Corruption - A social disease (Part 148): Removing legal and structural centralisation of absolute power

02 November 2018 | Columns

Johan Coetzee - The rule of law is an imperative for good governance, sound decision making and the implementation of decisions.

Without enforcing the rule of law, contracts and property cannot be safeguarded and direct foreign investment cannot flourish. Foreign direct investment (FDI) is declining.

Not much is being done to abandon the notion of expropriating land of foreigners to secure increased FDI. Such investment is critical for economic growth and development to increase the standard of living of all Namibians.

Contributors to corruption, like a tendency towards lawlessness (Walters), criminality and the ills of poverty can overtake prosperity. This scenario has been realised in Singapore and several Asian Tigers.

Legislation should not center power in a specific person(s) without corresponding checks and balances. Centralisation of power encourages opportunities to abuse power, patronage (political corruption) and personal greed. Graham Hopwood of the IPPR argues the government is looking for trouble by frequently entrusting one person with the power for decisions with a huge impact (Republikein).

Utoni Nujoma, Minister of Land Reform, for example concluded a contract with Rashid Sardarov in which four farms were bought by the Russian, transferred to government and the land is now leased by the Russian. A renewed focus should according to Hopwood be placed on accountability that is based on rules.

ACCOUNTABILITY

Accountability is another imperative for good governance. To use an agricultural metaphor, accountability is the pivot around which all good governance oscillates to disseminate water for a variety of crops, like the rule of law, transparency and responsibility.

Another example of the centralisation of power lies in the position of the Director-General of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). He has the sole discretion to decide to investigate allegations of corruption.

John Grobler, a free-lance investigative journalist during 2017 provided the ACC with 23 pages of evidence that rose wood was smuggled illegally from Zambia and also harvested illegally in the area of Katima Mulilo in a protected forest with licences issued by the Director of Forestry (another holder of sole discretionary powers). The wood from both sources were transported by road to Walvis Bay via gravel roads to avoid road blocks. Grobler provided supporting locations and photos of trucks and their registration numbers to the ACC.

Only after several months in the face of increasing pressure from civilians and eventually local dailies, the ACC decided to investigate.

How is it possible that one person can ignore evidence, delay an investigation and not provide such evidence to the Prosecutor General (PG)? The PG has the sole discretion to decide to prosecute or not.

Allegedly cases against a number of ministers are delayed for months at the PG’s Office.

In terms of the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Whistleblower Commissioner has the sole discretion to decide if a whistleblower should be rewarded financially and how much such a reward will be. Other examples include the large discretionary powers of the Environmental Commissioner, the controversial Namibia Investment Promotion Bill and the New Equitable Economic Empowerment Bill (NEEEB), which grant powers to Ministers without accountability and/or very limited accountability to the people of Namibia.

These tendencies contravene the basic principles of accountable governance.

At the ACC, a small oversight body can be established to which the Director-General can report. Similar arrangements can be applied to the PG’s Office, and other examples. The President can make an ExCo of the Cabinet accountable for decisions with huge impacts.

It is time that we as Namibians start demanding accountability government and governance and invent the space for change.

References

Kisting, D. 2008. "Regering is besig om moeilikheid te soek", Republikein, 24 October 2018.

Walters, J. 2018. The right to housing in Namibia: In light of the land conference. University of Namibia Law Review, organised by 3rd Year law students, 11 October 2018, Windhoek.

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