By Shinovene Immanuel | 16 December 2016
STATE House rejected at least eight accommodation facilities for President Hage Geingob and his entourage offered by their French host, and instead opted to stay at one of the most expensive hotels in the world, where a suite costs as much as N$350 000 per day.
The Namibian also learnt that Geingob and his team picked one of the priciest hotels in London, during a week-long trip that took him to Paris, Havana and London from 27 to 30 November 2016. The Presidency said the trip to France and the UK was to “strengthen investments and enhance trade opportunities for Namibia”.
Questions sent to press secretary Albertus Aochamub since Saturday and repeated during the week were not answered.
The Namibian understands that Geingob’s delegation of about 90 people caused frustration for the hosts, who apparently did not expect huge numbers and thus ended up making sacrifices to accommodate the throng of Namibians. Prominent in the delegation were deputy prime minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, who doubles up as international relations minister, First Lady Monica Geingos, agriculture minister John Mutorwa, energy minister Obeth Kandjoze and finance minister Calle Schlettwein.
Others included were presidential economic adviser John Steytler, spokesperson Aochamub, Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive officer Tarah Shaanika and police chief Sebastian Ndeitunga.
But frustration for the French began even before the trip was undertaken, when the Presidency rejected the first list of four hotels, from which State House was expected to choose for the President.
The options were Hotel Maurice, Intercontinental Hotel, Sofitel and Raphael Hotel.
The hotels are what the French government use for their own officials as well as foreign guests. And they were to pay for the accommodation of Geingob and his entourage.
The initial rejection allegedly gave the French the impression that the Namibians considered the hotels too cheap and not of the quality they want.
A second option of another four hotels, which are a little more expensive than the first four, was given. The second four recommended hotels were Hotel Bristol, Shangri-La, Regina and Hotel Napoleon. These were all five-star hotels.
Namibian diplomats allegedly recommended the Shangri-La, which is located in the French capital 700 metres from the famous Eiffel Tower for Geingob. But this too was considered below class.
The Presidency insisted on being accommodated at Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris that is about 1,8km from the Eiffel Tower. Listed among the most expensive places in the world, the hotel is also known for accommodating celebrities and tycoons. A presidential suite at this hotel costs about US$25 000 (N$350 000) per night.
According to the hotel’s website, a suite includes an oversized living room, private office, private terrace, a dining area that sits up to eight guests and a fully equipped kitchen. The bathroom has its own steam room and sauna.
The Namibian could not establish how many people stayed at hotel George V with Geingob and whether the French eventually footed the bill they never planned to cover.
A representative of the French ambassador to Namibia, Jacqueline Bassa-Mazzoni, said they could not answer questions emailed to them yesterday “because we do not have such information”.
The embassy claimed it was not involved in the travel arrangements. The lack of response from State House also leaves a lot of unanswered questions. This includes the size of the delegation and where other delegates were accommodated and how much it cost the state.
The President was scheduled to stay in Paris for two days but his second day was interrupted because he left for Cuba for the memorial service of the county’s former leader Fidel Castro. People familiar with the trip to London said the Presidency stayed at another pricey hotel called The Dorchester.
The Namibian learnt that the big size of the Namibian delegation meant that the French and British had to cut down on the number of people in meetings.
Besides, Namibia allegedly ignored advice to put off the trip until a new French president had come into power as it had become clear that Francois Hollande would not run for a second term, and thus would not commit to agreements he may not be able to enforce.
Hotel George V is considered more expensive than the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, which President Geingob said he rejected to stay at in September this year because it was too expensive. A suite at Waldorf Astoria Hotel cost about US$10 000 (N$144 000) a day, said Geingob when he told the media in September this year saying he had chosen to spare Namibian public funds from such costs.
Presidential spokesperson Aochamub issued a statement a week after Geingob arrived back in Namibia saying the Environment Investment Fund of Namibia (EIF) signed a letter of intent with the French Agency for Development (AFD) worth N$675 million over a three-year period. It is in the statement in which Aochamub tried to downplay reports that the President’s chief of security Johan Ndjaronguru was dropped from the trip to France because of an order by Geingos.
“We reiterate that madame Geingos is not involved at all in deciding who provides which services to the President as far as security detail is concerned,” he said.
Ndjaronguru who always accompanies the President was absent at Tuesday’s press conference at State House.
*This story was produced by The Namibian’s investigative unit team. Email us story ideas: [email protected]