Internal communication reveals a plan by the Namibia Revenue Agency for their Customs and Excise Unit to be declared as essential services.
It would seem NamRA’s quest is to curb overtime spending.
If the request is approved, it will mean employees of the unit will no longer qualify for overtime claims, nor will they be allowed to participate in industrial action.
NamRA vehemently denies this development.
Customs and Excise officers inspect people and ships, aeroplanes and motor vehicles entering and leaving the country to ensure that the correct duties are being paid, illegal goods such as drugs, fauna and flora are not being smuggled and that the necessary documentation is in order.
According to NamRA’s commissioner, Sam Shivute, “there is no such thing taking place.”
Shivute said NamRA is “focused on our mandate which is revenue collection”.
“Anything that doesn’t come from myself or the strategic executive for communications, [stakeholder engagement and taxpayer education Yarukeekuro Ndorokaze], it is not true,” Shivute said over the weekend.
He went to suggest that there might be internal staff who might not buy into his big vision for NamRA or attempt to sabotage it.
Those efforts, Shivute said, will not succeed. NamRA, he buttressed, “is focused on its mandate”.
“I will not have a meeting with staff to explain because there is no such thing taking place… it is not even newsworthy because it is not true,” Shivute dismissed.
But in emails seen by this journalist, a NamRA human resources officer Urika Losper, made an enquiry on 29 August at around 15h39, seemingly following up on previous discussion with ‘Team Customs’, an email wherein three other senior NamRA employees are copied.
In the email, Losper says: “As discussed, the Human Capital is busy with an application to the Minister of Labour, [Industrial Relations and Employment Creation], seeking approval for the Customs and Excise Unit to be declared as essential services.”
According to Losper, the aim of the request to labour minister Utoni Nujoma is two-fold.
“Declaration as an essential service means that they [Customs and Excise unit] will not be eligible to participate in industrial action [strike]. [The second aim is] to minimise the overtime claims. Your assistance is hereby sought, to look [at] the rosters vs revised rosters before we proceed,” Losper told the team.
Explaining the process was Maria Hedimbi, who was hesitant to confirm anything as the leaked email was between NamRA staff.
“However, at this point in time, I can also not confirm whether the ministry has received such an application from NamRA,” Hedimbi said.
“I also think there is confusion or the person who wrote the email is not clear whether what is being sought for is continuous operation or essential service because the two are typically different things. However, they are all provided for in the Labour Act,” Hedimbi continued.
If it is an application that has to do with essential service, it has to go through the Labour Advisory Council at the ministry, she said.
The council is a tripartite body that comprises representatives from trade unions [representing workers interests], employers organisation [representing employers] and the State.
“If that application is received, it has to go through to the Labour Advisory Council and then they will make recommendations to the minister depending on what has been requested.
“Once the recommendation is made to the minister, the minister can then decide to approve or not to approve. So it’s a process. It’s not just being approved or disapproved without considering the nitty gritty,” she said.
On the other hand, if an application seeks continuous operation, “NamRA should consult the affected employees because these employees are already in employment and their initial conditions of service will be affected.”
“That application [of continuous operation] is applied directly to the minister. [But] still, the minister can approve or disapprove the application. If the minister approves, whether its essential service or continuous operations, all that has to be published in the government gazette so that it becomes part of the law,” Hedimbi went at length to explain the process.
At the time of going for press yesterday, NamRA had not indicated, in monetary terms, how much it expended on their Customs and Excise unit, in overtime claims.
Attempts to get comment from the Namibia Public Workers Union proved futile as calls and messages to its general secretary Petrus Nevonga went unanswered.