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

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cabinet Needs To Keep Travel Allowances Down

OK, so the children are officially on holiday, fuel has gone up again to cut their travels, the budget should soon be rubber-stamped by politicians who spent six hours to say things they could in two hours, salary increases are about to arrive for civil servants, Windhoek’s traffic officers will be making a few thousand more through fines and outstanding warrants and all roads will probably lead out of Windhoek for the Easter weekend.

It was thus timely for the usually frank and straight-forward ‘mitiri’ (teacher) Prime Minister Nahas Angula, to send an early warning to peers in Cabinet about their travel and allowance claims.
More than six years and a month ago, I watched President Hifikepunye Pohamba making his best speech ever, shortly after he took office as the country’s second leader.
And, having been a minister before that, he did not mince his words when he spoke about unnecessary travel by ministers, deputy ministers and the general unrestricted spending by staff at the country’s embassies abroad.
He said ministers needed “to reduce drastically the number and frequency of their international travels”.
Political office-bearers were instructed to first obtain his permission before they travelled outside the country and then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Marco Hausiku, was directed to ensure that “Namibian missions abroad represent the country at some international conferences and meetings to avoid waste and a duplication of efforts”.
Ministers took heed of Pohamba’s warning but for a short period only.
In fact, the President himself undertook regular trips towards the end of his first term, which created the impression that the directive was only aimed at others. He was not leading by example.
I know of some in Government and the private sector who started saying that Pohamba was only ‘visiting’ Namibia so frequently was he abroad!
The saying “do as I say and not as I do” had relevance here.
To convince a majority of us that his directive was serious and that he would not tolerate the behaviour of his ministers who go on trips left, right and centre, Pohamba thus needed to slow down his own travels to lead by example.
Last week it was revealed that Prime Minister Angula has now been tasked to haul in his peers and, it seems, he has taken it on with both hands.
Angula is concerned about the huge spending on subsistence and travel (S&T). For this financial year an amount of almost N$400 million will reportedly be spent on just that.
I have no problem with ministers, deputy ministers, permanent secretaries, directors or any other people travelling as long as such trips are coordinated and we see the returns.
Some of the ministers, deputy ministers, permanent secretaries and directors have made it their goal to travel at least 10 days in a month as the S&T became an integral part of their domestic budget.
I am not very sure about the current S&T rates but when I did a story on it some 10 years ago already, ministers were collecting anything between US$350 and US$500 a day for travelling to countries with well-established economies. That is between N$2 500 and N$3 500 a day and for 10 days it will total to N$25 000 and N$35 000. Who couldn’t do with that kind of money as an extra for the month?
But to promote the integrity of our public institutions – especially those responsible for our legislation – our leaders need to stay clear of such practices.
The travel cut should not be only on foreign trips. A weekend away like the Easter weekend should not be claimed if it is for private business.
I know ministers and others have access to Government vehicles and fuel. That’s enough of a luxury already. Stay away from the cash and let it be spent on other people such as those affected by the floods!
Our leaders owe it to the masses to keep Government expenditure down.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Come On, Interceptors, You Can Do Much Better!

I HAVE become a threat to the country’s democracy, or so it seems.

