CORRUPTION AND NAMIBIA AT 21

By By Toffy Dube
February 2011
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PAULUS Kalombo Noa, the Director of Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in marking Namibia’s 21 years of free rule, took time to dwell on the state of corruption in Namibia.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is the leading agency in the fight against corruption, established in terms of the Section 2 the Anti-corruption Act No.8 of 2003 as an independent and impartial body.

The Namibian Government has always been committed to the promotion of ethical behaviour, the prevention and combating of corruption in all sectors of the society. This was demonstrated in 1996 when Cabinet adopted the recommendation of the Attorney General, Advocate Vekuii Rukoro, to have a national consultative framework for combating corruption in Namibia.

Against this background, Cabinet formulated a multi-sectoral national integrity strategy to guide against incidents of corruption and gross maladministration which emerged with as huge dents in the early years of independence.

“The fear was that these corrupt activities could become more frequent and were destructive to the national economy,” observes Noa.

At the time it was recognised that the means available to detect corrupt activities and prevent their reoccurrence were inadequate. Based on this, Government opted to take initiatives that promote good governance, greater accountability, transparency and cooperation in combating corruption in Namibia.

Subsequently, an ad hoc committee on the Promotion of Ethics under the Chairmanship of the then Prime Minister, Hage Geingob, was established and launched on 5 March 1997 with terms of reference set by Cabinet. It is these aforementioned initiatives which eventually led to the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).

The main task of the ACC is to combat corruption and the Commission has to carry its duties through investigation of conducts of corrupt practices, and also through anti-corruption awareness campaigns and adoption of preventative measures.

“ACC is not just there to arrest people, as most people assume,” says Noa adding that besides Section 3 of the Anti-Corruption Act of 2003, the commission takes measures for the prevention of corruption in public bodies and private sector and advises entities on ways of preventing corrupt practices.

It is also responsible for educating the public and disseminating information of the evils and dangers of corruption in a nation.

Corruption in Namibia is considered a thorny issue which hampers national, economic, social and political progress as well as increasing public spending and discourages economic innovation with the worst affected and immediate victims of corruption being the poor and marginalized members of the community.

“It is like a cancer that eats away the fabric of society, resulting in shortages of public service and basic commodities and eventually reduces employment opportunities and education standards in a nation,” laments Noa.

“In addition, the commission is accountable to the Namibian people. This is so because it is funded with taxpayers’ money appropriated from Government budget.”

The Anti-Corruption Act provides that the Director must at the end of each financial year submit to the Prime Minister a report on the activities of the Commission during the previous year. The Prime Minister submits the report of the Director to the National Assembly. The report becomes a public document accessible to all Namibians.

“We all therefore have a responsibility to make Namibia a corrupt free country,” Noa adds.

Since it started its operation in 2006, it has not been smooth sailing for the Commission as it has to overcome a handful of huddles on its path.

According to Noa, the major challenge that the Commission is facing currently is that of lack of adequate human capacity due to the fact that, it only started with its operations in 2006.

“But we are in the process of expanding the Commission so that it operates effectively in all the regions of the country.

While we have one regional office in Oshakati, we are now planning to open another office in the coastal (Erongo region). Unfortunately funds are always limited because Government has other responsibilities otherwise we could open as many regional offices as we financially can afford. The other challenge is that staff members especially investigating officers must undergo relevant training to equip themselves with the new investigative techniques which they need in their daily investigation activities. Some of these training programmes are costly. The Commission has a duty to raise awareness on the dangers and evils of corruption therefore information materials which must be published. You know how costly the printing companies are. Challenges are many but we are trying our level best with the limited resources. Thanks to the Government’s ever commitment to financially support the Commission beside its other obligations,” thus Noa.

Quashing the old adage, ‘he who pays the piper dictates the tune,’ Noa strongly believes, argues and maintains that the ACC is very independent and its operations so far pay tribute to that.

“The independence of the Commission should not be questionable merely because it receives its funding from Government. The Commission is an agency of Government established by an Act of Parliament and Section 2 of the Anti-Corruption Act clearly states that the Commission is an independent and impartial body,” argues Noa before adding, “We are funded by Government like any public body, but that does not mean we will compromise our independence by virtue of that..The Commission executes its functions without any influence from Government or any other person. The Commission is only accountable to the Namibian people through an annual report that that is tabled in the National Assembly by the Prime Minister.”

Apart from the Director and the Deputy Director of the Commission, who are appointed by the National Assembly upon nomination by the President, the rest of the staff members are public servants and they have to be recruited in accordance with the Public Service Act and regulations thereof. By virtue of this recruitment procedure, it does not imply that the Commission compromises its authority, thus Noa.

