ECN selection could sow election mistrust

12 August 2016 | Government

A storm is brewing around the recent nomination of five Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) commissioners.
Civil society watchdogs want to know why public interviews of shortlisted candidates were skipped, saying the lack of transparency could cause mistrust of their role in future elections.
“Why were the public, the electorate and the media left in the dark? Why is there still no transparency about this extraordinary process,” Citizens for an Accountable and Transparent Society (CATS) director Carola Engelbrecht wrote in a recent statement.
She said CATS does not question the legality of the process, because the electoral law makes provision for the manner in which the commissioners were recommended.
“My issue is the secrecy which this legal provision enables, as well as the fact that it is a completely new clause (2014) and the first time they, whoever ‘they’ are, could invoke it, they did.”
She said it was hard to believe that the selection committee was unable to form the required quorum to select suitable applicants.
In a July statement, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) underscored the importance of the nomination system.
“There is a reason members of the electoral commission are selected in a public process. They are tasked with ensuring fair elections and the integrity of our elections is in their hands,” the IPPR stated.
IPPR director Graham Hopwood this week added that the move could backfire in terms of compromising the trust political parties and voters have in the commission’s role.
“This could cause problems for the legitimacy for the electoral commissioners and their future actions,” he said.
The customary selection process by a committee made up of five institutions came to an abrupt halt before public interviews could be conducted earlier this year.

Because the term of the current commissioners ends this month, parliament in July invoked a clause of the Electoral Act, inserted into the law as recently as 2014, which makes provision for the Standing Committee on Privileges to shortlist applicants and nominate eight, who are then whittled down to five by the president.
The selection committee’s failure to finalise the process was due to “technical difficulties”, the nature of which has not been clarified.
CATS director Engelbrecht explained that in previous years alternative plans were made to accommodate possible delays in the appointment of commissioners. These included the gazetting of extensions, which ensured that the public interviews would not be skipped.
However, Pietie Husselmann, director of legal services at the National Assembly, said even in the previous Act, “no one had the right to extend the period of the commissioners, not even the president, who is the appointing authority”.
Husselmann, a member of the secretariat to the Standing Committee on Privileges, explained that at first all required steps were taken as stipulated by the Act.
At the crucial time, when the selection committee met to shortlist the applicants, the procedures came to a halt as they could not proceed due to “technical difficulties”.
Husselmann did not wish to elaborate on that, but emphasised that the nomination of the final eight candidates was done strictly in line with the terms specified by the Act.
“What people forget is that the Act expressly states what you need to qualify for the position. People just assume that the committee randomly selected people, but in terms of the Act it is specifically stated what the criteria are.”
National Assembly Speaker Peter Katjavivi, who chairs the Standing Committee on Privileges, would only say that “nothing irregular was committed”.
Another member of the committee, DTA president McHenry Venaani, said while the process was in line with the law, the selection committee’s failure to finalise the process was “suspect.”
He said he questioned the reasons for that failure but received no answers.
The five electoral commissioners, as selected by the president and approved by the National Assembly, are Notemba Tjipueja, Elsie Nghikembua, Albertina Nangolo, Barney Karuuombe and Ulrich Freyer.