Namibia has introduced a special high court to fast-track corruption cases.
Despite fast-tracking corruption cases, the court is also expected to look into other aspects of the law including procedural reforms such as further narrowing its jurisdiction, limiting postponements and improving case management.
With a dedicated court, the government hopes that the reach of corruption cases will expand into the private sector and to lower levels of government. With court proceedings already underway, albeit little being known about it, the court is situated in Luderitz Street in Windhoek.
Though established mainly to resolve corruption cases more expeditiously, the court is already plagued by delays and inefficiency. This concern prompted the Prosecutor General Martha Imalwa expressing concern over instances in which prosecutors refer any corruption case from the Regional Court to the Special Corruption Court for trial.
In a letter dated 22 November 2016 which The Patriot has seen written to control, regional prosecutors and Special Corruption Court prosecutor, Imalwa said: “It has been noted with grave concern that some prosecutors are referring Regional Court cases, where accused have been charged with corruption related offences to the Special Corruption Court(Luderitz Street) for trial.”
She further says in the letter: “Indubitably, the Special Corruption Court is correctly constituted to deal with corruption offences, however it must be noted that the Magistrate designated to the said court is not a duly appointed Regional Court Magistrate.” Imalwa further directed that all cases where the PG’s decision states that an accused must be arraigned in the Regional Court must be handled as such. The PG also instructed the prosecutors to ensure that all Regional Court cases which were already referred to the Special Corruption Court be referred back to the Regional Court.
A legal expert who spoke under condition of anonymity is of the view that the corruption court is a “symbolic move” by the government to gain ground in the court of public opinion.“The government is trying to show that they are making good on their promise of cracking down on corruption,” said the expert.
Corruption was one of the focal points of former President Hifikepunye Pohamba’s 10 years in power, a period which saw the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Commission. The ACC has however been labelled as a “toothless dog” by the public with many holding the view that it mainly targets junior-ranking officials and ignoring the high-ranking officials.
Although there has been many corruption cases reported, most of them involved mainly civil servants and politicians.
Some of those who have been investigated over the years included Namibian police’s head of Human Resources Commissioner Abed Kashihakumwa, who was probed for neglect of duty after one of his in-laws, who had been discharged from the force as a result of his criminal record a few years ago, was last year recruited back into the force.
Education minister Katrina Hanse-Himarwa also fell victim to the ACC axe when she was probed for allegedly abusing her position to benefit her relatives.
Fisheries minister Bernard Esau was also once probed this year over the alleged corrupt allocation of fishing quotas, worth in excess of N$280 million to close associates.
Works permanent secretary Willem Goeiemann, the Namibia Airports Company and the head of the directorate of Civil Aviation, Angeline Simana were also subject to an ACC probe to determine the circumstances under which British firm Westminster Aviation Security Services was awarded a 25-year contract to service airport security systems in Namibia.
The ACC also came under fire in 2010 when it failed to investigate how the children of top government officials, such as that of former president Hifikepunye Pohamba, several Cabinet ministers and senior military and police officers acquired scholarships to study in China.
The ACC at the time told the press that the investigation into the matter was halted, partly because the Chinese embassy in Namibia refused to divulge information on the scheme.
But despite the court being in place, there will be indications of how the people of this nation feel about government officials – and whether they trust them to run the court independently without any political interference.
Some countries had in the past established anti-corruption bodies without power of arrest, but only to regret their laws, because corruption started increasing with impunity. Culprits did not care, because the anti-graft body was powerless and action in urgent matters was being delayed.
The ACC at times deals with intelligence, which requires swift sting operations to deal with suspects before they flee or before evidence disappears. Swift action cannot be practically executed if the anti-graft body needs to rely on another law enforcement institution for operation.
ACC director general Paulus Noa refused to comment on the matter and referred this newspaper to Imalwa. Efforts to get hold of Imalwa proved futile as her phone went unanswered.