Want some insight in Namibian politics? I am no expert but have 16 years (1995-2011) of writing on Namibian politics in The Namibian newspaper and can probably offer you a bit more than you know about the who's who in the Namibian political zoo. You will also find a few articles commenting on other issues of concern in the country. Hope you find it interesting. - Christof

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Pohamba, Like Zuma, Should Release Terms Of Reference

SOUTH African President Jacob Zuma was perceived to be something of a liability, especially in his own country.

As a result many wrote him off and expected a crisis of the highest order when he took office last year. I kept a close eye on his progress and must say that his recent visit to that country’s parliament impressed me.
He went to motivate the presidency’s budget in parliament and had some good points to make.
Among others, Zuma expressed his willingness to publicly release the terms of reference for his ministers.
Almost two months ago The Namibian made a similar call on President Hifikepunye Pohamba after learning that all his ministers got ToR on the dotted line when they were appointed on March 21.
In fact, I understand that ministers must report on a three-month basis on the progress of their mandate to Pohamba – a welcome move towards improved service delivery by Government.
If only we (myself and every other citizen of Namibia) knew what the ToR of each one of the ministers were to assist the President judge their performances!
For too long some of our politicians were mere celebrities throwing cake at one another as they shower in expensive wine while the voting masses are left to wonder what exactly such ministers were doing.
And I’m led to believe that there is a VERY BIG reshuffle of permanent secretaries on the way.
Some names of people who will possibly be shown the door while others will be re-assigned are already in the public domain.
A reshuffle can only be ‘big’ if we get rid of deadwood; reassign people according to their skills; and even get qualified ones in, irrespective of their colour, race, political affiliation and sex.
Of course, both Pohamba and Prime Minister Nahas Angula have a challenge at hand after the recent court proceedings which temporarily stopped the decision to fire Erastus Negonga. Other PSes, who are also former freedom fighters, might follow suit because we have a culture of entitlement in Namibia!
Some of them believe that the struggle against apartheid was similar to an episode of ‘Grensvegter’ – with them being the Rocco de Wet who alone was responsible for Namibia’s delivery from the anguish of oppression.
Negonga’s supporters believe he is being punished for the N$3 million which went missing when the Ministry of Defence ‘bought’ arms from a bogus company while he was still the permanent secretary.
Investigations were conducted, headed by Justice Minister Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, but the findings never publicly revealed. Thus some of us not privy to inside information might not be qualified to decide whether Negonga was the culprit or not.
What proponents in his defence argue is that bigger amounts have disappeared under the nose(s) of others like Andrew Ndishishi who was at Trade when N$100 million was ‘lost’ in an investment deal as well as the much publicised N$30 million of the Social Security Commission which disappeared under the watch of Ulitala Hiveluah, formerly of Labour.
If Negonga is fired, both Ndishishi and Hiveluah should also be shown the door, his (Negonga’s) supporters argue.
To switch the analogy, the primary cancer should have been surgically removed early when Pohamba took office – or even when former President Sam Nujoma was still in charge. The failure to do so has allowed the cancer to spread to the point where the whole body is now riddled with it.
Just because nothing was done to Negonga at the time the money disappeared – in fact he was only ‘reshuffled’ as a result – it left the impression that he had nothing to do with the disappearance of the millions. That’s what we were left to believe and still do believe.
We know that Pohamba was hamstrung, from the start of his presidency, by the need to keep the competing factions in his party together, but leaving things this late has created the impression that some people are untouchables.
The good news for those striving for fairness is the bad news facing the scoundrels of politics and business – some of them permanent secretaries who now face the axe.
Others who remain in the job must get five-year contracts with very clear goals and regular reports must be forwarded to the Office of the Prime Minister.
Anything short of that is treason!
And, Mr President, let’s publish the terms of reference to make it more transparent.

* This column first appeared in The Namibian

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Swapo 2012 picking up

LET me cut to the chase. The race for Swapo’s 2012 congress has started interfering with the proper running of local authorities.

