02 Dezember 2020 | Wirtschaft

Transparency remains opaque

Critical governance systems, processes and institutions in Namibia are either not in place or are not functioning optimally or appropriately.

President Geingob still has time and opportunity to make full use of his second term to … set himself apart as a true anti-corruption champion. - IPPR

Jo-Maré Duddy – Namibia’s overall performance on the leading Ibrahim Index of African Governance over the past decade might have improved, but it was not driven by government’s action on accountability, transparency and anti-corruption.

On the contrary, Namibia’s score on key indicators measuring the above fell from 2010 to 2019.

In the latest index, recently released by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Namibia scored 69.6 points out of a possible 100 for security and rule of law, dropping two points from 2010. This is in contrast of the average African score which only declined by 0.7 points over the same period.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation classifies Namibia as one of 22 countries on the continent where security and rule of law are increasingly deteriorating.

Despite Namibia’s worsening trend, the country was rated as the 6th best performer on the continent as far as security and rule of law are concerned.

Namibia’s overall score on anti-corruption has fallen by 4.6 points over the past 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 Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s findings are echoed in the Namibian Governance Report 2015-2020 which the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) released recently.

“Namibian president Hage Geingob during his first term in office – April 2015 to March 2020 – regularly proclaimed his credentials on good governance. Despite such proclamations, critical governance systems, processes and institutions are either not in place or are not functioning optimally or appropriately,” the IPPR says.

“The causes for this are myriad,” the IPPR says, but notes: “A lot of the dysfunctions stem from a lack of decisive and timely action or intervention and an unresponsive or slow-moving bureaucratic system.”

CORRUPTION

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.

The biggest plunge was recorded in the absence of corruption in the private sector. In the latest report, Namibia’s score was 69.2 points, a drop of 8.6 points over the decade under review.

The country scored 73.1 points for the absence of corruption in state institutions and 64.3 for the absence of corruption in the public sector – down 3.5 and 6 points respectively.

In his maiden state of the nation (SONA) address in April 2015, Geingob labelled bribes as evil.

“Corruption requires a corrupter and a corruptee. Businesspeople that pay bribes and the civil servants who solicit or receive bribes are engaged in an evil which undermines our development and weakens the fibre of our society,” he said.

MECHANISMS

Namibia scored only 44 points on its anti-corruption mechanisms in the latest Ibrahim index, retreating 4.8 points over the decade.

In his SONA in 2015, Geingob said: “As a rules-based nation, we must capacitate and allow our institutions such as the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Namibian police and our courts to investigate and prosecute cases of corruption without fear or favour.”

The IPPR makes the following observations in its report: “The National Anti-Corruption Strategy and Action Plan (2016-2019), which was supposed to deliver much of the strengthened or new governance architecture on the anti-corruption landscape had only completed 15 out of 75 actions by 2020,” and “Both the Whistleblower Protection Act (No. 10 of 2017) and the Witness Protection Act (No. 11 of 2017), which were passed in late 2017, remained unimplemented by the end of the first Geingob administration term.”

According to the IPPR, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is “the tip of Namibia’s anti-corruption spear, but over the five years from 2015 the law enforcement agency has faced significant challenges, especially of a reputational kind”.

Although the Office of the Prosecutor General (PG) plays a critical role in Namibia’s anti-corruption fight, it too has become “an increasingly problematic institution”, the IPPR says.

The think tank adds: “The Namibian courts system is in a decades-long struggle to clear backlogs and bottlenecks that have become a threat to the entire criminal justice system as judicial authorities have failed to get to grips with the issues undermining the efficient functioning of the courts.”

ACCESS TO INFORMATION

Accessibility of information is one of the key indications used by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to benchmark a country’s accountability and transparency. Namibia’s score of 42.3 points in the 2020 index shows a drop of 14 points over the past decade.

“Despite repeatedly stating over the years that an access to information bill would be tabled in parliament and a law passed in his [Geingob’s] first term, by the end of the term no bill had made it to parliament,” the IPPR says.

The president’s first Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP) recognised transparency as a critical ingredient of development, the IPPR points out.

