Corrupt in the eyes of the world

Analysis of the world’s most influential indices and websites shows Namibia is increasingly labelled as a country where corruption is impeding business.

17 February 2021 | Economics

Namibia’s state bureaucracy is inefficient and bloated; politically motivated appointments, as well as a doubling of civil servants combined with ubiquitous corruption, is proving to be a big problem for Namibia. – GAN Integrity

Jo-Maré Duddy – Search “Namibia corruption” on Google, hit the very first link of the thousands of results that pop up and you read: “While the country suffers from less corruption compared to other countries in the region, corruption remains common.”

The website is that of GAN Integrity, a leading global provider of integrated compliance management solutions. The website rates Namibia according to eight risk keys, and labels the country as “high risk” on four.

Business7’s investigation stems from repeated claims from government that Namibia’s tarnished image is based on perceptions and not fact.

The latest official remark came from president Hage Geingob when he opened Parliament earlier this month. Referring to the new Afrobarometer report, Geingob said it was based on respondents’ perceptions.

“Although corruption is not systemic in Namibia, we recognise that some corrupt officials have tainted the name of our country,” Geingob said.

The head of state acknowledged that corruption and perceptions thereof erode public trust in institutions and said the fight against corruption should be intensified.

NOT JUST PERCEPTION

The Afrobarometer isn’t just based on perception, data analysis shows.

Excel sheets of the 2019/20 Global Corruption Barometer (GCB), which includes the results of the Afrobarometer, state that 11% - more than one in ten Namibians surveyed – paid a bribe after making contact with an official.

A 2018 survey by PwC on global economic crime and fraud indicated that 25% of responding organisations in Namibia experienced bribery and corruption in the last 24 months.

The World Bank last conducted a bribery incidence survey in 2014. According to this, 9.1% of firms in Namibia experienced at least one bribe payment request.

IndexMundi, one of the world’s biggest comprehensive data portals with country-level facts and statistics, quotes this survey and refers to a World Bank bribery incidence survey of 2006 when a mere 1.2% of companies in Namibia experienced at least one bribe payment request.

In the World Bank’s Incidence of Graft Index, also conducted in 2014 as part of its Enterprise Survey, 20.4% of companies indicated that they were expected to “give gifts” to get a construction permit. About 11.6% said they had to do so to secure a government contract.

To get an import license, 7.8% of companies were expected to give gifts, followed by 5.3% of firms which met with tax inspectors. Some 3.5% of companies had to bribe officials with gifts to get an operating license.

GAN Integrity refers to the Enterprise Survey in its profile on Namibia.

‘SIGNIFICANT RISKS’

“Companies face significant risks of corruption when interacting with public services in Namibia,” GAN Integrity says.

The website, which was last updated in July 2020, classifies public services as one of four high key risks when doing business in Namibia. The other three are customs administration, public procurement and natural resources.

“Namibia’s state bureaucracy is inefficient and bloated; politically motivated appointments, as well as a doubling of civil servants combined with ubiquitous corruption, is proving to be a big problem for Namibia,” GAN Integrity comments on the country’s public services.

Regarding customs administration, the group says: “Corruption by customs authorities does impede business in Namibia; import procedures are very burdensome and irregular payments and bribes are common.”

On the mining and fishing fronts, GAN Integrity refers to the Bertelmann Transformation Index (BTI) of 2016, saying: “Companies should be aware that Namibia’s extractive industries offer huge opportunities for illicit enrichment, particularly through the granting of licenses for mining and fishing.”

According to GAN Integrity, “Namibia has an adequate level of transparency in its mining sector, however, lacks transparent mechanisms regulating oil exploration.”

It quotes Oxpeckers, Africa's first investigative environmental journalism unit: “Corrupt police officers are said to take bribes for facilitating poaching in Namibia.”

GAN Integrity also refers to a 2017 report by the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) at the Bank of Namibia (BoN) and says: “Poaching is prevalent due to a lack of resources for effective enforcement against wildlife crime; bribing of border officials is also a contributing factor.”

PROCUREMENT

Companies face a “high risk of corruption” in Namibia’s procurement sector, GAN Integrity warns.

“Companies perceive favouritism to widely affect the decision of officials when awarding contracts and believe that public funds are sometimes diverted to companies, individuals or groups due to corruption,” the group adds, quoting the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report of 2015/16.

Referring to the BTI, GAN Integrity points out: “A special concern in Namibia is the influx of Chinese businesses which frequently do not have to adhere to the same legal provisions as local companies due to alleged corruption and favouritism.”