My mail is tapped (illegally, I must say) but the worst is that they forget to deliver the SMS or e-mail messages after they are intercepted, or deliver them only three to five days later.
I knew that the radical Communication Act contained the good, the bad and the very ugly.
I was one of those who opposed the section on interception vehemently, but Information Minister Joel Kaapanda then dismissed our worries and claimed that the law would not bring fundamental changes to information-sharing.
He described our concerns about interception as distortion of facts and said reports by The Namibian on that section of the Act were sensational reporting aimed at misleading the public.
According to him the Act has a lot of “good things and opportunities” and it is “popular in the eyes of many people”.
“I want to point out that the requirement for a warrant to conduct interception is an absolute necessity based on the law that gives the right to intercept,” he said in an interview with Swapo’s mouthpiece, Namibia Today.
Only those involved in criminal activities needed to feel threatened, as that part of the Act would be used to monitor the activities of criminals, he said.
According to the Act, the National Intelligence Service must get a warrant from a High Court judge before interception takes place. They must have material evidence about a suspect’s criminal activities and such behaviour must be deemed as a threat to the country’s security before they approach the judge, the Act states.
My concern at that stage was the lack of detail on such warrants.
But Kaapanda said we should not “fear constant monitoring”.
We left it there and the Bill became an Act very quickly as it sailed smoothly through both the National Assembly and the National Council.
My experience now justifies my fears back then.
Constant monitoring of telephone calls and delays of days in the delivery of SMS messages and e-mail have plagued not only my work but also the communications of some people I know in my craft as well as political contacts.
Many who know their e-mail and text messages are being intercepted regard our ‘intelligence’ as a joke.
I remember making a call home one evening. My wife answered and as soon as I realised that someone was listening to our conversation I told her in Damara/Nama that she should say “bye” in English but not switch off. Both of us said “bye” but continued holding on only to hear the listener disconnect first. We had a good laugh!
But of late, it is not just about listening in on conversations.
When SMS and e-mail messages are intercepted, read, and not passed on promptly, I worry about the lack of professionalism in the intelligence service.
As they do some things illegally, like not getting the warrants, you would expect that they would act more speedily.
Some of us who have become an alleged threat to the country’s security do things that are time-bound, such as producing a newspaper on time for printing.
Never mind our rights to privacy! We also have deadlines and if the State security agents keep on delaying our mail as they do regularly, our readers, like President Hifikepunye Pohamba who buys the paper first thing in the morning, will not be happy about getting it late.
That is why it is unacceptable when some of the secret agents in intelligence now regularly forget to pass on the intercepted mail. It sucks, really!
They can do much better.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

‘It Don’t Matter If You’re Black Or White’

THE latest Employment Equity Commission (EEC) report has shown that race is still a big issue in Namibia.

This means racial tension will continue to rear its ugly head in the workplace too.
We need to ponder seriously where we are heading, as a nation, with employment equity and affirmative action. Are they to any benefit for the nation, or do only a selected few reap rewards from these policies? And should we still be talking about both, 21 years after Namibia’s Independence?
The latest EEC annual report states that the workplace still reflects “severe” racial and gender bias, with 59 per cent of executive directors and 43 per cent of senior management positions occupied by white Namibians.
The ECC is also worried that 50 per cent of new recruits at executive director’s level were whites. Overall, black people accounted for 34,4 per cent of all recruitments in management positions.
Employers can offer various reasons for the above scenario and most prominent among them is the need for experience.
Some, though, are just not complying with employment equity requirements in their reports which are as far apart from the situation on the ground as east is from west. Many of the big companies actually have outside consultants ‘cooking’ the reports for them whereas the actual staff positions are the opposite of what’s stated on paper!
But has the Affirmative Action (Employment) Act, passed in 1998 by the Namibian Parliament, been used effectively enough to redress the imbalances at the workplace? Is replacing a white person with a black person the only solution to redress the discrepancies we still experience?
I thought the legislation was intended to “foster fair employment practices with regard to matters such as recruitment, selection, appointment, training, promotion, and equitable remuneration for previously disadvantaged people”.
This does not necessarily mean kicking out the whites, or does it? Because removing them for the sake of replacing them with blacks could lead to tokenism and many black Namibians don’t want to be seen as people who are just there for window-dressing. They want to be proud managers who know what they are doing. They also want to be respected in their positions because of their capabilities and not because they are there for show.
So, appointing the politically connected but demonstrably mediocre and incompetent individuals to key positions could result in the dropping of standards and services.
I am not saying that blacks are of inferior standard in terms of management quality. No.
But employment equity or affirmative action should not be shaped by the stigmatisation of whites and protection of the new politically well-connected blacks at the expense of the actual needs of the general populace.
If so, we are bound to be kept hostage by the idea of historical victimisation. This can ultimately remain fertile ground for continued racism, not only in the workplace but also society as a whole.
We have many examples in some State-owned enterprises where, through affirmative action, incompetent, inexperienced and academically challenged blacks have been employed with dire consequences.
We should also guard against what former DTA MP McHenry Venaani described as “black apartheid” where the affirmative action policy operates in infinity and will ultimately lead to serious discrimination against others. That will be seen as using the policy to exact revenge for what the “masters of earlier days have done” as Venaani put it.
That is why there is a need to give a timeframe for the implementation of the policy whereafter all should be treated equitably.
One of the most famous songs of the late Michael Jackson has a line which says: “It Don’t Matter If You’re Black Or White”.
Having been independent for 21 years, some of us should start saying “it doesn’t matter whether I am black or white”. A white child born at or after Independence should start having the same opportunities as his or her black counterpart.
I believe that, after the years that we have had it, affirmative action should begin to be limited to capacity-building programmes focusing on expertise and skills to guarantee opportunities for all.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pohamba Is Wrong On Succession Debate

