By Shinovene Immanuel | 19 June 2019
THE government has queried over 70 contracts signed by the state-owned Agro-Marketing and Trade Agency (Amta), including transactions worth more than N$50 million that were either not approved by the board or the agriculture ministry.
The details of the contracts are contained in documents reviewed by The Namibian, including letters written by agriculture minister Alpheus !Naruseb and attorney general Albert Kawana.
The Amta management – headed by managing director Lungameni Lucas – did not only overpay themselves by between N$1,5 million and N$3 million each over the past four years, but also dragged the struggling parastatal into signing deals without the blessing of the board or the line ministry.
In a letter seen by The Namibian, !Naruseb wrote to Kawana on 17 December 2018, asking for a legal opinion on about 70 Amta transactions.
“[The] board meeting held on 29 November 2018 directed Amta management to submit all active contracts, agreements and memoranda of understanding that have legal and financial implications to my office for onward transmission to the Office of the Attorney General for review and advice,” the minister said in the letter.
!Naruseb submitted a file containing a summarised list of all active contracts, agreements and memoranda of understanding that have legal and financial implications to Kawana “for your scrutiny and legal advice”.
!Naruseb’s attachments show that Amta finalised up to 70 major contracts from 2014 to 2018, but only 13 were approved by the board, and only three were approved by the ministry.
Contracts not approved by the board include a N$2,6 million deal to rent head offices in Windhoek, a N$1 million contract with the National Sanitary Foundation, and N$700 000 paid to a company called Ravinias Investment CC for an information technology services agreement.
Amta has been reliant on bailouts from the government since its inception. The parastatal received around N$30 million from the national budget over the last two years.
Documents show that Amta failed to get ‘approval’ from the agriculture ministry to buy a Windhoek property from businessman Erastus Shapumba for N$46 million. However, documents at the Deeds Office show that Amta paid N$40 million for the property.
This controversial transaction was finalised by the board.
The Namibian reported in 2017 that the struggling parastatal bought a property in Windhoek for N$40 million, thereby overpaying by as much as N$27 million. Shapumba bought the land on which the property is located from Trustco in 2013 for N$4 million, according to the deeds documents.
The property, situated in Industria Street in the Northern Industrial Area, was owned by Shapumba’s company called Erf Two Zero Nine CC.
!Naruseb initially did not want to comment because he “does not want to conduct his duties through the media”, but confirmed that he wrote the letters.
“I discovered that there were many things [Amta] that were done in a way that was not to be done.
“I then wrote to public enterprises minister Leon Jooste and my superiors on what I had found,” he said.
He declined to comment further on whether action will be taken against Amta officials who had dragged the government into questionable transactions.
The minister was furious two weeks ago when asked about the Amta officials overpaying themselves.
The government formed Amta in 2014 as an agency responsible for the marketing and selling of agricultural products on behalf of the state.
But the parastatal has been turned into a cash-cow for well-connected business individuals, highly paid executives and consultants.
The agency failed to explain several transactions, including the N$277 000 paid to a firm called Shangelao Capital in 2014.
Lucas yesterday said most of the questions asked by The Namibian “were discussed in confidence with the Amta board, and presented to the line ministry”.
“The agency is not in a position to respond on the content of the above questions, pending feedback from the line ministry,” the managing director said. He did not answer questions on the threshold of the minimum amount for which he is supposed to get board approval.
Kawana was also asked by the agriculture ministry in an earlier letter whether Amta was supposed to pay private lawyers for legal advice on contracts.
The attorney general responded to !Naruseb on 8 October 2018, insisting that the State Finance Act and the Treasury regulations state that Amta, as a state-owned enterprise, “may only obtain legal advice and/or services from private law firm(s) with the instructions of my office”.
“Ordinarily, the costs for such services will be covered by the state,” he said.
Documents show that Amta paid N$110 000 in legal services to a private company.
Lucas said The Namibian’s interpretation of Kawana’s letter, forcing them to go through the attorney general’s office for legal advice, “is incorrect”.
The Namibian reported two weeks ago that Lucas has been overpaid by N$3,1 million from 2014 to 2018.
Five senior managers at Amta have also been overpaid by N$1,5 million each since 2015.
This series of transactions forced the highly paid Lucas into a corner, to such an extent that the board wants him gone by next month.
Two people familiar with the matter said the board decided in September last year that Lucas’ contract will not be renewed when it ends next month.
Sources said the Amta chief later consulted his lawyers about that decision. According to sources, Lucas’ future “hangs in the balance”, but there are concerns that the board might be pushed into renewing his contract.
Lucas told The Namibian yesterday that the question about his future is a matter for the board.