Corruption - A social disease (Part 167 b): Can Namibia be the least corrupt African country by 2020?

27 February 2020 | Columns

Johan Coetzee - Why are Namibians’ perceptions about corruption not improving?

Despite mechanisms such as the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) which has investigated corruption since 2006, the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) and Bank of Namibia (BoN) which monitor suspicious fund transfers (money laundering), the Prosecutor General (PG) and the Ombudsman, whom can investigate cases where the public’s rights are at stake, Namibia has not improved its international corruption rating since 1998.

These public rights include among others the right to fair treatment and access to public services.

The Whistleblower Protection Act, 2017 has not been implemented yet.

TENDER INFLATION

Contributors to non-improvement can be an increase in corruption from pre-tender to post-tender.

Examples include deliberate incorrect tender specifications, middlemen that charge facilitation fees, collusion between parties as well as tender fixing. Post-tender inflation was seen with the construction of the Neckartal dam and the petroleum depot at Walvis Bay, which will be completed years after the initial tender completion date and in both cases with an approximately inflation of 700%.

State Owned Enterprises’ (SOEs) debt is approximately N$45 billion based on 2019 figures.

An increase in the mismanagement of funds and incompetence by local authorities also contribute to perceptions about corruption.

EXECUTIVE POWERS

Another possible contributor is an increase in presidential powers since 1990. Amendments of the Constitution allow the President to appoint regional governors, the National Assembly was enlarged from 76 to 104 members (eight appointed by the President) and the National Council from 26 to 42 members.

Namibia has an all too powerful presidential position, even more powerful than the United States of America. The President appoints the Chief of Police, Defence Force and National Intelligence, the Ombudsman, Prosecutor General, Attorney General, Director General of the National Planning Commission, the Director General of the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Employment Equity Commissioner, to mention a few. Such powers can result in undue influence in terms of the seperation of executive, legislative and judicial powers.

An unchecked an all too powerful position is open for abuse because the system allows it. Namibia has a structurally inefficient and weak system of checking the powers of the President.

The executive have an increased dominance over the legislative branch of Government.

All cabinet members are appointed at the sole discretion of the President and constitute more than a third of the National Assembly. Cabinet members are firstly accountable to the president, secondly to the Politburo (100 members) of the ruling party and thirdly to the National Assembly - and in effect indirectly and lastly to the voters.

All MPs represent all voters and no one in particular. Such a political representation system is structurally inefficient because of a lack of direct political accountability to voters. The unclear and compromised lines of accountability is embedded in the quota system for electing members of the National Assembly. Voters vote for a party and not for individual politicians.

MIGHTY MINISTERS

Ministers have been granted increased discretionary powers through several pieces of legislation. For example, legislation pertaining to the allocation of fishing quotas, environmental clearance certificates, mining licences and imposing conditions on investors.

The Investment Promotion Act has been under review since 2016. Insecurity reigns in the investment climate.

The amendment of the Pension Funds Act, Article 28 (special purpose vehicle) mandated the Government Institutions Pension Fund (GIPF) to invest in unlisted funds (Brownfield projects) that include high risk start-up companies that do not have a sound operational track record. This is expected to contribute to a further reduction of internal and external investment confidence and outflow of capital.

The GIPF corruption scandal took place prior to the amendment of Article 28. Of the 20 cases of GIPF corruption that involved politicians, businessmen and allegedly also a judge, 18 could not be prosecuted due to lack of evidence and no court hearings has taken place.

The discretionary powers of ministers are not conducive to reduce corruption, because power has, can, and will continue to be abused. The practise of high-risk investments due to Article 28 may continue unabatedly and remain unchallenged by private equity companies.

ELECTIONS

It can be deduced that there is tolerance for corruption in Namibia that has become part of the culture of engrained corruption that has “infected” law-enforcement agencies, the private sector (Coetzee) and public institutions.

The Electoral Commission (ECN) and the former Minister of Urban and Rural Development failed to implement sections of the Electoral Act, which were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on 6 February 2019. The Supreme Court however ruled that the elections of 2019 is binding and legal. It raises several questions as to the independence of judges, whom are appointed by the President on recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission. How the outcome of an unconstitutional application of the Electoral Act can be acknowledged by the Court as legal, is unknown.

The so-called “jury” is still out on how the international community will respond to this ruling. The investment community’s response may be more negative than positive.

REFERENCES

Coetzee, J.J. (2018). The role of the private sector in tackling corruption. Institute for Public Policy Research, Briefing Paper, 9 May, Windhoek. Available at: https://ippr.org.na.

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