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

Monday, October 31, 2011

Need For Clear Division Between Party And State

"COMRADE, if after TIPEEG (Targeted Investment Programme for Employment and Economic Growth) you still remain poor, then you are really stupid."

These were the words recently uttered by a senior Government employee who is key to the implementation of the N$14.6-billion, three-year programme which is reportedly earmarked to create 104 000 direct jobs and help Government to reduce the unemployment rate, which now stands at 51.2 per cent.
Tons of ink have already been spilled analysing the possible impact which TIPEEG could have on the country's socio-economic status and I don't intend to dwell too much on it.
But it is worthwhile to mention that even though so much had been written about TIPEEG and its expected outcomes, such as the 646 projects through this year's Development Budget, the real impact will only be felt in the long run.
That, though, does not mean that calls to have a more open discussion about TIPEEG and its tenders and spending must be ignored. More so, after remarks such as those made by a senior Government employee who is known to be a schemer of deals in his own interest.
The Director General of the National Planning Commission, Tom Alweendo, is on record as saying that companies who employee local people will get preference, with the employment of Namibians a prerequisite.
I do not doubt that both Alweendo and Finance Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila had the best of intentions for TIPEEG but there are similarly many others, like the person I quoted in the introduction, who have transformed some of the Ministries and other Government institutions into a cesspit of corruption.
For them, it is their 'time to eat' and I am almost sure that Swapo Party Youth League secretary, Elijah Ngurare, had these tenderpreneurs in mind when he asked recently: "Where is TIPEEG?"
He was concerned that TIPEEG would be used only to “score political points” while the “bread-and-butter issues”, such as youth and rural empowerment, would be pushed to the back burner.
Ngurare also called on his “comrades deployed in Government” to pursue the party’s 2009 election manifesto, instead of “personal manifestos or self-enrichment”.
I am against the jobs-for-comrades scheme but I agree with Ngurare that TIPEEG should not be a self-enrichment scheme for a select few who have already made it their mission to keep information about the job creation programme away from others in order to benefit friends and family.
This is one of the main reasons why there needs to be a clear division between the party (in this case Swapo) and the State.
Some civil servants in top positions are running the State as a party with benefits filtering through to the politically connected and cronies.
When political parties win elections, they form governments to run the State. And so the party has every right to call, for instance, Ministers to account, but it does not have the right to step in and take over Government.
We should guard against the expansion of the role of the party well beyond that allowed for in our Constitution because the conflation of the party and State leads to the promotion of such things as the attitude of entitlement we see among civil servants like the one I quoted above and who sees TIPEEG as an enrichment scheme for tenderpreneurs.
And before I am accused of being an 'imperialist agent' whose main aim is to only criticise Swapo, I must state that the malaise is felt by many people and cannot be reduced to one political party only.
This entitlement attitude was seen in Khorixas where the Council was run like an extension of a UDF arm or wing for a long time, and also in the early years of Independence when Katima Mulilo under the DTA did the same.
The duties of top civil servants in decision-making positions should thus not equal the ability to divert State funds, whether through tenders or fraudulent activities, into own accounts and to live luxurious lives, or for the State to become nothing more than a collective piracy.
Greed, such as that displayed by the senior Government employee dealing with TIPEEG, is thus a deceptive monster that claws at the hearts of men and even ugly politicians.
We should avoid a situation where citizens will only look on as spectators, while senior public officials, who visit sections of Katutura (where hunger truly lives) once in a while from their elitist suburbs to caress their emotions about being close to the people, feed at the trough.
One way to do it is through a clear division between the party and the State.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Is The ECN Naive Or Simply Arrogant?

THERE is no logic behind the Electoral Commission of Namibia taking political parties challenging the 2009 general elections to the High Court in an effort to recover N$1,3 million they spent on staff overtime payments. The whole debacle which resulted in the challenge (like the one in 2004 and even previous years) was the making of the ECN itself.

