First Lady Monica Geingos says the company that wants to build a N$200 million private school in Windhoek misinformed the education ministry in claiming that she facilitated talks between the firm and the President to support the project.
Geingos made these remarks in two letters sent to The Namibian through her lawyer Sisa Namandje on Saturday.
Even though Geingos admitted that she advised the company to write their concerns to the President, she rejected claims by the company that she initiated talks.
The Namibian reported on Friday that the education ministry turned down a proposal by a private company – which is supported by President Hage Geingob – to surrender a plot worth over N$20 million in exchange for a free school in a Windhoek low-income area.
This transaction involves a South African company called Curro Holdings, which owns the Windhoek Gymnasium Private School.
The land (Erf 350) that measures around seven hectares (equal to seven average football fields) is in Rietfontein Street, Kleine Kuppe.
Windhoek Gymnasium Private School managing director Colette Rieckert wrote two letters to education permanent secretary Sanet Steenkamp last month regarding their plans to get land which is reserved for the education ministry.
Rieckert explained in an 11 April 2018 letter that their plan to build a school was delayed by the City of Windhoek.
Rieckert said Geingob helped them when the City of Windhoek delayed in processing their application.
“We have had many frustrations in the application process of land for our junior schools,” Rieckert wrote to Steenkamp. She added that in December 2017, First Lady Geingos requested to see her about their land applications.
“After my discussion with Geingos, she discussed it with her husband, who immediately took action and sent a letter of support for our school, plus the request that the City of Windhoek starts actively to help me in my search for land,” Rieckert said.
She added: “After issuing this letter, we did feel some action being taken (by the municipality)”.
“Our President and his wife appreciate the quality education that we provide in Namibia, and wish for us to build more schools in our country,” she said.
Namandje, representing Geingos, wrote to Rieckert on Saturday, saying her letter to Steenkamp was misleading.
“Our client finds the content of your letter unfortunate, and a distortion of what occurred,” Namandje told Rieckert.
He said Rieckert contacted Geingos on 27 July 2017, explaining their frustration about their plan to build a school.
“You informed our client that you desperately needed to speak to her “for advice” in respect of your frustration and unhappiness [in] what you considered as the unfair handling of your school’s land application by the Windhoek municipality,” Namandje said.
The lawyer said Geingos advised Rieckert that if she was aggrieved, she can write a letter to the President.
“Our client’s involvement in the matter was therefore limited to you approaching our client, seeking advice on how to handle your frustration in respect of your land application, and her advising you how you could address your complaint,” Namandje said.
The attorney said Geingos did not discuss the matter with Geingob, and did not push for the support of the school from the President as Rieckert appeared to have implied in her letter.
“Your letter further appears to suggest that our client initiated contact between yourself and her. That is wrong, as our client did not request to see you,” Namandje said, adding that text messages exchanged on this matter between Geingos and Rieckert are still available.
“We, therefore, kindly demand that you correct the above factual misrepresentation,” he asked Rieckert.
Namandje said the President and the First Lady regularly receive complaints from the public over poor service delivery from public offices.
“When they alert the concerned public functionaries of complaints received by them, it would be unfair to interpret their action as some sort of inappropriate bid to influence the decision-making,” the lawyer stated.
Namandje also complained that Geingos was not given an opportunity to comment on the article.
The Namibian emailed questions and all the quotes attributed to Rieckert to State House on Thursday, but presidential spokesperson Alfredo Hengari referred the queries to the education ministry.
Rieckert issued a short statement on Friday, saying they did not agree with the article, and that they would not comment on the matter.
Curro Holdings want to build a N$200 million primary school to accommodate about 1 000 pupils and be a feeder to the nearby Windhoek Gymnasium, which currently offers both primary and secondary education.
The land where they want to build was reserved for the education ministry in 2012, although it is yet to be paid for. Curro Holdings is now asking the education minister to inform the City of Windhoek that the ministry does not want the land any more. Once that is done, Curro would then buy the land from the municipality.
In exchange, Curro offered to build 24 classrooms and other facilities at Monte Christo School in the Havana informal settlement for N$14,6 million. The school uses containers and tents as classes.
The decision by the education ministry, led by Katrina Hanse-Himarwa, to block the proposal by the private company effectively goes against the wishes of the project supported by Geingob, adding to the suspicion that the two political leaders are not on good talking terms as before.
People briefed about this issue said a relative of a senior official in the Presidency is part of the company subcontracted to build the proposed Windhoek Gymnasium Primary School.
However, other people said officials in the education ministry are using that link as a way to dismiss a legitimate proposal to build a school on land that the ministry is not using.