Works and transport minister John Mutorwa says that he was unaware of the resignation of TransNamib board chair Lionel Matthews and that the development was a surprise to him.
Matthews resigned from the parastatal’s board amidst an ongoing industrial action by its employees, stating that he did not want the affairs of the corporation to taint his reputation.
“I am not aware of Lionel Mathews resigning. No, ask him because I am not aware. I was aware of this letter shown on television,” he said.
Mutorwa said he was surprised about it.
The railway company was rocked by two resignations after the chairperson and the deputy chairperson, Sigrid Tjijorokisa, resigned within a matter of hours amidst talks that the two were at loggerheads.
In a letter to finance minister Iipumbu Shiimi, Matthews said Tjijorokisa, who is the former board chairperson, was part of the reason he had made the choice to tender his resignation as head of the board.
“There is a continued demand to remove the current CEO and some executives by the union based on an EY Report that still is not finalised. It also appears as of this view in 1, above is held (although implicitly) by the current deputy chair, who also chaired the board for the past three years or so. The fights between her and the CEO is well reported in the media,” said Matthews.
According to him, Tjijorokisa believes that the board is compromised in deciding to renew the contract of the CEO for another five years, which the resigned chairperson says he disagrees with.
“The current Deputy Chair had made some personal attacks and what appears to be slanderous remarks towards a particular director. I will not allow my reputation and my character to be drawn into question by the union in public. I was appointed on 8 February 2022, and where TransNamib is, is not my doing; it is the mismanagement that happened by those who came before me,” said Matthews.
Matthews was appointed in February this year following a board reshuffle in which Tjijorokisa and Gaenor Michaels retain their positions.
TransNamib CEO Johny Smith was appointed in 2018.
Tjijorokisa, who also resigned on Wednesday, allegedly did so due to disagreements on the sharing of an EY forensic audit report into alleged irregularities at TransNamib with board members.
The extension of Smith’s contract for a further five years was allegedly also part of her own decision to leave the board.
“I am willing to reconsider this position, provided that the current board is removed and a new board is appointed that embraces proper governance principles,” she is reported to have said by a local daily.
Last year, Smith wrote a letter to then minister of the now defunct public enterprises ministry, Leon Jooste, claiming that Tjijorokisa was stifling him in his duties.
In the letter dated 7 June 2021, Smith claimed the company was dying a “painful death” under Tjijorokisa’s leadership.
“This situation has been going on for a long time and has now become unbearable . . . It is deterring us from focusing on our core functions and therefore delaying the implementation of the company’s much-needed business plan,” Smith wrote.
He had also written that the board, steered by Tjijorokisa, was ignoring Mutorwa’s directive to cancel long-term property leases that were causing the railway company challenges over the years.