Some mayors are being ‘forced’ onto ratepayers and the electorate must come to terms with putting up with these people until the November elections change the status quo.
In all this, it has become crystal clear that one of the biggest challenges facing Swapo is the lack of consistency in how the leadership runs the party.
Some rules are only applied when it suits certain individuals and/or conveniently ignored when it does not suit the ruling class.
The recent changes, or attempted change of guard, at the local authorities of Rehoboth, Okahandja, Oshakati and Keetmanshoop are a case in point.
There is a party directive that no mayor must be removed at Swapo-led town councils because of the short time left before the November elections.
That is similar to the directive given last year that no regional councillor must stand for National Assembly elections because Swapo did not want by-elections.
It seems that those very same directives aimed at maintaining stability in the run-up to the November elections are under attack, while many of the members and leaders seem to be sleeping through it all.
While the leadership insist on the implementation of the directive in Keetmanshoop and are stopping former mayor Simon Petrus Tiboth from challenging Basil Brown for instance, the same directive was ignored in Rehoboth where mayor George Dax was removed and replaced with someone else.
Those who don’t want Tiboth are working with opposition councillors – people from different ideological trenches – to remove him, but he is accused of colluding with the opposition to work against ruling party directives.
Tiboth was removed from his mayoral position while there was a similar directive out not to oust him.
In Oshakati mayor Katrina Shimbulu retained her position only after the intervention of higher authorities.
Her fellow councillors did not want her but were instructed in no uncertain terms to re-elect her.
That is why she broke into tears when she was delivering her acceptance speech.
It is clear that those making the changes at local authority level aren’t alone.
Forces are at work and they are clearly preparing their way to the 2012 Swapo congress.
Swapo is a strange party and I expect some senior leaders will try to deny what I am writing about.
But in Swapo, one launches a campaign for the presidency or any other party position by denying that you are a contender!
One can also become a target of some ‘imperialist’ newspaper or a victim of a consistent racial attack by ‘Eurocentric’ people, and fellow comrades will fall for your ploy hook, line and sinker – meaning you will soon become a hero in the party.
Some serious nitpicking and mudslinging has already started emerging and the expectation is that the energy-sapping but useless fights will intensify in the run-up to the November elections.
Swapo is known for delivering the spine-chilling stuff as the race heats up!
The only hope is that the leadership will avoid the perennial problem of lack of consistency as they deal with the sifting or purging of cadres. Yes, that is what it is.
Councillors and other cadres who want to remain in their positions merely ensure that they are in favour with some leaders, even if they are corrupt or collaborating with the opposition! In the process, dishonesty and double standards take the front seat.
So what does the Swapo president think about all this? He ostensibly runs the party from State House while somebody else is in charge at the party headquarters!

* This column first appeared in The Namibian

Sunday, May 16, 2010

On the fat cats’ culture of entitlement

THE greatest danger our country faces is the prevailing class divisions. A worrying and deeply authoritarian belief is taking root among some senior Swapo officials as well as their Black Economic Empowerment cronies which is poisoning the national atmosphere to such a degree that it could explode to devastating effect for many.

During a recent debate on the education budget in Parliament, Defence Minister Charles Namoloh complained about the fact that his young wife is discriminated against and cannot get a Government bursary.

His remarks drew great laughter from fellow MPs, but left me wondering where we are headed to as a nation.

Minister Namoloh is the same person who was in the news last year after his son Justus got a bursary from the Chinese government along with the President’s daughter, Ndapanda, Ernesto Ndeitunga, son of Namibian Police Inspector General Sebastian Ndeitunga, and Phillip Esau, son of Deputy Minister of Mines and Energy Bernhardt Esau, Minister of Justice Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana’s daughter, Pendukeni, and Nathanael Pashto Nghidinwa, son of Minister of Home Affairs Rosalia Nghidinwa, Lenna ya Kasita, Deputy Minister Henock ya Kasita’s daughter, and Naukalemo Nghimtina, Minister Erkki Nghimtina’s daughter.

With my last check on ministers’ salaries I was informed that they earn between N$51 000 and N$54 000 a month before other luxuries like allowances for their domestic workers (who, by the way, are mostly relatives) and other benefits are added.

A little more than a year ago Cabinet members received 24 per cent salary increases; they are about to get new and bigger cars, their benefits were improved, and many are forever on foreign trips to the extent they can live on generous S&Ts and don’t need to touch their salaries!

Now Minister Namoloh is grumbling about his wife who is not able to get a Government bursary.

I expected at least one free-spirited ‘cat’ in the Namibian political zoo to jump up and take him to task but politicians (even though they might be on the opposing side) remain politicians. Some opposition MPs might be quietly wishing for similar benefits and thus opt to conveniently ignore Namoloh’s spouting.

The Minister and his attitude is just the tip of the iceberg.

People like him get huge salaries, get the State to fund their lavish lifestyles, the education of their children is paid for, and then they tell ordinary poor Namibians to tighten their belts because of things like the global financial crisis.

Their consciences are evidently dead and buried, with small chance of resurrection.

At the time of writing this piece, proponents of the Basic Income Grant (BIG) were still mulling how to proceed with efforts to get Government to agree to an amount of N$100 a month for the poorest families in Namibia.

Those opposed to it, like President Pohamba, claim it will lead to a culture of ‘entitlement’.

