On the Spot – Hengari On Nwr Future and Its Critics

owned Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR) Zelna Hengari on the new direction of the resorts enterprise. The new direction aims at slashing overheads and delivering profits by paying an attentive eye to the bottom line. In fact, the new management has set the target for the forthcoming annual financial statements to reflect net profits and a reduction in operational costs. They have also said even though the 2006 turnaround plan inflated the revenue purse, the bottom line figures remained negative as expenses shot up along with the increase in revenue.

New Era (NE): You have been the acting managing director of NWR for about a year now. What were your immediate priorities? Zelna Hengari (ZH): quotWe have stabilised the company and started the slow and painful process of transforming its organizational culture.quot

NE: Why is it that NWR seems to be in permanent difficulties, with media reports about inadequate capital and shortage of funds?

ZH: quotThe permanent difficulties of NWR arise from the way it was conceived and run since its formation. It was started with a weak capital base of just N$20 million from the shareholder of which the then management returned N$10 million to the shareholder for inexplicable reasons. The assets were not transferred [from Ministry of Environment and Tourism] at the formation of the company, so it had a very weak balance sheet. In fact we are still busy with the asset transfer process. The company has never enjoyed leadership stability since its formation, which does not bode well from the perspective of strategic sustainability of a company such as NWR.

Pretty much from day one the company started to build up debt at the Receiver of Revenue that ballooned into huge amounts and became a burden on the company. We have just recently paid off the principal debt but just imagine the penalties and interests on due amounts of more than a decade.quot

NE: How long then would NWR remain dependent on government bailouts? ZH: quotThere is an erroneous perception that NWR is dependent on government bailouts. On the contrary, NWR by and large covers its operational expenses. The amounts budgeted for NWR tend to be for capital development, building of new lodges and refurbishment of old ones. You will understand that given the location of NWR’s assets in national parks, there will be sensitivity in terms of collateralising those assets for market finance for the purposes of capital development. Government-guaranteed borrowing principally funded the famed turnaround strategy and that hangs like an albatross around NWR’s neck given the many other historic liabilities such as those to the Receiver of Revenue.

However, Government in its wisdom, considering the ill conception of NWR and the consequent historic burden it currently imposes on NWR, resolved that, upon a proper submission, it would clear all those outstanding obligations. I can assure you that once that happens you shall see a new NWR.quot

NE: What are the specific challenges facing NWR?

ZH: quotI gave you a glimpse of some of the internal challenges already, but I would add that like many other parastatals, NWR was transformed from the old Department of Wildlife Resorts [in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism]. The organisational context of the public service is very different from that of a competitive market place in which NWR now operates. We need a transformation in our organisational culture and this is going to be a painful challenge to overcome. Jerry Muadhinohamba [former CEO of Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA) Fund] was quick to realise this and pursued transformation at the MVA Fund and the results are there for all to see. The MVA Fund is not the [Ministry of Works and Transport] department of yesteryear.quot

NE: How is the NWR tackling available business opportunities, given that, as you said, NWR is no longer a government department but an enterprise operating in a competitive market?

ZH: quotWe are pivoting from a single focus on our traditional market of Europe to global focus in terms of source markets. NTB [Namibia Tourism Board] is leading efforts on opening up new markets in China and the rest of Asia, North America, the Middle East and so on. This presents significant opportunities for NWR in particular but also generally for Namibian tourism. With the recent successful hosting of COP 11 and ATWAS conferences, the conferencing is emerging as a major strategic opportunity. Regional tourism within SADC and Africa is an untapped opportunity. Local developments, such as the Grove Mall in Windhoek’s Kleine Kuppe, are key in sourcing this market apart from initiatives that should target some of our landlocked neighbours. The Trans-Kalahari and Trans-Zambezi highways should not be about transportation of goods only but also about movement of people.

quotIn the domestic market we had an overwhelming response to our NamLeisure Card, which convinced us that domestic tourism is a major opportunity for us. It is because of Namibians’ buy-in on the NamLeisure Card that our EnviroKidz initiative has been revived and in June this year children from various schools in the south will be at Ai-Ais learning about the environment and the need for sustainability. Also in two weeks’ time, we will be launching the Brown Bag initiative so that visitors to our national parks will receive a bag at the gate and we hope that they will use it rather than litter our beautiful parks.quot

NE: What plans do you have for NWR?

ZN: quotThere are many initiatives that we are seized with but a key focus will be the transformation of the company starting with each resort becoming a strategic business unit responsible for its own operations, profitability and sustainability. The head office should be lean and mean in support of the resorts that are at the coalface of our core business, which is to host and entertain visitors to our national parks. A copybook [for such business model] exists in Namibia and we just need to adapt it for our needs. Sven Thieme [Executive Chairman of Ohlthaver amp List Group] did that successfully at OampL whereby the head office provides strategic support to their subsidiaries that are gly pursuing their operations in the competitive market place.quot

NE: It has been reported that you successfully applied for the position in which you are currently acting. Can you tell us then why you are still acting?

ZH: quotThe appointment of the MD of NWR is a prerogative of the Board of Directors with the approval of the Honourable Minister of Environment and Tourism.quot

NE: The 5050 gender balance is in the air – what are your views on it?

ZH: quotWhat do you think? Of course I am in full support of it. Men who are claiming that women are not ready merely sound like our former apartheid masters that used to claim that blacks are not ready. How can you give birth to somebody, nurture them into adulthood and the next thing they are turning around telling you that you are not ready to lead? That’s absurd to say the least!quot

NE: According to public opinion women are their own worst enemy when it comes to supporting each other, what is the state of affairs at NWR with a woman chairperson and you the acting MD? ZH: quotWe insist on gender equality and the aancement of women because it is just and beneficial to society. Not because of some romantic notion about women – we are after all human beings with all the human strengths and follies. Certainly at NWR we are nurturing women leadership with recent the promotion of many competent women as resort managers and heads of department. We will complement these efforts with thorough capacity building and support.

NE: Any other comments you wish to make?

ZH: quotI will only say this: The instigation of staff members to find fault where there is none and fuelling of unfounded allegations would eventually destroy this company. I feel some of these ‘investigations’ are a smokescreen for those pursuing the position of MD. For the first time NWR is doing so well but people want to destroy the company for their own personal agenda.quot

Source : New Era