Jooste handed battle-axe

Public enterprises minister Leon Jooste now has extensive powers to take the battle to those who continue to loot the country's state-owned enterprises.

24 January 2020 | Government

The public enterprises minister has officially been handed the power to direct special investigations into the activities of state-owned enterprises if it is suspected that any corruption or other criminal activities are taking place.

This is one of the critical impacts of the activation of the Public Enterprises Governance Act of 2019 that was announced by the incumbent minister, Leon Jooste, this week, amid some SOEs being linked to continued allegations of board members and executives enriching themselves through criminal activities while being in cahoots with ministers.

Former fisheries and justice ministers Sacky Shanghala and Bernhardt Esau, who resigned last year amid the Fishrot scandal, stand accused of using state-owned fishing company Fishcor, with the help of its former board chairperson James Hatuikulipi and others, to enrich themselves through bribes.

The two ministers, Hatuikulipi, Pius Mwatelulo, Ricardo Gustavo and Esau's son-in-law Tamson Hatuikulipi, who are in custody on charges of having received over N$150 million in bribes from an Icelandic seafood company in exchange for facilitating Namibian fishing quotas, will be back in court on 20 February.

Jooste had tweeted last year that he was devastated by the scandal.

“I am personally devastated when I consider the social, financial and reputational consequences of these actions.

“Our ministry will be implementing the new Act very soon and we shall expose and deal with all corruption in public enterprises by appointing highly skilled people in the ministry with the ability to identify and investigate corruption,” Jooste said at the time.

The special investigations Jooste can now institute at SOEs can be in relation to any matter concerning the business, trade, dealings, affairs, assets or liabilities of a public enterprise.

In terms of Section 29(4) of the Act, if the minister thinks, after studying a report submitted in terms of this section, that there is reason to suspect that any corrupt activity has occurred, he must refer the report to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).

If the minister suspects other criminal activity he must refer the report to the police inspector-general.

Any person who fails to cooperate with a special investigator appointed by the minister, or without lawful reason refuses or fails to produce documents or answer questions, hinders or obstructs the investigation or wilfully destroys or alters any document or any other thing relevant to an investigation, will now be committing a crime.

On conviction, a maximum fine of N$100 000, imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years, or both may be imposed.



Board members personally liable

Jooste has also been given the teeth to go after board members who enrich themselves through corruption and who do not exercise a reasonable degree of care and diligence in the performance of their duties.

After their term, board members may also not make improper use of information acquired during their time at a parastatal to gain, directly or indirectly, an advantage for themselves or any other person or to cause detriment to the public enterprise.

The minister now also has the power to recover monies in a competent court if a board member, or any other person, made a profit as a result of any contravention of the performance agreement, or if the public enterprise has suffered any damage or loss.

This does not preclude the SOE from instituting any other criminal or civil proceedings.

Jooste said the successful reform of the country's public enterprises is a non-negotiable element that has become critical to ensure that the current economic downturn is countered as soon as possible.

“I believe that economic recovery will be all but impossible without calculated but expedited public enterprise reforms to increase profitability, contain and minimise subsidies and entirely cease bailouts as soon as practical,” he said.

STAFF REPORTER

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