It also mentions a report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) in Namibia, saying: “Poorly conceived regulations combined with a ballooning public procurement sector led to many instances of procurement fraud.”

GAN Integrity lists the police, land administration and tax administration as “moderate” key risks in Namibia.

According to the 2019/20 GCB, 8% of Namibians “once or twice” or “a few times” had to pay a bribe, give a gift, or do a favour for a police officer in order to get help or to avoid a problem like passing a checkpoints during identity checks or traffic stops, or during an investigation.

TRANSPARENCY

Namibia’s performance on Transparency.org’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) is used by heavyweights Trading Economics and TheGlobalEconomy.com on their webpages for the country.

The websites don’t refer to Namibia’s global ranking on the CPI, but use the country’s score. Since 2001, Namibia has not been able to achieve a score higher than 57 out of a possible 100 – 100 meaning that a country is free of corruption.

Namibia scored a peak of 57 in 2002. It fell to 40-plus from 2003 to 2014, recording a low of 41 in 2004 and 2006. In 2015 it recovered back to 50s territory. Namibia scored 51 in the latest CPI, down from 52 in 2019 and 53 in 2018.

On the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, Namibia’s score on key indicators measuring accountability, transparency and anti-corruption fell from 2010 to 2019.

Namibia’s overall score on anti-corruption fell by 4.6 points over the decade, in stark contrast with the average African score which improved by 1.1 points over the same period.

For accountability and transparency, Namibia overall score declined 3.8 points from 2010 to 2019, whereas the continent’s average score improved by 0.8.

The Ibrahim Index measures a country’s response to corruption using five indicators: anti-corruption mechanisms, the absence of corruption in state institutions, the absence of corruption in the public sector, public procurement procedures and the absence of corruption in the private sector.

Over the past decade, Namibia performed worse on four on these indicators, while its score for public procurement procedures (37.5%) showed no change.

Namibia scored only 44 points out of a possible 100 on its anti-corruption mechanisms in the latest Ibrahim Index, retreating 4.8 points over the decade.

WATCHDOG

Websites agree that Namibia has the legislation to effectively fight corruption, but question the enforcement thereof.

The Heritage Foundation, regarded as Washington's No. 1 think tank, sums up the situation in its 2020 Index of Economic Freedom.

“Although anticorruption legislation is in place to combat public corruption, there are significant weaknesses in transparency and government accountability, and a majority of Namibians regard the level of corruption as very high,” the Heritage Foundation says.

FreedomHouse.org, a US-based, non-profit non-governmental organisation that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights, states: “Namibia has a sound legal framework for combating corruption. However, concerns remain that anti-corruption laws are inconsistently enforced, and difficulties in accessing information held by government departments present barriers to gathering evidence.”

The organisation continues: “Light sentences on high profile cases and low prosecution and conviction rates undermine the work of the Anti-Corruption Commission [ACC].”

The official website of the US Department of State quotes a nationwide survey commissioned by the ACC and released in 2016. According to the website: “Corruption was listed at the third-most important development challenge facing Namibia ... 78% of survey respondents rated corruption as ‘very high’ in Namibia.”

GAN Integrity says despite a “strong framework for curbing corruption, enforcement of the legislation [in Namibia] is inconsistent”.

‘CULTURE OF DISTRUST’

Some 74% of Namibians surveyed in the 2019/20 Afrobarometer say corruption increased in the previous 12 months, ranking the country fourth on the latest index. The average for Africa is 59%.

Asked how government was handling the fight against corruption, 40.4% said “very badly”, while 29.6% responded “fairly badly”.

According to the Afrobarometer report, Namibians’ approval of government’s performance in fighting corruption dropped by 26 percentage points from 2008 to 2020. The latest survey was conducted before the #Fishrot scandal became public.

Political scientist Christie Keulder, who is the national investigator for Afrobarometer in Namibia, says high levels of corruption perception could have more devastating effects than corruption itself.

“It generates a ‘culture of distrust’ towards some institutions and may create a cultural tradition of gift giving and hence, raising corruption,” Keulder says.

According to him, the capacity of citizens to see political corruption where it exists and to link such perceptions to evaluations of public officials constitutes an important test of political accountability.

“If fighting corruption is to bear fruit, learning how citizens see corruption, and the factors that account for their perceptions, should contribute to the critical tasks of fostering accountability and good governance in the country,” Keulder says.

Afrobarometer delivers such insights, he adds, “and thus would be critical for all efforts to increase and promote accountability and good governance in the country”.

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