By Tileni Mongudhi
The director-general of Namibia’s graft-busting body, the Anti-Corruption Commission, has come under fire for allegedly derailing the fight against corruption in the southern African country.
ACC director general Paulus Noa was again quoted in the media last week claiming that his office was unaware of high-level corruption at a number of ministries in the country, despite President Hage Geingob demoting a number of his ministers on account of the alleged corruption happening at such ministries or agencies.
Noa’s detractors further accused him of undermining President Geingob’s plan to fight corruption in Namibia. This comes after Geingob defended Noa last year emphasising that due process should be followed when dealing with corruption cases, to avoid targeting people unfairly. Geingob repeated the same again when he addressed his first cabinet meeting of the year.
At the event, the Namibian President announced that he demoted Attorney General Sacky Shanghala to become the Minister of Justice. Mines and Energy Minister Obeth Kadjoze has been moved to the Ministry of Economic Planning, Works, and Transport Minister Alpheus !Naruseb, who was responsible for all the country’s public works and infrastructure development projects, was moved to the Ministry of Agriculture.
Geingob expressed concern at the alleged corruption at the said ministries and agencies and said he wrote letters demanding explanations from the said ministers. The minister of health was also served with a letter but he survived the chop this time around.
Questions around Noa’s commitment to fighting corruption started surfacing after a number of cabinet ministers were accused of being involved in nefarious acts or controversies.
The situation was further amplified by the fact that the ACC has either cleared the accused officials or declined to investigate the corruption claims. Over the years, Noa has gained the reputation of targeting junior government officials who are found driving government vehicles without authorisation, nurses who steal medicine worth R50 at government hospitals and secretaries who steal R200 from cash boxes, while not investigating actual crimes occurring when senior officials abuse their positions for the benefit of themselves or their friends and relatives.
Chief in the firing line is the new justice minister Shanghala, who while occupying the Attorney General’s office, faced a long list of corruption allegations. One such allegation was when he allegedly spent R36 million in legal fees on UK-based lawyers, who were supposedly advising the Namibian government on whether the country has a case in demanding reparations from the German government regarding the Herero and Nama genocide committed between 1904 and 1908.
Noa declined to investigate. This was despite the fact that Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein, publicly went on record to state that his ministry reported the case and cited Treasury violations.
Noa also refused to investigate defence minister Penda Ya Ndakolo for allegations of abuse of housing allowance/subsidy. This was allegedly on the instruction of Shanghala. Ya Ndakolo was exposed, in 2015, by the media of staying in a luxurious hotel at the state’s expense for over six months and incurred a bill estimated at close to R1 million.
This was despite government paying him a housing allowance of about R15,000 monthly.
Shortly after the expose, Shanghala announced in the National Assembly that Ya Ndakolo was going to reimburse government what he received as monthly housing allowance for the duration of his stay in the luxury hotel. Shanghala further told the National Assembly that both the ACC and the Prosecutor General’s office agreed that the case will be closed since Ya Ndakolo agreed to pay back the money and that no further charges will be pursued.
The problem with this scenario is the fact that precedence was already set. Shortly before joining the National Assembly in 2015, MP Marina Kandumbu was prosecuted and convicted of a similar offence. She was fined R10,000 and ordered to pay back to government the over R87,000 she gained. Kandumbu made it to parliament because her conviction was limited to a fine and not a prison sentence, despite the ruling party Swapo at some point expressing reservations of having someone convicted of a crime on its parliamentary list.
The Southern Times sent detailed questions to the ACC director general, regarding Ya Ndakolo’s case and how his refusal to investigate could be seen as favouring the political elite.
The Southern Times also requested to know which provision of the law empowered Shanghala to negotiate for Ya Ndakolo’s pardon from investigation and prosecution.
Noa responded to the questions by saying: “I have seen the questions you have sent to me. I am unfortunately too busy to attend to your request. The listed questions do not add value to the AU anti-corruption project.
“The Southern Times newspaper must be used constructively to promote good governance on the African continent and the SADC region in particular.”
