By Okeri Ngutjinazo and Shinovene Immanuel | 23 April 2018
NAMIBIA’S high commissioner to India, Pius Dunaiski, clashed with a senior colleague there over renting ambassadorial offices, prompting a ministerial investigation.
Documents seen by The Namibian show that the second secretary at Namibia’s high commission in India, Evangeline Helu, accused Dunaiski of victimising her and settling for an inferior head office rent deal in India.
These details are contained in a November 2016 letter written by Helu. Dunaiski, who is serving in India since 2013, dismissed the allegations.
The letter was sent to international relations minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, permanent secretary of the ministry of international relations Selma Ashipala-Musavyi, and Dunaiski.
Although the letter was sent in 2016, sources said some diplomats were worried that the ministry had failed to act on the complaints up to today.
The butting of heads started in August 2016 when Namibian diplomats in India searched for a new building after the one they used in India’s capital, New Delhi, was destroyed by a fire in April that year.
Helu said Dunaiski asked her and other staff at the embassy to find a new building in New Delhi for a maximum N$200 000 per month through two estate agents named as Chopra Associates and Suri Properties.
“While I was still waiting for the response from the second agent, namely Chopra Associates, the high commissioner called me on 5 September 2016, enquiring on the status of the process,” she explained.
Helu said she reported that only one estate agent had responded and that she was still waiting for the response from the second agent.
“I was surprised when the high commissioner (Dunaiski) informed me that he was already meeting Chopra Associates at a local hotel, where a visiting Namibian minister was staying,” she said.
Helu said she decided not to proceed with the negotiations since Dunaiski was negotiating the rent deal.
“The next day, 6 September 2016, I received an email from the agent of Chopra Properties, with a proposal,” she said.
According to her, Dunaiski instructed her on 12 September 2016 to pay 1,1 million Indian rupees (around N$200 000) monthly rent to Chopra Properties.
“This was unexpected, and upon perusing the lease agreement, I realised that clauses on maintenance, fire safety and security were excluded, thus becoming the responsibility of the mission,” Helu added.
She said the agreement would be a financial burden to the government if an accident happened.
“I could not commit myself to the payment since I did not agree with the terms of the agreement,” she said;.
She added that “what followed afterwards were verbal abuse and threats from the high commissioner that I was lying, cunning, manipulating the process by refusing to commit only when the agent of my choice was not chosen”.
Helu denied the allegations and recalled a meeting held at the high commissioner’s house on 19 September 2016 where she claimed that Dunaiski “tried to change the story by accusing me of having led the negotiations and agreeing to the N$200 000 [a month deal]”.
Helu added that she later went through the rental agreement again after that meeting.
“[I] discovered that it was already signed on 29 August 2016 at 10h49, before the staff meeting on the same day where it was decided on the ceiling amount, and I was tasked to approach the agents,” she stated.
Helu said Dunaiski never informed the staff at that meeting that the agreement had already been signed that morning.
“I, therefore, concluded that [the] high commissioner was all along negotiating with his preferred agent, and the meeting and follow-up enquiries on the progress of the process was just to create a false impression that we were involved,” she continued.
Helu said the permanent secretary instructed her to pay the rent, but that maintenance work should be included in the agreement.
“Not all the conditions as directed by the permanent secretary were met when the high commissioner renegotiated with the owner, again alone,” she said, adding that “I am still of the opinion that the current agreement, even if it is amended, still did not serve the interests of the Namibian government”.
According to her, the New Delhi property where the government is renting now is in an area where there is low property demand, and that the state could have negotiated a better deal.
The diplomat said this was not the first time she was dragged into a questionable property deal.
“The monthly rental of the building involved in the fire accident was similarly inflated, and a contract signed hastily over the weekend,” she said.
Helu added that she was tricked into signing that contract.
“That hastily signed contract brought the mission into a legal wrangle after the fire incident, with claims of rental loss and damages,” she noted.
Helu requested the ministry to act on those concerns, but nothing was done.
“Now, we are at a stage where the situation has gotten worse,” she added.
Sources said some diplomats are worried that the ministry is protecting the high commissioner.
Permanent secretary Ashipala-Musavyi told The Namibian last week that the ministry is aware of Helu’s concerns.
“The ministry cannot formulate an interpretation without fully [appraising] the matter and establishing all the facts, hence our internal investigation,” she said.
“There is no opinion on the matter, regarding the ambassador or any other person, until the matter has been duly dealt with. No one is being protected”.
Helu was unreachable for comment. Dunaiski told The Namibian this month that he started searching for a new building after being without offices for four months.
“I attempted to provide hands-on leadership to the mission to identify and acquire suitable office space to mitigate the frustrating reality of being without an office,” he said.
Dunaiski said the process was delayed by some people at the mission.
“New Delhi is known for exorbitant high rents, especially for chanceries, and we go to great lengths to ensure accountability by negotiating competitive leases for properties,” he responded.
He said that he involved the permanent secretary and staff in the rent negotiations to ensure accountability and transparency.
Dunaiski claimed that Helu is playing the victim.
“(I) have much to say about this, but that is for internal consumption as I wish to respect government rules and procedures,” he said, adding that someone wanted to ruin his reputation.