Under “Accountability and Transparency” in chapter 3 of the HPP, it states: “Access to Public Information: To ensure that our citizens have access to relevant government information, the MICT [ministry of information and communication technology] will develop a plan for aligning the functions of the public relations and liaison officers to their core functions of information dissemination before end of June 2016. In addition, permissible access to information by the public must also be included in the plan.”

In the middle of 2016, representatives from government, led by the MICT, and civil society, under the umbrella of the Access to Information in Namibia (ACTION) Coalition, came up with an access to information (ATI) draft bill, using the African Union (AU) model law on access to information as a guide.

‘HALTED’

“Despite this positive development and the HPP commitment to ensuring a more transparent government, progress has been halting,” the IPPR says.

In his SONA last year, Geingob promised: “We recognise that access to information is a critical component of the electorate’s ability to hold elected leaders to account. To that end, the anticipated Access to Information Bill will be tabled in parliament during 2019.”

“Namibia has embraced the Information Age, which brings with it online media and round-the-clock breaking news, bringing information to the fingertips of the masses and making it easier for government to account to all Namibians. We are a responsive government and are leveraging this ‘New Normal’ to enhance public access to information,” Geingob said.

According to the IPPR: “President Geingob is fond of sharing his governance equation: Transparency + accountability = trust. However, despite his repeated claims of improved transparency and accountability under his administration, and despite ensuring access to government information having been written into his first Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP), real government transparency remained largely out of reach by the time his first presidential term ended in March 2020.”

TRANSPARENCY

Other indicators used by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to measure accountability and transparency are institutional checks and balances, civil checks and balances, the absence of undue influence on government, and the disclosure of financial and judicial information.

Of these, only the disclosure of financial and judicial information recorded a positive trend from 2010 to 2019. Namibia’s latest score for this indicator is 45.9 points, up 3.6 points over the decade.

For institutional checks and balances Namibia achieved a score of 71 points, a drop of 8.1 points. The score of 78.7 points for civic checks and balances displayed a negative trend of 0.4, while the 81.9 points for the absence of undue influence on government showed no change in the decade under review.

In his inaugural cabinet meeting in April 2015, Geingob said there shouldn’t be any conflict in government.

“The days of being a government official and trying to be a businessman or businesswoman should come to an end. In these instances, one area usually suffers and most often it is the official work that lags behind,” he said.

Shortly afterwards, Geingob and first lady Monica Geingos declared their interests and assets.

“Alas, it turned out to be a once-off event, followed only by then finance minister Calle Schlettwein with a public declaration of his assets and interests in mid-2016, but no one else in the Geingob cabinet,” the IPPR says.

“The public declaration of assets and interests by the state president has not been repeated since - although the president in 2020 did say he would repeat the process. In the meantime, Schlettwein did declare his assets for a second time,” the IPPR adds.

The introduction and enforcement of a comprehensive assets and interests declaration framework and mechanism for politicians and public servants forms part of Namibia’s commitments under the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).

ACTION

“With the Fishrot corruption revelations of November 2019 having continued to leave a sour taste in many, if not most, Namibians’ mouths through 2020, the shortcomings of state anti-corruption efforts have attracted fierce public scrutiny, and the responses from government have often been underwhelming,” the IPPR says.

The institute suggests eight actions that could be taken to demonstrate that the necessary political will exists to tackle corruption:

1. Remove all those convicted of corruption from the Swapo party list.

2. Institute an official inquiry into the allocation of fishing quotas and rights headed by a judge.

3. Make public all the ministers’ declarations of interests and assets, which currently are made privately to the president.

4. Implement the Whistleblower Protection Act which was passed more than two years ago but never operationalised.

5. Commit to establishing a public beneficial ownership register for all extractive industries like mining, oil, gas and fisheries.

6. Commit Namibia to joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the global standard for good governance of oil, gas and mineral resources.

7. Ensure a world-class, state of the art Access to Information (ATI) law is introduced in parliament in the near future.

8. Geingob should declare his assets and interests once more.

“President Geingob still has time and opportunity to make full use of his second term to install the sorts of ‘robust governance architecture’ and efficient ‘systems, processes and institutions’ that would truly speak to a commitment to zero tolerance for corruption and by doing so could set himself apart as a true anti-corruption champion,” the IPPR says.

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