Transparency and accountability seem to be the buzzwords for the Hage Geingob Administration, but in most instances it is more theory than practice, and when declarations are made they are hardly available for public scrutiny. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) is just one of the many institutions that have come out clear that asset declarations should be published to the greatest extent possible – albeit without compromising privacy.
Max Weylandt, a researcher at IPPR – who yesterday made a presentation on asset declarations in Namibia – said more stringent measures should be adopted on senior politicians such as parliamentarians and the President as well as people exerting control over significant sums of government money, like members of a procurement body when it comes to such declarations. “While privacy should exist for some matters, the public interest should be able to override such interests to a significant extent. It is worth noting that family members’ assets can be private to a certain extent – provided they are actually theirs and not just a way to circumvent declaration systems,” said Weylandt. Weylandt also questioned the current system used by parliament whereby declarations are not fully accessible to the public. “The current system for Parliamentary declarations shows how access can be effectively denied to most Namibians even if the documents are technical,” he said.
In addition to physical copies, Weylandt also proposed that an online system be developed to ensure maximum reach. “Apart from publication, financial disclosure should also be shared between government institutions. Any law should make provisions so that relevant authorities, such as the auditor general, police and Anti-Corruption Commission, have a way to access the data they might need to conduct their investigations,” he proposed. Weylandt also called for an independent body to monitor asset declarations. “In Namibia where skilled forensic auditors, investigators and accountants are a scarce commodity, it makes sense to have one specialised body focused on developing these skills rather than scattered offices across the public service trying the same,” he said.
SOE bosses should declare
The need for parastatal bosses to declare their interests was also discussed at yesterday’s session, with many arguing that parastatals oversee millions of public funds, hence it is just fair that those in charge declare their interests and assets. The chairperson of the Chief Executive Officer’s Forum, Dr Audrin Mathe, said although the forum does not have a collective view on calls for SOE bosses to declare their assets and interests, he would welcome the idea. “As chair, we do not have a collective view on it, but for me, I have absolutely no qualms to declare how I accumulated my wealth. It will actually enhance transparency. But, as I said, this is just my own view,” said Mathe, who also indicated that the subject never featured on the agenda of the forum.
IPPR in the past urged Parliament to demand greater transparency and public scrutiny of parastatals if overspending and heavy reliance on taxpayers to bail them out were to be reduced. Some parastatals have gone as long as 10 years without accounting to parliament and without facing any punitive measures. At Independence, Namibia had only 12 parastatals but the number has since ballooned to more than 90. Minister of Public Enterprises, Leon Jooste, when approached yesterday, said his ministry is looking into the legal implications of such a move, if any. “There is no law which requires this and one has to consider certain provisions of the Namibian Constitution. One of the issues is whether these declarations should be freely accessible by the public or if they should be confined to only sharing them with the shareholder,” Jooste said.
State Capture in Namibia
Seasoned academic, Professor Andre Du Pisani, at the meeting claimed that the notorious state capture practice is happening in Namibia. “Advanced forms of state capture are already taking place in Namibia. People close to state power manoeuvre to benefit over time. That could be one of the reasons why it is so hard to get people to declare their interests,” Du Pisani said. State capture is defined as a type of systemic political corruption in which private interests significantly influence the state’s decision-making to the advantage of certain individuals through unobvious channels that may not be illegal.
His remarks come months after President Hage Geingob said he will not entertain local and international investors in search of appointments to discuss business plans and tenders with him.
“I want to inform all domestic and international investors that the presidency will always welcome courtesy visits, but the tendency to seek appointments for the discussion of business plans and tenders is not welcome,” said Geingob at the time. “No meetings will be entertained in this regard and my advice is that those requiring guidance seek the counsel of line ministers or technocrats. This is to encourage the process of a multi-layered decision-making process, which encourages transparency and discourages favouritism, secrets and name-dropping,” said Geingob during this year’s independence anniversary celebrations.
He said there are some investors who go to the public and say they saw the “old man” but do not say in detail what was discussed in those meetings, and give the impression that the President had agreed with them or supported them. Geingob vowed commitment to transparency and reiterated that the fight against poverty runs concurrently with the war on corruption and their respective root causes.