News and Information

Governor 'on leave' over food scandal
February 7, 2006


CAPRIVI Regional Governor Bernard Sibalatani has been put on unpaid leave to allow the rest of the council to take disciplinary measures against him and others for allowing 230 000 tonnes of food aid to rot last year.

Sibalatani and the Ministry of Regional and Local Government yesterday confirmed the move and said the directive had stemmed from Cabinet.

Sibalatani is also the Chairperson of the Regional Emergency Management Unit (Remu), which is responsible for handling and delivering food supplies and other emergency relief in times of crisis.

"I am on leave or suspension, whatever.

I have been requested by Cabinet through the Minister [John Pandeni, Local Government Minister] to go on unpaid leave which I have wholeheartedly accepted," Sibalatani told The Namibian yesterday.

He said he did not plan to talk to the media again until he returned to office on March 6.

Sibalatani said the letter he received from Government on Friday did not give reasons for why it wanted him out of office for the next 30 days, but that he had accepted that it had to do with the drought food debacle.

He said he would not challenge the decision that he would not be paid during his leave.

"The only directive I got was to go on leave.

I want to inform the nation, so that they get the correct information, and then I don't want to say any more until it's finalised.

I am appealing not to be contacted," he said.

Local Government Permanent Secretary Erastus Negonga said the "severity" of the charges against Sibalatani was the reason why it had been decided that he would not be paid while on leave.

Negonga said his Ministry was sticking to an earlier decision that the Caprivi council itself take action against the Governor and Remu officials for the drought food scandal.

"It is logical that the disciplinary proceedings have to come from the council," said Negonga.

Political office bearers would be charged in terms of the Regional Council's Act, while civil servants would be disciplined according to the Public Service Act.

Negonga would not confirm, however, whether an investigation into how the food was allowed to rot had singled out Sibalatani as one of those to be charged.

Sources have it that he is among at least five officials against whom it has been recommended that action be taken, but that the list of culprits could be extended to around eight people.

"He [Sibalatani] is also affected, being the head of the council and the Chairperson of Remu.

The disciplinary procedures couldn't proceed while he is office.

He was required to go on leave," said Negonga.

"He agreed.

He had the option to refuse.

He is the political number one in the region.

He has political responsibility and accountability."

Negonga said no time frame had been set for concluding the matter, but that it was expected to be carried out during the Governor's absence.

Councillor for the Katima Rural constituency Leonard Mwilima will act as Governor in the interim.

More than six months ago, Cabinet issued a directive that those responsible for allowing thousands of bags of maize to rot be held accountable.

An investigation concluded that a number of officials were guilty of "gross negligence".

Following a report in The Namibian two weeks ago that action had yet to be taken against the suspects, the Ministry of Local Government was called to explain the reason for the delays to Prime Minister Nahas Angula.

Although Pandeni said he had instructed the Caprivi Regional Council to take the necessary disciplinary steps, Sibalatani as its head and Chief Regional Officer Raymond Matiti both appeared to be in the dark and said the matter had not passed across their desks.

Sources indicated to The Namibian that politicians appeared hesitant or reluctant to take action against fellow politicians and this had stalled the matter.

The maize meal was discovered in a warehouse at the M'pacha Military Base outside Katima Mulilo last May.

All the food had to be destroyed after it was found to be unfit for human consumption.


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