Watch your money or lose it

All too often Namibians as individuals, businesses and the government itself have been the victim of con artists and thieves. It is easy to conclude that someone wearing the ‘right’ clothes, with the ‘right’ introduction and with the ‘right’ deferential behaviour can lay a web of dodgy promises.

It is a concern that too many people accept promised from business partners without vetting, follow-up, constant monitoring, contracts with penalties, milestone check-ins and random spot checks. The old adage remains the truth: If you don’t watch your money, you will lose it.

The latest embarrassing episode of yet another conman cheating Namibians seems to involve South African-born businessman, Bay Construction owner Alvin Naidoo. Apparently he joined others in a contract to build 164 houses. He seems to have pocketed millions, making ‘deals’ and promises and delivering below what was promised. Reports are that there are millions in debts unpaid and subcontractors left in untenable financial positions. Naidoo has left for South Africa.

When will we learn to watch our money and our erstwhile business partners more carefully?

We present ourselves all too often as lambs to the wolves. We accept a smile rather than a private vetting of the person across the bargaining table. We don’t call references or visit previous partners to check details.

Naidoo had a contract to complete a housing project for a Namdock, a Walvis Bay ship repair company which was cancelled and 82 employees who were going to benefit, are now victimized. Over N$18 million for houses built by subcontractors is unpaid. Those subcontractors are in turn being sued by those who provided them with materials. Unpaid bills for supplies taken by Naidoo are left hanging in various places. And the man with the promises is long gone.

After allegedly cheating his erstwhile partners, the Development Bank of Namibia granted the apparent conman a N$15 million revolving credit facility. We assume that he has exercised this facility and left. Is the DBN one of the creditors left holding the bag too? One would think that banks did better due diligence than the overly trusting subcontractors.

From the KORA music awards con man to AVID investments with shady supposed financiers in South Africa to various lawyers and middlemen involved in some way with the Fishrot saga, people have habit of naively putting their complete trust in individuals during a business deal. They don’t watch their money.

When will Namibians learn that the people in business deals are not your friends or comrades or automatically trustworthy? They are in it only for the money as you are in it for the services needed. Each party will prevaricate, exploit loopholes and take whatever easy route that secures them their goals. This is normal business. There is no emotion involved. Trust can exist only with verification. We must stop being so timid about ‘insulting’ people by asking for references or challenging their conclusions.

Where ever your money goes, you must follow. You don’t hand someone your wallet and go take a nap. You read the fine print, watch your business, check all receipts and sign your own checks.

In Namibia, if you are the ‘right’ person, people hand you their trust and their money. We are not a reading society, so contracts and agreements collect dust. Those in charge swallow everything cleverly said and make million dollar choices on the basis of deference paid. Then, they seem shocked verbal agreements are left unattended and trust appears misplaced.

Namibians cannot afford to be so trusting when we enter a shark tank. If we vet our business partners, we can find out that they went bankrupt in other countries, or were arrested or were sued for breach of contract or left deals undone. This may not apply to Naidoo, but in general, we must do background checks of our business partners and demand collateral and security.

Good luck to those at the coast as they chase their payments due. History says that such a money chase spreading to South Africa, can cost millions, take years and still come up short.

The lesson is that you must watch your money or lose it.

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