Katrina's fall from grace

State wants jail term for ex-minister

25 July 2019 | Justice

Katrina Hanse-Himarwa's lawyer has pleaded for a fine instead of time behind bars for the former education minister, arguing that she deeply regrets her actions and has already paid a steep price for her crime. This, Sisa Namandje argued, includes vast public scrutiny, in addition to a stiff lawyer's bill and a significant N$300 000 annual pay cut.

However, the State has come out strongly against the court showing any leniency and has asked for direct imprisonment. Arguing in mitigation of sentence yesterday, Namandje told Judge Christie Liebenberg his client wanted to put on record that she “unreservedly expresses remorse and regret and asks for forgiveness”.

Namandje asked the High Court to be objective when considering sentencing, and to show mercy and compassion, despite the public demand for revenge. He added that despite public appearances, and the former education minister's “strong and lively personality”, she was aware of the seriousness of the offence and has expressed regret and remorse.

Liebenberg convicted the 52-year-old former Hardap governor on a charge of corruptly using an office or position to obtain gratification just over two weeks ago, on 8 July.

This was in relation to her time as governor, when she instructed that two beneficiaries of a Mass Housing project at Mariental be replaced by two of her relatives.

Namandje asked the court not to impose a custodial sentence, and instead impose a fine of N$35 000, and if necessary, a suspended sentence as an additional deterrent.

Namandje argued that even before sentencing, Hanse-Himarwa has, as a high-profile public figure, whose political career was in full swing, experienced a “fall from grace”.

He underlined this was a first-time conviction and she deserves, in respect of her “resignation from her ministerial position, her age and other mitigating circumstances” to be given a second chance in life.

He further argued her conviction “came at an advanced age”, after more than three decades in the public service sector.

He further urged the court not to “sacrifice the accused on the altar of retribution and deterrence”, in response to the public outcry following her conviction. Namandje argued that a harsh sentence would cause his client “the gravest economic and physiological harm” to her “dignity, person and feelings”.



Costly price

Namandje put on record that Hanse-Himarwa's annual income took a battering when she stepped down as minister, dropping from over a N$1 million to “just above N$690 000” as an ordinary member of parliament.

Further, her legal bill totalled N$1.4 million, of which she still owed more than N$800 000, due on 1 August.

“The legal bill is a massive financial burden on her shoulders. This is again part of the pain and suffering arising out of her commission of the offence,” he said.

Namandje further urged the court to take into consideration that the “victims” of Hanse-Himarwa's crime were not wronged in the long run. “There was no complete denial of an important part of their lives. There was simply a delay of a month or two,” Namandje argued.

He further pointed out that apart from supporting several children, two of whom are unemployed, and two grandchildren, Hanse-Himarwa is responsible for the care of her elderly and sickly mother. Her husband is also struggling with his health, the court was told.

Moreover, Namandje argued that despite strong societal demands and “vengeance-laden expectations, in regard to sentencing offenders, particularly in this first-ever criminal case involving a cabinet minister”, the court should remain objective.

“We submit the accused should not be harshly sentenced, simply for the purpose of warning others.”



'Watering down'

Deputy prosecutor-general Ed Marondedze accused Namandje of “watering down” the seriousness of the offence committed by Hanse-Himarwa. He argued the offence was committed “because she was in power”.

Marondedze said the directive was a “deliberate and conscious decision and not a sudden temptation”. He further dismissed Hanse-Himarwa's regret and remorse, while referring to interviews she gave after her conviction.

He accused her of showing contempt towards the court's decision to convict her. “In this case there was no remorse. There is no remorse at all.”

He referred to a Namibian Sun article titled 'I have deep pockets', in which Hanse-Himarwa said she has the ability to pay her legal fees.

Marondedze also said Hanse-Himarwa was not pushed to resign and was not fired as education minister.

He also questioned what the nation would say, if the court gave Hanse-Himarwa a lenient sentence.

“They will lose respect in the criminal justice system. If she was really contrite… my feeling is she should have relinquished her National Assembly post to show she is sorry. The National Assembly is where our laws are made, including the law of which she was convicted (sic).”

Marondedze argued further that her actions do not show she is contrite.

“She should play open cards,” he said, while saying there was evidence that Hanse-Himarwa was involved in two fishing companies.

“How much does she make from those fishing companies? The loss of salary of her ministry position is just a drop in the ocean.

She has other sources of income.”



Eyes and ears of govt

Marondedze said further that at the time of the offence, Hanse-Himarwa, as Hardap governor, “was the eyes and ears of government”, while adding this corruption had happened at very high level.

He said what she did tarnished the image of government and the head of state. “She was entrusted and had powers thrust upon her to represent government,” Marondedze added, before saying Hanse-Himarwa had betrayed the trust of the appointing authority.

He said as governor, she was there to serve the people, and was aware her office required transparency and accountability.

Marondedze thus added the State was asking for a sentence “that fits the crime she committed and is convicted off” - a sentence that was fair to society.

“The court should not be influenced by the status of this person. She is a political icon. No doubt. But our law knows no class distinction of offender of any crime,” Marondedze argued. “No special treatment.”

The court has set the sentencing for July 31.



JANA-MARI SMITH