By Tutaleni Pinehas and Okeri Ngutjinazo | 25 August 2020
SECRETARY to the Cabinet George Simataa bought a N$10 million farm from Vaino Nghipondoka, a businessman who built his business empire on the back of state contracts.
Simataa acquired farm Guntsas No 272 in the Otjiwarongo district in the Otjozondjupa region on 25 July 2014, deeds documents show.
The farm, some 90 kilometres from the Mururani border close to the Kavango East region, comprises around 5 200 hectares and was bought through an Agribank loan.
The Namibian came across this transaction during a general search at the Deeds Office this year. Documents show the transaction was finalised on 19 March 2015.
Nghipondoka, known to be influential in the corridors of power, has denied any wrongdoing.
“There is nothing wrong. George has not done anything for me. I sold it to him when he was the labour ministry’s permanent secretary,” Nghipondoka said earlier this month.
The businessman said he bought the farm for N$9,8 million in 2013 and sold it to Simataa two years later, in 2013, because it was too remote for him.
Nghipondoka acquired another farm, Apostle, at Otjiwarongo that same year.
It is mentioned in court papers in the Fishrot corruption scandal case.
They show Nghipondoka bought Apostle using the proceeds from the National Fishing Corporation of Namibia (Fishcor), paid through law firm Sisa Namandje & Co.
Namandje paid around N$9,7 million to Nghipondoka of which N$2,1 million was used to pay for Nghipondoka’s farm.
It was bought through Van der Westhuizen & Greeff Associates.
Simataa appeared irritated when asked about his farm transaction.
“I must register my disappointment that on a private contractual matter occurring a good number of years ago, I am receiving questions from you that are carefully crafted. It is clear that as usual you want to achieve nothing in the public interest but sensationalism,” Simataa said in June this year.
He said everything about the deal was above board.
Simataa said he bought the farm when he was the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation, and that he moved there later that year.
He said the transaction was based on the policy of willing buyer and willing seller.
“The law governing the purchase of land in Namibia does not prohibit contracting parties to enter into purchase agreements, irrespective of their social and economic status,” he said.
Nghipondoka has raked in state contracts worth billions of dollars over the past 10 years.
This includes a tender to build the national fuel storage facility at Walvis Bay of which the cost has ballooned from N$3,8 billion to N$5,6 billion in the space of two years.
As a result, the Cabinet asked Simataa to take action against government officials charged with overseeing the tender that benefited Nghipondoka, accusing them of negligence.
The officials were (then) permanent secretaries Ericah Shafudah (of finance) and Leevi Hungamo (of the National Planning Commision), who later resigned, and the chief legal adviser in the attorney general’s office, Chris Nghaamwa.
They were charged with negligence and failure to protect the state.
Simataa gave Shafudah a final warning, which was seen as a slap on the wrist. Nghaamwa was absolved of blame because of a lack of evidence.
Simataa was asked if he felt there was a conflict of interest with being in charge of disciplining officials responsible for a state contract that benefited a businessman from whom he had bought a farm.
Simataa denied any wrongdoing and distanced himself from the oil storage saga.
“During the time the transaction took place, I had no control over matters happening in the
Ministry of Works and Transport, therefore I see no link between the oil storage project and the purchase of the farm concerned,” he said.
Simataa said the oil storage tender was dealt with by a special Cabinet committee which consisted of the ministers of finance, works and transport, mines and energy, and the National Planning Commission.
“As stated above, this tender was not dealt with by the Tender Board of Namibia. Even if it was adjudicated at the Tender Board, during the time in question I was out of the country, between 3 February andn 20 April 2014, as a full-time student,” he said.
Simataa served as permanent secretary in the Ministry of Works and Transport, and later at the labour ministry before he was promoted to secretary to the Cabinet in 2015.
With over 30 years experience as a public servant, he has held several portfolios, such as deputy director of Namibia’s Electoral Commission in 1994, and senior special assistant to president Hage Geingob when he was prime minister in 1995.
Senior government officials have for years faced allegations of benefiting from the state-owned Agricultural Bank (Agribank) at the expense of farmers in need of funding.
The N$10 million loan from Agribank in 2014 for farm Guntsas near Grootfontein is not the only loan Simataa received from the bank.
In June 2004, he took out a N$150 000 loan from Agribank for a property he bought at Katima Mulilo, deeds documents show.
In May 2012, he took a second loan on the same property for N$211 000.
“Banks have borrowing and lending policies, and criteria which govern their client relationships. In my view, their approach is based on affordability and not on political and social considerations. You may also approach Agribank to know their policy in this regard of which I do not have any control,” Simataa said.
He was also in line for another loan at a different bank – the SME Bank, where he was chairman.
It was reported in 2017 that Simataa was set to receive a N$5 million loan from the SME Bank.
He confirmed three years ago that the SME Bank loan was approved, but said he did not receive the money.
He said his application for a loan for his farm had been conditionally approved, subject to him meeting certain conditions. The bank subsequently closed down.
Deed documents show that Simataa’s property portfolio also includes a residential property in Windhoek and plots at Katima Mulilo.
This includes Erf 294 in Eros, Windhoek, measuring 1 254 square metres, which he bought for more than N$880 000 in 2003.
He also bought a plot (Erf 236) at Katima Mulilo measuring around 1 700 square metres for N$8 450 in 2000.
* This article was produced by The Namibian’s Investigative Unit. Send us tips via your secure email to firstname.lastname@example.org.