibian furniture shop, Furnitures Nictus, offered a reward of N$5,000 for information about !Gaoses and her lover after the furniture store failed to trace the pair to recover N$ 30, 000 in unpaid furniture bills. The duo also lost their expensive house after it was auctioned off to recover a housing loan debt totaling over N$1.5 million that the couple owed to Nedbank Namibia Limited.

The Windhoek High Court allegedly issued a warrant of execution for their Hochland Park house after Koep & Partners law firm issued summons for the recovery of the debt on behalf of the bank.

The Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority (NBFIRA) is the regulatory authority responsible for the regulation and orderly market conduct of all non-bank financial institutions, registered within the Republic of Botswana, principally, these include pension fund managers, whose portfolio run into billions of Pula.

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