Calls for criminal charges over Walvis Bay debt collection tender

Ester Mbathera

An interim report on the controversial appointment of RedForce Debt Management Company as the exclusive debt collector for the Municipality of Walvis Bay has revealed severe procedural and financial irregularities.

The report compiled by the municipality’s representative, Advocate Richard Metcalfe, seen by the Windhoek Observer, revealed that there appear to be various criminal offences arising from this preliminary investigation.

Metcalfe suggested that the criminal offence be transferred to the authorities for prosecution after further investigation.

“At this juncture, it is also already clear that the general manager for finance and manager for revenue and credit control will face a barrage of disciplinary offences once the investigation is finalised over and above any criminal charges to be proffered against them,” reads the report.

Finance general manager, Frans !Gonteb and Johanna Shidute, the manager for revenue and credit control, were suspended on 8 May.

According to the report, !Gonteb, in his own words, has owned this project and has been assisted by Shidute.

“Their role was not as has been alleged by some sources as being mere signatories to documents for RedForce and its appointment as debt collector and or its debt collecting operations. All municipal employees (17 to date) have freely and voluntarily assisted and expressed concerns pertaining to RedForce and its debt collection operations and its refusal to comply with the Credit Control Policy,” reads the report.

The report further states that three employees who use the Swordfish system provided by RedForce categorically made it clear that if such a system were provided to additional employees with proper training, the services of debt collectors would be restricted to accounts that are in arrears for over 90 days only.

It further found that !Gonteb and Shidute instructed the handover of accounts to RedForce after 30 days, contravening the official credit control policy of 90 days.

According to the irregularities identified by the investigators, there have been significant overpayments made to RedForce based on unauthorized and inflated invoices.

Between 22 September and 30 April RedForce billed the municipality for payment of approximately N$17 million.

This has raised questions about why the tender was not handled by the Namibian Central Procurement Board from the onset.

The investigators also found that RedForce’s operations violated the municipality’s credit control policy and relevant legislation, causing undue hardship to residents.

Metcalfe claimed in his report that the bidding document for debt management was designed to favour RedForce.

The bid evaluation criteria set out in the technical proposals required that a company have a legal department with an admitted lawyer with the High Court of Namibia and 7 years of post-practicing experience.

It was also required of the bidders to outline recent experience on assignments/projects of a similar nature during the last five years, a minimum of five projects with a book value above N$100 million, as well as submit a minimum of seven reference letters from two private entities and three from town councils or municipalities for similar jobs undertaken.

“The only logical conclusion that can be drawn from these requirements is that Red Force had already been designated as the entity to be awarded the tender and that the tender was but a smokescreen to justify such an award,” reads the report.

Contacted for a comment, Metcalfe replied that there is an ongoing investigation.

“Any criminal conduct that becomes apparent will be handed over to the Nampol Commercial Crime Unit for further investigation,” he said.

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