Future of SWAITEX in doubt as NCCI conflict boils over

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The scene outside the main SWAITEX hall at The Dome in Swakopmund in 2018.

Despite calls from the Swakopmund branch of the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry that the 7th Swakopmund International Trade Expo (SWAITEX) be postponed due to “undue interference” by NCCI officials in Windhoek which left the local initiators of the expo sidelined and frustrated, the expo was launched in Windhoek on Wednesday.

In a letter to acting CEO Charity Mwiya last Monday, executive chairperson of the branch Paul Ndjambula wrote about a number of issues that he felt made it difficult for them to stage a successful expo this year. His letter should be read in the context of ongoing resistance by NCCI branch leaders who feel hard done by the national leadership.

“The Swakopmund branch exco has been completely sidelined in the SWAITEX engagements and we have waited patiently for feedback on the way forward, to no avail until September,” he wrote.

Addressing himself to the NCCI national directors, Ndjambula said of SWAITEX that the question of profitability was not a new issue: “… that is why we have many times in past years asked for support to help growth the revenue of the expo. These requests never received positive support from the secretariat, aside from promises.

“I have received enquiries from the SWAITEX partners asking me why there was no launch and why the sponsorship request letters are signed by the CEO and not the local branch leadership, as in the past.”

One of the key sources of tension in recent months between NCCI branches and the head office has been the move to centralise all income, member fees and decision-making at the top.

Njambula said SWAITEX sponsors “expressed concern about the sponsorship funds being paid into an account outside the region and asked about the partnership packages provided and how can they commit to them if not all benefits can be met if the event is three weeks away.”

Regarding the growth of the expo, he said: “2018 was the first time we made real profit. Thus it was expected that the secretariat would join hands with the branch leadership to build on SWAITEX and make it bigger and better.” He rejected the idea that the CEO had negotiated a better deal on the venue.

“One thing we cannot do is to reduce the size of expo from almost 245 stalls … to 120 stalls and claim success. It is disingenuous to claim that you have negotiated a significant reduction in cost when you are using a smaller area. Calculated pro rata the cost for the smaller area is higher than we paid in the past…

To date, there was no official launch. Sponsors were always involved in the launch and provided an opportunity to talk about their products and services and why they are supporting SWAITEX. There has been no media campaign … In the past six years this was done at least three months before the expo to ensure exhibitors book stalls and create public awareness to increase feet during the expo.”

Perhaps in response to Ndambula’s letter, launch of SWAITEX 2019 took place on Wednesday in Windhoek.

Ndjambula went on to say that no event management company had been appointed yet and concluded thatthere is no capacity to pull off SWAITEX and maintain the high standard we kept over the years. We risk a complete failure and doing lasting harm to the brand name as a result of the undue interference from head office.”

In a pointed criticism of the CEO, he said: “Looking at the above, it is ridiculous to talk about long term sustainability and assume you can organise and control an event of this magnitude from Windhoek… Trying to control a local branch initiative like SWAITEX from Windhoek contravenes the idea of a chamber of commerce having branches in the regions.”

Moves afoot to oust CEO

In the latest development, there are moves afoot by the head office to hold an extraordinary AGM in mid-October, but NCCI branch leaders have questioned the motive, saying they were not properly notified, but only learned of it via unofficial WhatsApp messages.

In a message to all NCCI branches marked “CONFIDENTIAL”, it was said that: “Given the situation at the head office with the acting CEO, who is now clearly calling for an … illegal AGM on Monday 14 October 2019 at a venue not yet specified, branches not yet informed as per constitutional requirements, an agenda of items not yet set and sent out to branches… “

The author, understood to be a mover and shaker at the NCCI branch level, wrote that in the event the CEO failed to organise the AGM, as per their resolution, a “vote of no confidence in the acting CEO would be tabled as part of the agenda item at the next AGM.”

CEO Mwiya did not respond immediately to questions sent on Tuesday.

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