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Thursday 17 January 2019
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National Assembly hiding from the press

A row is brewing in Parliament after the National Assembly secretariat bluntly refused to attend a public hearing with the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts in the presence of the media on this week. In a letter written by National Assembly secretary, Lydia Kandetu, she said she is only willing to appear in front of the committee in the absence of the media. The letter, which is on the National Assembly letterhead and is signed by Kandetu, was addressed to the chairperson of the committee, Mike Kavekotora. Despite being given ample notice, Kandetu simply failed to turn up, offering no “credible apology and causing the committee shock and dismay at her violation of Parliamentary protocol.”
Kavekotora explained that the Committee only received correspondence on the day the hearing was due to take place. He said Kandetu was invited in writing on 16 June 2017, only to respond on 27 June 2017 that she will not attend the hearing. “I am sorry to inform you that we are unable to honour your request in the presence of Media Houses. This consultation is on the 2017/2018 budget and thus it is not in the interest of the institution that an explanation is given in their[media] presence,” said Kandetu in the letter. This newspaper understands that while committee members were waiting for Kandetu at the venue(at parliament), she instead chose to attend a meeting with Speaker, Professor Peter Katjavivi in his office just a few metres away. Kavekotora expressed his disappointment over Kandetu’s snub and said the committee could likely take the next possible step to force Kandetu to appear before the committee which is to subpoena her.
“The budget was tabled and discussed in public and in the presence of the media, why should this be done in private all of a sudden, maybe she must tell us if there is something to hide,” Kavekotora lamented. But yesterday, senior officials at the National Assembly accused committee members of trying to score political points by trying to question a budget that has already been approved by the parliament. The official accused committee members of using the committees as an excuse to travel in an attempt to fill their pockets. “This whole thing is about money, nothing else. We understand they want us to transfer more money from one division to the other to ensure that there is enough money for them to travel,” said the official who could not be named due to fear of victimization. The National Assembly has budgeted N$11.1 million for subsistence and travel allowances for its five divisions, according to the 2017/18 Estimates of Income, Revenue and Expenditure, of which N$7.5 million has been set aside for the travel allowances of the members in the eight parliamentary committees.
The committee which consists of 19 lawmakers is the biggest in terms of numbers. The majority(10) of the committee members are from the Swapo Party. Parliamentary select committees need to be taken seriously. Yet, for them to be so, we need to clarify their legal powers, use wider expertise and practice what we preach. The Patriot understands the senior ruling party members are not impressed by the fact that Swapo committee members allowed the opposition to go ahead and call for “such a meeting which placed the party in bad light.” “It just shows that some of the Swapo MPs do not understand the wider-effect of this move because the opposition has taken advantage to advance their own cause,” said a party source. The source added: “Do not be surprised if the Chief Whip calls for a caucus soon to discuss the matter with the members. Swapo members are the majority in the committee and therefore they had the power to block the summoning of Kandetu.” This week the edifying spectacle of Kandetu, who is tasked to steer the administration ship of the highest body legislature, has further underpinned perceptions that public officials do not take parliamentary committees seriously. The finance permanent secretary, Ericah Shafudah, is due to appear before the committee next week on the same matter, but early indications from those close to her suggest that she too could snub the committee.




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