PRESIDENT Hifikepunye Pohamba’s decision, endorsed by Swapo leaders, to put a lid on the succession debate outside party meetings is backward, to say the least.
In the absence of a vibrant opposition, the wider community need to have a say in the type of leader they would like Swapo, as the ruling party, to have.
The call for debate should be about what Namibia needs after Pohamba, rather than who should replace him and this should be encouraged and echoed both inside and outside the ruling party.
In any case the footsoldiers of Swapo politics will talk while toiling the mahangu fields, over lunch hour on a corner of Independence Avenue or in Eveline Street’s shebeens, about who they would like to see in power and how to help him or her to get there.
In other words, the debate will not be limited to Facebook sites or to be re-opened when Kazenambo Kazenambo loses it again while addressing a bunch of school pupils on a courtesy call before touring South Africa.
I am not for public bickering among party leaders and the trading of insults between members of the ruling party. But we need a robust debate that is characteristic of a democratic society.
Such a debate should centre around the qualities of those available and not about their tribe, sexual status or in which camp or from which clique such a person hails.
When President Pohamba and Swapo’s Central Committee put a lid on the debate the President spoke about “reactionary tendencies that wish to portray” the party as divided and plagued by factions.
“We should not wash dirty laundry in public for all to see,” he said.
I would like to rewind to 2004 when Pohamba was elected as presidential candidate for Swapo. The race started in May for a congress which took place in November.
The campaign was on at several levels from unions to party wings.
What was wrong then was the mudslinging and character assassination which bordered on defamation and not the actual debate on the question of a successor to former President Sam Nujoma.
I am aware that during that time Pohamba tried very hard to keep out of limelight.
In fact, when The Namibian wanted to run a story on alleged conflict of interest related to the presidential race, Pohamba refused to answer questions and instead threatened to sue if a story was written about him. The conflict of interest related to allegations that he was in charge of a committee that was preparing the 2004 extraordinary congress to boost his candidacy.
The 2004 race was the first of its kind for Swapo in an independent Namibia and there were bound to be mistakes made in what was a learning process but at the end Swapo had one candidate who won by more than 70 per cent in the national elections.
In addition, while for much of his time as Swapo leader Nujoma was criticised for stifling debate within the party and the country at large, by attaching negative labels to those with whose views he differed, Pohamba was seen as being open to constructive criticism as well as promoting debate.
His ascendency to power was therefore hailed by commentators and political players alike as having brought about a more open and tolerant climate for debate, not only within the ruling party, but also in Government and the society as a whole.
Just as he hit the ground running by promoting a free-market over a command economy as the route to growth, commentators saw him as promoting a free market of ideas as the path to the party’s stability.
Ultimately, stability in Swapo can lead to a good environment for investment in Namibia. Meet any foreign diplomat and among the first things they ask is about the succession debate in Swapo! They want to know where the country is heading for and, for now, the character of the person who will take over from Pohamba is central in that destiny.
As such, any succession debate in Swapo, as long as they are the ruling party, cannot be limited only to those sporting the colours of blue, red and green.
It is therefore a real sea change to see Pohamba putting a lid on the debate after the progress the party made to open such debates from within.
We should all be talking constantly and loudly, about the kind of person we would like to see in charge of the party (and in all likelihood, the country) come the time for Pohamba to exit.