Prosecutor General Marth Imalwa distanced her office from Shanghala’s announced deal. She told The Southern Times this week that she was in hospital when Shanghala announced that her office considered Ya Ndakolo’s case closed since he opted to pay back the money.
She said she found out about Shanghala’s purported deal with her office in the media. She, however, highlighted the fact that her office only makes the decision on whether to prosecute after a docket has been delivered to her office by other law enforcement agencies responsible for investigating and charging people.
Imalwa said her office has always been accused of being slow or refusing to prosecute, but those who do so do not state or quote specific cases. She also highlighted that many a time, delays are a result of the entire criminal justice system, starting with those responsible for investigating, the courts and her office, which is understaffed.
Noa this year clashed with Schlettwein. This time it was after the images of National Council chairperson Margaret Mensah-Williams’ official vehicle emerged on social media during the December holidays.
The vehicle was allegedly abroad in Cape Town. After a public outcry, the ACC decided there was nothing wrong and that no crime had been committed. This prompted Schlettwein to differ with the stance when he posted on social media that moving a government car or property outside the country’s borders would require Treasury approval.
Many who read Schlettwein’s posts understood it to mean that no such approval was sought in this case.
Many in Namibia’s civil society, opposition, the ruling party and government now believe that the fight against corruption in the country is being hamstrung by the very agency responsible for fighting corruption.
Geingob starts his clean up
President Geingob has joined fellow Southern African Development Community leaders in the fight against corruption and the ineptitude of service delivery to the electorate.
This is like his peers in Tanzania, Angola, and Zimbabwe, who appear to be taking the corruption bull by the horns and bringing those responsible to book.
In South Africa, state institutions responsible for fighting corruption have already started taking action against alleged corrupt businesspeople and government officials linked to the looting of state resources under the state capture banner.
After taking office in 2015, Geingob was hailed for making the right moves and saying the right things. He was the first Namibian Head of State to publicly declare his personal wealth and business interests.
He then proceeded to distance himself from his businessmen friends. His former friends were largely credited with financing his campaign to become president. This was followed by Geingob’s announcement that he will not tolerate businesspeople trying to lobby him or his office for government contracts and other business opportunities.
“I would like to inform all business people and entrepreneurs from inside and outside of the country - don't try to negotiate with me on tenders and deals,” Geingob bluntly said while further adding “businesspeople should adhere to the policy of approaching the respective line ministers in order to submit their proposals, and allow our multi-layered decision-making process to take effect”.
The move gave many Namibians hope that the president would be able to cure the country of what is fast crippling the government. Even the current liquidity crisis affecting the country is blamed on corruption with fingers being pointed at politically connected businesspeople, who allegedly inflate their tender prices.
Geingob announced that 2018 will be the year of reckoning in Namibia.
“Year of reckoning to call on public office bearers to account to the nation,” he said when he opened the first Cabinet sitting for the year. He added that allegations and perceptions of corruption regrettably continue to taint his government.
“This has led to the public losing faith and confidence in some of our elected public office bearers in some government ministries and agencies,” he pointed out. He said when he took office in 2015, he declared that year, a year of planning. In his second year in office, he launched the Harambee Prosperity Plan as a result of the planning the previous year. Last year was then termed the year of re-dedication to implementing government plans and national development goals. He said this year will then be the year of accounting back to the nation. He took issue with ministries where a dysfunctional relationship existed between ministers, their deputies, and the permanent secretaries. He said such friction would in time compromise the country’s ability to deliver quality goods and services.
“Incidents such as the delayed ordering of medication amount to inexcusable gross negligence. Schoolbooks not ordered and dispatched on time amount to gross injustice, as such systemic failure denies the Namibian child the constitutionally ordained right to education,” Geingob said as he ordered his government to start delivering to the people.
Geingob announced his new Cabinet and warned that more demotions or expulsions could be coming to those who would be seen to be corrupt or failing to deliver on the prosperity promised to the Namibian people.