Under fire BIPA to address misgivings

By Hilary Mare

CHIEF Executive Officer of the Business and Intellectual Property Authority (BIPA), Vivienne Katjiuongua has said that the authority will not make any excuses on its failings but will move with speed to implement reforms that address current challenges.

Recurring grievances from clients about the difficulties they experience when utilising the authority’s business and intellectual property services last week resulted in a public demonstration outside the BIPA offices in Windhoek.

“I acknowledge concerns that processes are slow, delays in responses to clients, grievances about the online system that functions inadequately and complaints about phones not being answered. I am not here to make excuses, but to candidly admit that we must earnestly reform our processes to serve our clients better,” admitted Katjiuongua.

“As the CEO, I want to concede that we have been experiencing severe challenges with our systems and limited human and financial resources. Our new online system is in a development phase, but we rolled it out to the public when lockdown struck to avoid the risks that came with the spread of Covid-19 through human contact. The official launch of the system was only due in September this year. We admit that the system is not as efficient as we had hoped it to be, but we are working on improving and securing the system to streamline online applications,” she added.

The authority, as from June 1 extended office hours for its client services’ office with an additional 90 minutes. The new client service hours are from 08h30 – 12h30 and from 14h00 – 16h30. This new arrangement is in response to appeals from stakeholders for the authority to play its part to contribute to the ease of doing business in Namibia.

“To address the issues of backlogs and delays, our staff has been working overtime on weekends and we have also implemented a process whereby clients are called to inform them about the status of their applications. We have already started calling clients, and those who have not received a call, should receive one soon,” explained Katjiuongua.

BIPA has in recent weeks waived the penalties for failures to submit or for the late submission of annual returns, which were due end of March and end of April. Also, all approved name reservations, which expired during the lockdown period, were still considered valid provided the clients resubmitted before end of May.

“We also waived the payment of fees for any service below N$10, to avoid clients having to go to the bank to make deposits,” she said explaining some measures that have already been implemented to respond to current challenges.

Furthermore, BIPA also launched a new fraud hotline for internal and external stakeholders in March.

“The fraud hotline serves as a tool for early detection and deterrent measures against corruption and any unethical behaviour within the institution. The hotline enables the public to report misconduct and suspect activities anonymously. Fraud and corruption are grave national concerns which if left unresolved, have a devastating long-term effect on the country’s economy and investment capacity.

“While we are committed to conduct business ethically and accountably, the authority to a large extent relies on stakeholders and the public to report fraudulent activities. We purposely choose to make use of a third-party institution to manage these complaints, to ensure an unbiased investigation. The fraud hotline is managed independently by Deloitte auditing firm,” explained Katjiuongua.