NABTA leader nabbed over forged permits

By Marianne Nghidengwa and Hilary Mare

THE secretary general of the Namibia Bus and Taxi Association (NABTA), Pendapala Nakathingo (43) has been arrested for illegally selling an estimated 20 000 essential service provider permits to unsuspecting NABTA members, mostly short- and long-distance drivers.

Nakathingo, who had been issued the permit on 9 April by the Trade Ministry after claiming that NABTA has 100 000 workers but only 20 000 will be working, also allegedly tampered with the permit before selling it for as much as N$200 each.

Nampol Khomas regional commander Commissioner Joseph Shikongo, who confirmed Nakathingo’s arrest, said investigations are ongoing and highlighted that the NABTA boss had even gone on radio to announce that members should approach his offices to register for the permit.

Confidente is informed that Nakathingo’s luck ran out when drivers started complaining to the Trade Ministry, as well as the police about being charged for the permits that are supposed to be issued at no cost.

“When we received the complaint, I contacted officials at the line ministry.  We scrutinised the permit he issued and realised that it was tampered with. He applied online and indicated that there are 100 000 workers but that only 20 000 will be working during the lockdown.

“He then went on radio inviting drivers to get the permit from him.  Registrations were conducted and members were sent messages informing them to collect their permits. He charged them between N$100 and N$200, depending on the car they owned.

“The permits he issued were tampered with and amended. He added about six additional boxes noting the driver’s particulars, ID number, vehicle license, capacity of vehicle, town and email address of the driver. None of those details appear on the original document of the ministry,” Shikongo noted.

Confidente is reliably informed that Nakathingo charged N$100 for sedans (local taxis), N$150 Quantam and N$200 for Ivecos.

Shikongo went on to say that Nakathingo was issued the permit free of charge and on behalf of his members, but illegally charged his members, which is against the law.

“He got it online free of charge but charged people. Imagine how much money was paid to him through this exercise and where that money is going to. The permit he got is in PDF format, but how he managed to tamper with it we really do not know.”

Nakathingo, who is due to appear in court this week faces charges of contravening the Anti-Corruption Act, alternatively using his office for gratification as well as fraud, forgery and uttering.  He also faces a charge of contravening regulations of the State of Emergency.

“In that between 29 March and 21 April 2020, the suspect obtained an official document from the Ministry of Industrialisation and Trade and then forged, uttered, duplicated and sold the copies to drivers for amounts N$100 taxis, N$150 Quantam and N$200 for Ivecos.  The permits he issued allegedy authorised the drivers to transport passengers in and out of the country,”  Shikongo said.

NABTA falls under the transport category as an essential service during the lockdown and state of emergency declared last month in response to the deadly Covid- 19 global pandemic.

Preliminary investigations suggest that Nakathingo was provided with a PDF electronic copy of the essential service provider permit by the Ministry Trade to ease the process of applying for the permit for his clients. He then apparently amended the document before illegally issuing permits at a cost.

Initial investigation also revealed that while he mostly conducted the scheme in Windhoek, there are reports that he charged drivers in Oshakati and Walvis Bay.

“Yes, this is our first case and we are in contact with the police to ensure that such practices are curbed during this time of the state of emergency. We have seen other people who are even advertising online and charging people to get them these certificates that we are issuing, which is really against the law and law must take its course.

“The police are assisting us with doing spot checks to see if the number of people also correspond to what the certificate says. As the certificate clearly states, false declaration by the company is a criminal offence and will result in prosecution. Therefore, we are urging businesses to be truthful in their use of these certificates and not take advantage of the situation that we find ourselves in,” executive director of Industrialisation and Trade Ndiitah Nghipondoka-Robiati told Confidente.

She added that there has been a surge in applications for these essential service certificates due to the fact that they will be valid for the duration of the state of emergency, which is set to last for six months as opposed to the lockdown period, which is set to end of 4 May.

“You can imagine that we cannot only have 3 000 companies operating for six months because the economy will collapse. Hence, many companies are seeking these certificates,” she said.

The ministry started with interim manual applications on 28 March, while the online registration portal opened on 2 April. It was reported that as of last week, the ministry had approved over 5 000 certificates and rejected 1 708, with those rejected mainly rejected on the basis that the number of people indicated to have been working were too many.