Following the departure of Mr. Sakaria Nghikembua at the end of his 5-year term as Chief Executive Officer of Agribank on Friday 30 July 2021, the Bank appointed its Chief Financial Officer, Mr. Louis Du Toit, as the Acting CEO.
The arrangement, which was effective from 2 August, would run for three months until a new CEO is found.
Omutumwa reached out to the acting CEO of the agricultural bank with a list of questions for him to answer while he steers the Agribank ship over the Covid-19 troubled waters for a stretch of three months.
Omutumwa: In a nutshell, what is Agribank all about and why is it important or necessary for Agribank to play the role it has been mandated to play in the Namibian society?
Du Toit: Agribank is mandated through its establishment act to provide Agricultural lending across the whole value chain. Agricultural output is important from a food security perspective and agricultural land plays a pivotal role in social economic upliftment.
It is our vision to be the catalyst in transforming the agricultural, bioeconomy and related sectors to improve the quality of life of every Namibian. Transformation can mean many things, but I wish to highlight that here we are referring to both demographics as well as farming activities, to improve agricultural output, diversify revenue streams and encourage climate resilience.
Omutumwa: Agribank is as old as the Namibian nation. Can you confidently say that Agribank has played a significant role during the period of the past 31 years?
Du Toit: It can be confidently said that Agribank has played a pivotal role in Agriculture. Agribank has the largest market share in the Agricultural lending space and therefore can be said to have provided funding to the majority of farmers in this country.
Agribank also strives for inclusivity and provides lending to farmers, particularly communal farmers that cannot be supported by commercial lending institutions. Through schemes such as the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme, NACP and the Post Settlement Support Fund we also improve previously disadvantaged farmers access to farmland and have low interest products to support farmers that need it most.
Omutumwa: As of today, Namibia is considered to be a hungry nation. A lot of foodstuff is still being imported from South Africa. Is this not a sign pointing to the failure of our agricultural policies, plans and practices, of which Agribank is the leading culprit?
Du Toit: We would like to refrain from comment in respect of failure of agricultural policies, plans and practices.
Agribank does not make these decisions and is not the implementer of these decisions; at best we support these decisions by administering loans made in respect of historical schemes such as the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme.
Agribank does actively endeavour through its lending processes as well as its training and mentorship processes to ensure that potential lenders are doing their best to increase agricultural output by improving farming practices and actively encourage farmers to diversify and become more climate resilient.
There are also environmental factors influencing agricultural output such as drought cycles, the invader bush problems, flooding in the north as well as lack of resources for pest control, such as locusts and commando worms.
Omutumwa: You have been roped in as the Acting CEO for three months while the search for a new CEO is completed; what exactly have you been doing in your role as Acting CEO so far?
Du Toit: During my tenure as acting CEO I have to ensure strategy execution; outside of that I have had many client engagements as well as ministerial engagements. During August the main focus was finalising the annual report, and then to deliver the financial results at our Annual General Meeting to the Ministers of Finance and Public Enterprises.
September has also proven challenging and am dealing with court cases, procurement activities and media events. There is never a moment to be idle, particularly as I still have the duties of my substantive office as Chief Financial Officer.
Omutumwa: Seeing that the former CEO opted not to remain at Agribank for another 5 years, and considering the great impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on enterprises such as Agribank, can we take it that Mr Nghikembua basically threw in the towel and opted for greener pastures in the private sector instead of remaining to clean up after the Covid-19 pandemic is gone?
Du Toit: It is simply not true that the former CEO threw in the towel; he often expressed to the Executive Committee that he would be willing to serve another term. The main reason for leaving as he confided in me was that his contract was not timeously renewed, whether there are reasons outside of this, I have not been privy to such.
I have not known the former CEO to ever shy away from a challenge and am sure that were his contract timeously renewed then he would have accepted this challenge head on.
Omutumwa: What is the single major challenge you have faced as the Acting CEO of Agribank so far?
Du Toit: As previously alluded to that maintaining two jobs is a challenge in itself, however, the main challenge is not a single challenge but the diversity of challenges both from an external level and internal level and having to balance the needs of the organisation with what the public and our stakeholders demand.
Omutumwa: When the new CEO get into office, what will you expect of him to do on the word go?
Du Toit: The main focus would be getting up to speed with the strategic issues as well as issues of national importance.
Whilst dealing with these the CEO would also immediately become involved with the credit processes and would have to lead and guide the team to make appropriate credit decisions in line with the bank’s strategic objectives and policies.
Fortunately the CEO would find at his disposal a seasoned team that would be sure to smooth out the bumpy ride the initial three months is likely to be.
In the photo: Acting CEO of Agribank Mr. Louis Du Toit.