Thursday, 23 April 2009

Me and bad debts

In 2004 I returned from Germany and started up my company, NamBizDotCom, which is registered as a Close Corporation. I was working on two contracts at the time involving SME’s. The first was in cooperation with SMEs Compete and included a trip to South Africa and Angola to look for possible partners in these countries. The second contract, was for the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and was to complete the SME Impact Assessment Survey for 2004.

Unfortunately, my father was declared disabled and unable to continue working. He was 54 and no longer able to generate an income. This started a financial calamity that still haunts me till today.

Firstly, the bank, FNB, passed on the insurance claim to Metropolitan Insurance who did not want to accept his disability and therefore allow for his insurance to cover the cost of the home loan. The buck was passed between the two institutions and this delay meant my father was in arrears on his home loan. The bank therefore duly put his house up for auction to recoup their loss, and advertised this in the local newspaper.

As is my duty, I immediately went to my Father’s aid. After all, my two little brothers (aged 8 and 2 years old) would not have a roof over their heads if the bank and insurance giants were left unchallenged. Suffice to say, after a year of travelling between Rehoboth where my Father’s house was, and the bank head office in Windhoek, we were successful in getting the bank to settle his home loan through the insurance claim. (I must add tribute to the late Lazarus Ipangelwa, then MD of First National Bank, who allowed us a chance to put our case to the right person at the bank.)

In the meantime, my own business had closed and I was responsible for the debts to the amounts of +/- N$ 8,000 to Trip Travel, and +/- 20,000 to Institute for Public Policy Research. This second debt had incurred legal and other sundry charges and was submitted to the courts as an amount of over N$ 25,000 – which is the threshold for admittance to the High Court rather than the Magistrate’s Court.

So, I returned to Windhoek in January 2006 to face the two debtors, the one in the Magistrate’s Court and the other in the High Court. I take full responsibility for these debts and have attempted to pay the debts back through monthly payments of N$ 200 and N$ 500 respectively. Unfortunately, these debts are also listed on my credit record, which is accessed by most employers today and I found it difficult to find gainful employment after my return to Windhoek. Since then, I have spent three years as an hourly-paid lecturer and working part-time in an NGO.

Let me state for the record, “If I could, I would pay the debt of immediately!” However, I have not been paid a salary since April 2008 and have survived by consultancy work. Perhaps with my next job I will be able to settle these debts once and for all.

I do not wish to regale you with the arsenal available to the lawyers, or on the lack of information forthcoming from their offices of how far your repayment is coming. Needless to say, I will welcome a law that helps a debtor in relationship to these educated and learned professionals.

On this matter, I wish to suggest a Consumer Ombudsman for citizens who have dealings with lawyers. On more than one occasion I have found an invoice for services from a law firm that has no basis in reality. It is impossible to fight with a lawyer about any of their charges, after all they are better armed with the letter of the law.

BTW - all details about the debt and the creditors and lawyers are public knowledge and printed in various local newspapers.