Yet there is no talk of entitlement when people like Namoloh and even the President’s daughter are given free bursaries, or when the already rich, connected individuals are given free millions through Black Economic Empowerment, and without them having any responsibilities to create jobs, transfer skills or set up new factories.

Many voices of sanity have become lame ducks and fail to address these types of concerns while a small group of people are involved in get-rich-quick schemes masquerading as BEE deals.

As many know and agree, Namibia has one of highest degrees of income inequality in the world.

Theo-Ben Gurirab, former Prime Minister, addressing a Legal Assistance Centre workshop in March 2004 already said BEE is not about a self-enrichment crusade for a few black fat cats. He said money is good if you have it but we need to use it to help others!

However, it is scandalous that the minority – black or white – in this land of plenty is monopolising the country’s resources and wealth with many continuing to proclaim entitlement at the expense of the poor majority.

As Mihe Gaomab II put it five years ago when he addressed the issue of BEE and its relationship to the national economy: “We are rich but we are poor”.

For now the golden goose that is black economic empowerment has yet to reach and empower the people it was designed to help but the reality of our situation is that the haves who drive around in nice cars are shamelessly wasteful, greedy and utterly selfish.

Privileged ones like Namoloh need to realise that the struggling and poverty-stricken masses from Havana, Babylon, Okahandja Park, Ombili and other locations are not stupid.

They can see when their leaders try hard to meet their hopes and aspirations. They can also see when their leaders try to fool them.

* This column first appeared in The Namibian

Friday, May 7, 2010

People have the right to know

THIS week The Namibian carried at least two stories which showed how ignorant some people are about access to information and their blatant disrespect to other people's right to information.
This happened in the same week we celebrated World Press Freedom Day (Monday) under the theme 'Access to Information: the Right to Know'.
In the first instance a managing director of a bank and a chief executive officer of a security company were approached to comment on a serious strike threat by employees who were unhappy with wage-related issues.
The MD of the bank said he was on holiday and would respond later while the CEO refused to respond because it was a Sunday. He even threatened to report the journalist to whoever he had in mind because his Sunday had been disturbed!
The CEO refuses to 'work' on Sunday by answering a call but his employees can work to make money for his company!
In the second article a Councillor - an elected representative of the people - from Okahandja, who chairs the management committee which suspended the town's CEO, said she 'does not speak to the media'.
The bank MD and the security company CEO were contacted because a strike of their employees would have a potentially crippling effect not only on their companies but also affect others such as people who bank there and clients whose buildings are guarded by the security guards.
In all those cases people entrusted with information which could fend off simmering tensions have opted to refuse or withhold vital information and thus prevented the reporter to share with employees, clients or voters - in the case of the councillor.
One of the cornerstones of any healthy democracy is a robust press, a society which demands its rights as well as a government which creates a conducive legal environment.
In Namibia an elected councillor refuses to speak to the media partly because of the absence of an access to information law.
A couple of years back in India a group of villagers from Rajasthan used the access to information law to expose a scam in which some the private sector, called ration-dealers, were ripping them off.
The government ran a massive food subsidy scheme as a social security measure to promote the right to food for the villagers and the ration-dealers were tasked to distribute the food to those who presented themselves with a ration-card.
In turn, the dealer would then claim payment from the government for the food he had distributed to the community.
Some dealers than started claiming that they ran out of subsidy stock and sold from their own to the people, while, in the meantime, recording the transactions as distributions related to the food subsidy scheme.
They claimed money from the government and would thus get paid twice, by both the customer and by the government!
The community used the information law to force government to open up documents related to the claims of the ration-dealers and massive discrepancies were discovered.
It means they they used the law to protect their socio-economic rights and to fight corruption.
It is but one example how the law can be used to benefit the masses.
In Namibia, the absence of such a law has meant that the President can continue to ignore calls to publish reports of commissions of inquiry which have been collecting dust for many years; Police can refuse to have regular media briefings on crime; the Ministry of Fisheries can refuse permission to those who want to enter and photograph the seal culling; or institutions such as NamPower can increase the price of electricity as they wish.
An access to information law empowers a citizen to demand that NamPower, for instance, must open its books to the public and show how negatively their operations will be affected if they do not increase their prices. They must prove their case to consumers before pushing up prices!
As it is now, many institutions can unilaterally change the service conditions and get away with 'murder' because the absence of the law is seen to only affect the media who want access to State secrets.
We need to realise that it not secrecy, but rather transparency and access to information that protect the national interest.
My call is for the Government to go beyond rhetorical commitments to access to information by taking visible and tangible steps to come up with the long-awaited access to information legislation.