THE Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) paid more than N$680 000 to a company owned by board director Paul Brinkmann, even though the firm was not registered as required by law.
Brinkmann is the managing director of Wild Africa Travel, a company under the Tourvest Holdings Group, which also owns Sense Of Africa, where he is also the chief operations executive.
Brinkmann has been an NTB board member since 2014, and was promoted to board chairperson on Thursday by environment minister Pohamba Shifeta.
The NTB is a state-owned travel and hospitality governing body that regulates and promotes tourism in Namibia. Brinkmann's Wild Africa Travel acts as a fixer for tourists to book accommodation, vehicles and guided tours in Namibia.
Wild Africa Travel received contracts from the NTB without public tender worth N$680 000 between June and December last year, despite not being registered in line with the Namibia Tourism Board Act, which states that a tourism company should first register with the board.
Wild Africa was only registered by the NTB on 23 January 2017, but the tourism parastatal paid it to “facilitate” the arrival and activities of tourist agents from countries like Germany in 2016.
The NTB paid the N$680 000 as part of its campaign to subsidise the expenses of foreign agents, hoping they would promote Namibia as a tourist destination when they return to their countries.
Brinkmann confirmed that his company was paid more than N$680 000 by the NTB, and admitted that the company was not registered when it received contracts.
I could try and make an explanation. However, the simple truth remains that Wild Africa Travel was registered late, and as the managing director of the company, I must accept responsibility for that, he said.
He said the NTB paid Wild Africa Travel N$30 700 on 7 June 2016, N$40 000 on 21 June 2016, N$272 000 on 18 November and N$340 000 on 15 December.
Brinkmann claimed that Wild Africa Travel's late registration was not intentional because they thought it was registered since their other company, Sense of Africa, was certified by the NTB.
It was only when we tried to attend a trade fair as Wild Africa Travel that we noted that we did not have an NTB registration number. As the most senior manager, I must take responsibility for my company's actions, he added.
The NTB Act states that a person who violates the law on the need to register commits an offence, and is liable to a maximum fine of N$20 000 or two years in prison, or both.
Brinkmann insisted that the punishments are not in the law.
The sanction when someone has not been registered is not yet provided for in the act – which is something the new board must look at, he added.
Brinkmann said he regreted the error.
We truly regret that we were late with our application and registration. However, I erroneously believed that both companies had been registered, he stated.
Brinkmann's role as NTB board chair and businessman makes him both a referee and player in the sector he regulates, something that has placed him in a possible conflict of interest scenario.
He said he raised the issue of conflict of interest at his first NTB board meeting, and that he represents the Federation of Namibian Tourism Associations there, and not his companies.
I have never participated in any decision or consideration that may or may not have an impact on my company. I have attempted at all times to be honest and show integrity, he added.
There are claims that the tourism industry is dominated by businesses owned by the previously advantaged who control the market from car hire, accommodation, bookings and tours.
I am a Namibian, and if I recall my younger years, when we went anywhere and it was a bit seldom as money was an issue, we were served on every level by whites, he said.
He said this has changed, and people from all walks of life are involved.
The payments were signed off by NTB chief executive Digu Naobeb and Maureen Posthuma, who earlier headed the NTB's offices in Germany, but moved to Windhoek as the marketing manager.
Naobeb threatened NTB officials who are suspected of leaking information about the questionable payments.
Do not be an agent of distraction, he said in an email to workers.
Naobeb said that they realised and only picked it up later that Brinkmann's company was not registered.
It would seem there was some slackness and slippage in our internal controls, which is worrisome and regrettable, he said, adding that this should have been picked up by management before making payments.
The CEO said the NTB will create a database of companies from whom they source goods and services in Namibia.