Unpacking the Mbumbamania debate

Mubita's anecdote

The past few weeks have seen the Namibian political space impregnated by what one would call the Mbumbamania crusade – the mantra on whether or not the Swapo Party Secretary-General deserves to attend Cabinet meetings. Protagonists and antagonists have based their argument for and against this development on the constitution – the supreme law of the land.

Academics and constitutional experts often agree that there are five basic sources that guide the interpretation of any constitution. These are: (1) the text and structure of the constitution; (2) intentions of those who drafted, voted to propose or voted to ratify the constitutional provision in question; (3) prior precedents (usually judicial); (4) the social, political and economic consequences of alternative interpretations; and (5) natural law. It is important therefore to look at arguments regarding constitutional provisions from the perspective of any of the above. A written constitution can be compared to a trust agreement. It specifies what powers the trustees are to have and endows these agents with certain authority delegated by those who created the trust – the people.

The Mbumbamania debate has unravelled a comedy of errors and unsophisticated arguments by our honourable opposition members of parliament. Even well respected academics have been found miserably wanting. Calling the attendance of Cabinet meetings by the Swapo Secretary-General unconstitutional is very unfortunate.

President Pohamba invited Nangolo Mbumba to attend Cabinet in order to “ensure that resolutions taken by the Swapo congress are implemented by government.” This is not a charitable or window-dressing invitation. It is a measured invitation to ensure that government is held accountable to fulfill a programme presented to the electorate and on whose basis government was elected. Which other party is best suited to ensure full implementation of the Swapo manifesto? Cabinet is there to implement, not only some laws promulgated in parliament, but most importantly the party manifesto (programme of action). It is a pity that the announcement produced an animated crescendo of debate from the opposition.

While shouting allegations such as “unfair, unconstitutional, corruption of the highest order, trickery, etc”, they made uncalculated reference to Article 35 of the Namibian Constitution as the pillar of their argument. Article 35 says “The Cabinet shall consist of the President, the Prime Minister and such other Ministers as the President may appoint from the members of the National Assembly, including members nominated under Article 46 (1) (b) for the purposes of administering and executing the functions of the Government”. Article 46 (1) (b) states that “not more than six persons appointed by the President under Article 32 (5) (c), by virtue of their special expertise, status, skill or experience”. This means that non-Cabinet Ministers may also be invited to attend Cabinet meetings when their expertise is required. The living example is that of the Director General of the National Planning Commission, among others.

Emphasis should be put on special expertise, status, skill or experience and juxtaposed with ensuring that “resolutions of the Swapo congress are implemented by government”. Does Mbumba’s status fit into the provisions of Article 46 (1) (b) in view of the fact that this is a Swapo government that was elected to implement policies contained in the Swapo Party manifesto? Obviously yes. Does the constitution say that only Cabinet Ministers must attend Cabinet as the opposition would want us to believe? The above Article says no. Let it be clear that there are no sitting allowances or perks for attending Cabinet.

Mbumba does not need a Cabinet portfolio to attend Cabinet. His status is to ensure that the Swapo Party manifesto is implemented by government. He can only do so if he fixes an eagle eye on the implementers – cajole them if need be. Only Swapo Party protagonists would wish that he does not oversee the implementation of the party manifesto. But that is to be expected. They would like to see the party fail to deliver on its promises.

(Dr Charles Mubita is a holder of a PhD in International Relations from the University of Southern California).

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