TransNamib hit with lawsuit for unpaid legal fees

By Maria Kandjungu

TRANSNAMIB has been slapped with close to a million-dollar lawsuit by Njombe-Elago law firm for unpaid legal services after the firm handled labour cases against some of its top managers.

Njombe-Elago law firm that has been legally representing the parastatal for the past four years filed a lawsuit in July in the Windhoek High Court claiming a total of N$980 953.92 for unpaid legal fees mostly emanating from the work the firm did in fighting court and labour battles on behalf of TransNamib against senior managers.

Documents filed in court show that the firm is specifically claiming N$315 500 for their work on the lengthy labour battle between the company and its secretary Eugenia Taylor-Tjaronda who was fired by the TransNamib board in 2017 on allegations of leaking information to outsiders, as well as insubordination.

The battle which TransNamib lost in 2018, resulted in the company reinstating Taylor-Tjaronda and paying her up to N$778 500 for loss of income.

Documents also reveal that Njombe-Elago –that charges up to N$3 000 per hour- invoiced the company early this year and claims the N$315 500 is from attending to labour dispute sessions including receiving and perusal of documents for TransNamib, consulting with client, drafting extensive memos, appeals, notices, attending to conciliation meetings at the office of the Labour Commissioner, attending to arbitration at the same office and many other sessions from February 2 2017 to October 10 2019.

They further invoiced the company claiming N$149 376.64 for three years’ legal work on the labour case of former TransNamib acting Chief Executive Officer Hippy Tjivikua who was claiming N$200 000 in unpaid remuneration. TransNamib won the case.

Another invoice submitted in court shows that TransNamib has not paid Njombe-Elago a fee of N$145 250 for work on another labour dispute between the company and Michael Feldman who had replaced Tjivikua as acting CEO. He however resigned a month after taking the position.

While Confidente could not establish what the labour case is about, the invoice shows that the case has been ongoing for the last three years and the law firm worked on it between June 2017 and February 2020.

Njombe-Elago made another claim of  N$40 750 for having represented the parastatal in a labour matter against financial manager Michael Gotore (2017-19); N$27 026 for a disciplinary inquiry and review against Chief Corporate Communications Officer Aily Hangula-Paulino and N$74 640 for a 2016-2020 labour dispute involving a certain Nicolaas Willemse.

“Despite presentation of various invoices which constitute demand, alternatively summons constituting demand, the defendant [TransNamib] neglects and/or refuses to pay the amount of N$980 953.92 now due and payable,” the firm filed.

In their responding affidavit TransNamib CEO Johny Smith stated that while they do not dispute the fact that they owe the firm money, they are not in agreement with the amount claimed by the firm as according to Smith, the amounts invoiced are not reflective of the work done.

Smith further stated that the reason why they have not paid the firm yet despite their contract having come to an end is because the amount as claimed is not only unconfirmed but it’s also not taxed.

He further claims that they are entitled to have the invoices in question taxed by authorities or independent and competent taxing officials and despite numerous requests to have this done, the firm, has allegedly refused.

Smith further stated that the agreement that the two companies entered in 2016 was for Njombe-Elago to provide professional services which apart from legal representation also includes debt collection from tenants renting TransNamib properties who in arrears.

He noted that in the last four years, the firm has allegedly collected N$120 292.50, however, despite demands by TransNamib on several occasions, the firm has refused to forward the recovered monies to TransNamib without being offered any valid or lawful reason.

The company is now asking for the amount to be reviewed to a lower amount that is more reflective of work done by the firm.