Cornered on the issue of corruption cases taking lengthy periods to be completed and on the issue of few political big wigs being implicated in corruption, Noa says,

“One of the main reasons why sometimes investigating corruption allegations takes longer is when one has to engage the assistance of other authorities in order to obtain the evidence to either substantiate or even refute the allegations.

Unfortunately some authorities take their own time before they render assistance. We have many cases waiting to be submitted to the Prosecutor General for decision but the submission is delayed by the outstanding documents beyond our reach.

“The other delay is the justice system. The courts are seized with many other cases. Corruption cases are not the only criminal cases heard in our criminal courts. You have many other serious criminal cases such as murder, rape, theft of stock, armed robbery and others. All these must be heard by the courts. It appears the judiciary also suffers from shortage of manpower.

“One of the recommendations I made in one of the ACC annual reports is the introduction of the specialized courts to hear cases of corruption, economic crimes and other related offences. I do not know whether those in charge of the Judiciary system ever bothered to consider the recommendations or not.

“This does not mean that the ACC must run its own courts. I firmly believe in the fair administration of justice. Officers of the Commission cannot be investigators, prosecutors and judges in their own cases. All what is needed is to polish our justice system and ensure that there is a speedy dispensation of justice,” argues Noa.

On the issue of the public perception that political big wigs are never implicated on corruption activities, but ‘small fish,’ Noa responds:

“If the so-called political big wigs are never implicated in corruption, the reason could be twofold. It is either they are not involved in corrupt practices or whoever knows that they are involved does not come forward and report them. I must also point out that I do not understand the term “big wig”. The ACC Act makes no reference to ‘’big wigs’’ or ‘’small fish’’. If we have to categorize the suspects of corrupt practices into “big wigs” or “big fish” or “small fish”, where would we draw the line? What are the characteristics of a “big fish” and what are those of the “small fish”. Who determines that this is a “small fish” and this is a “big fish”?

The ACC simply lists the offences of corrupt practices and gives authority to the Commission to investigate any suspect. The Commission investigates any suspect of corrupt practice irrespective of his or her status in society, as long as there are reasonable grounds to investigate the allegations. Status is not an issue to the Commission. When there is no reasonable ground as provided for in the Act, to investigate the Commission does not investigate, because the mandate of the Commission is not to persecute any person nor should the Commission allows itself to be used by individuals to settle personal scores. Those who have genuine or reasonable suspicion of corruption can always approach the Commission and lodge their complaints. The Anti-Corruption Act does not exempt any person.

There are many suspects who have been investigated by the Commission. Some of these suspects might fall in the category of what you prefer to call ‘big wigs’. It depends on what one prefers to call “big wig” and what not. In instances where we are able to substantiate the allegations, we submit to the Prosecutor General with recommendation for prosecution. When that is done, it is up to the Prosecutor General to decide whether he or she is satisfied with the evidence gathered and decides to prosecute or not. You can see how justice works. We are not investigators, prosecutors and judges in our own case. We investigate and someone must decide on prosecution and the court pronounces itself on the merits of the evidence presented.

On many occasions the Commission has made an appeal to members of the public to report suspicious conducts of corruption. Many Namibians report to the Commission and I must thank them for that. If among many cases reported to the Commission, some of which are now pending before courts, there are no so-called “big wigs”, perhaps “big wigs” do not commit corruption. Otherwise they would have been reported to the Commission or at least to the Namibian Police if a person does not want to report to the Commission.”

Corruption takes different dimensions in Namibia. When it comes to public procurements the major tendencies on corruption is when public officials combine with individuals in the private sector to form their own companies registered in the names of friends or relatives.

“They then corruptly use their official position to make sure that tenders are awarded to these companies in which they have interest. Abuse of public properties like Government vehicles is another form of common corruption. Non-adherence to Government rules and policies results in officials corruptly using office or position for gratification.”

Noa, like Prime Minister Nahas Hangula agrees that corruption is just but a perception in Namibia as most people make a lot of outcry in the media about corruption but they have nothing to come and report to the ACC.

“This indicates that there is more perception about corruption than the magnitude of corruption. People tend to take anything they read in the print media as a conclusive proof of corruption which is unfortunate,” he says.

“However, what is apparent in Namibia is that public officials do not adhere to Government policies, rules and procedures and it results in maladministration and wastage of public resources,” he adds.

“Most people maintain that politicians are corrupt yet they have no substantive information to support their perception. I am not saying that Namibia is absolutely free of corruption. There is no country that is absolutely free of corruption. We must continue fighting corruption when it occurs. What I am saying is that corruption in Namibia is not at the high level some people perceive it to be,” concludes Noa. PF