As I pen together my second last editorial for 2017, I am disturbed by the response or engagement tactics that President Hage Geingob resorts to when addressing journalists during media briefings. For almost 3 years, the Geingob administration has displayed traits of a government committed to the ethos of transparency and accountability. This year alone, the Presidency has engaged the media 201 times, which is a commendable thing.
But let’s address the elephant in the room.
After attending most of President Geingob’s media engagements, I have observed a disturbing trend, one which is manifested in the President’s utterances particularly when responding to journalists who ask critical questions.
Let me put this into context. In 2015, without pressure and neither request, President Geingob went out of his way and declared his assets, wealth and business interest.
The nation welcomed this rare gesture by the Head of State considering the diminishing levels of trust we have when it comes to politicians and their shenanigans.
However, to this day, I fail to fathom why President Geingob takes it personal when he is queried about his wealth, something he brought to the public in the first place.
It would almost appear as if he is using the fact that he voluntarily declared as a fit reason for the public not to question his affairs.
When the SME Bank was facing closure this year, President Geingob was asked whether he had withdrawn his investment from the bank prior to its closure because he had inside information. A very innocent question in my view, in fact, a platform was provided for him to clear any misconceptions.
The response from someone considered as SME Bank’s “godfather” was astonishing to say the least. “As for my (in SME Bank), (it is) none of your business. My N$1,4 million was there. I used it. Now, I only have about N$40 000 or so which I am going to withdraw. But to tell you strictly, that is my private business,” said a clearly irate Geingob.
The question to Geingob was of paramount importance and in the public’s interest, considering that other Namibians lost their money and would have avoided such losses had they known that the bank was facing liquidity issues.
I find it perplexing that the President calls journalists to a media briefing, but when questions are posed to him, he resorts to a defensive strategy and his combat mode is activated in an eye’s blink as though under attack. In politics you do not defend through attack, political diplomacy and emotional intelligence is key. Take a cue from Jacob Zuma.
Had Geingob never declared his assets, no one would have known about his N$1,4 million investment with SME Bank.
But why does it become an issue when the President is questioned about his assets? Is it no longer convenient for him? Is he simply masquerading as a transparent leader when in fact he is not? I still believe he is transparent, but the line is becoming thinner by the day.
As recent as this week, I asked the President on his decision to sell his stake in the infamous ‘Township’, a joint estate project between Geingob and controversial Chinese national Jack Huang. I did so after he voluntarily announced that he sold his stake in the estate dealing.
I simply asked whether he sold it because of public criticism or whether it was a pure business decision.
His response was astounding as it turned into a man-to-man encounter rather than a President’s response to the nation. Once more, it was a great platform for him to tell the nation his side of the story.
“I have sold it and I am going to be out of it. I am not prohibited from making money.
I was making before you were born. Money is not new to me,” charged a clearly agitated Geingob. So the question is, why does the President initiate media gatherings when he knows very well that he will attach emotions to his responses or attack journalists? This defeats the purpose of gatherings.
As President, it is expected that you do away with pettiness and account to the nation or do not account at all. President Geingob must be prepared to face the wrath of public scrutiny and remain tolerant and open to opposing ideas.
Let me categorically state this without fear of contradiction and on the basis of sheer conviction, as the media, we are neither your friends nor your enemies.
Unlike politics, the media world does not operate under the auspices of patronage.
The media is not here at the President’s invitation, but to hold you to account in reporting accurately, fairly, objectively and in a balanced manner to list but a few.
Namibia is fortunate to have a President with a wealth of experience in diplomacy and politics; these factors alone combined with his strong administration background has the potential to enable him to ascend to greatness and lead us to prosperity.
I remain hopeful that all is not lost…