If they had done their work properly, no political party or politician in their right mind would have resorted to the steps taken by the All People’s Party (APP), Congress of Democrats (CoD), DTA, Republican Party (RP), Namibia Democratic Movement for Change (NDMC), Nudo, the Democratic Party of Namibia (DPN), Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), and the United Democratic Party (UDF).
There is no doubt that there were too many logistical and organisational deficiencies in the ECN even before the voting started in December 2009.
The performance of many of the officials during the election was not up to standard, the voters’ roll was a real mess, there were just too many tendered ballots and the system for the counting and verification of ballots was hardly anything to write home about.
Among others, the above resulted in the announcement of the final election results a week after polls closed.
For a country of two million people of which between 900 000 to 1,3 million (depending on which official of the ECN you talk to) are eligible voters, taking seven days to count is nothing but incompetence and will always cast a shadow of doubt over the fairness of such elections.
A good example for Namibia is the recent elections in Zambia where more than 5,1 million people were registered to vote and it took less time to count and release the final result. Yet their voting population was around five times more than ours.
If everything was above board in the manner in which the ECN conducted the 2009 elections, the High Court would not have ruled that there is sufficient grounds to give the opposition parties access to a range of electoral materials used in the elections to audit them for six days.
But the court did so because the election was riddled with irregularities. There are no two questions about that fact.
The nature of discrepancies emerging from the auditing of ballots cast in the 2009 National Assembly election also only confirmed what everyone else either suspected or observed and the parties could never be in the wrong for auditing what they regard as a flawed process.
Naturally, the ECN is expected to see the whole election process through.
That is why the ECN staff could obviously not take leave during the period of the inspection.
In any case, how often do we have elections for the ECN to grumble over work done outside their working hours and non payment? Should anyone even take such complaints seriously?
If anything, the ECN senior staff should be hold accountable for the mess in which we were two years ago.
Which leads me to the question of what the Commissioners have done to rectify the mistakes made in the last election – apart from holding endless workshops that is?
For instance, before the 2009 election, ECN senior staff had travelled extensively to observe and learn from other nations on how to conduct elections as well as equipment they use for smooth polling. I am reminded of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) from India.
Talk about those EVMs started two to three years before the 2009 election when Philemon Kanime was still the Director of Elections but it only emerged a couple of months ago that they will now be purchased for N$22 million.
The ECN would probably argue that they did not get the money from their superiors in Cabinet, but the fact is they cannot even properly budget for an election.
Two months before the 2009 election, for instance, ECN needed a bail-out of N$26,5 million to cater for a shortfall. That was on top of the N$180 million they received as part of the annual budget. The reason was said to be ‘underestimation of funds’.
A year later, the ECN was again at it overspending during the regional and local elections by around N$40 million.
The above shows a clear lack of organisational skills and instead of trying to shift the blame or fighting the opposition parties over overtime payments, it is time for proper management by the ECN hierarchy.
My hope is that the new Commissioners will do just that and not get bogged down in unnecessary politicking.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Life can be a ‘lotto’ fun without gambling

SLOWLY Namibian society continues to get hooked on gambling while many of us spend hours pondering how to fight corruption, alcohol abuse, violence and other evils.

Gambling has yet to reach the high-water mark in Namibia but it has already contributed to many personal financial tragedies with a legalised gambling avalanche in progress.
A casual walk along Windhoek’s famous Eveline Street easily reveals slot machines chiming 24 hours a day. The scene replicates itself in many suburbs where the majority of those who live there are poor. Just the illegal machines alone in Namibia already top the 10 000 mark.
Such machines are located mainly in shebeens which are often in the proximity of homes and schools. There’s no way the youth, for instance, can escape them.
But gambling is not limited to the poor only.
It has spread like wildfire and even ministers, deputy ministers, judges, teachers and others in the top echelons of society have been seen gambling their hard-earned dollars away.
Some, especially slot machine owners, say it is a hugely profitable business.
Others, like the jailed former official of the Ministry of Environment Sackey Namugongo, also benefitted, although illegally and to a lesser extent.
While the Government had put a moratorium on the issuing of gambling licences, Namugongo was selling them to desperate prospective machine owners who were willing to bribe him with amounts as much as N$60 000.
Some of the payments were allegedly meant to help speed up the licence issuing process although the moratorium was still in place!
Be that as it may be, gambling – whether with machines or through national lotteries – shouldn’t be something we should entertain.
Hundreds of families lose savings, property or belongings through gambling while couples are either separated or divorced as a direct result of it.
It is a fact that compulsive gambling introduces a greatly heightened level of stress and tension into families while pathological gambling leads to child abuse and domestic violence.
When a partner gambles, the other person has to take on more jobs or other responsibilities in the hope to raise more funds. This, inevitably, leads to burn-out.
But the worst part is seeing prominent members of society gambling everything away and dying in poverty or leaving behind nothing for their families.
I am concerned because Government is in the process of coming up with a national lottery.
We are told that the lottery will be a form of revenue but it could be a fatal mistake because of not only long-term social costs, but also for its assault on our national soul.
Coming up with a national lottery, for instance, can never be a solution to the evils facing our country. It is more a quick fix for the Government who will collect revenue, but the long-term impact of gambling will be very destructive.
And setting aside some small portions of the lottery profits for public awareness programmes is almost like promoting responsible smoking or responsible drinking.
Some of the stringent controls currently under consideration with the Gaming and Entertainment Control Bill are, among others, the raising of the legal gambling age from 18 to 21 and the introduction of tougher penalties to protect minors and gamblers.
I understand that provision is also made for a register of gambling addicts, where addicts and their families can apply for such people to be barred from gambling houses.
The best that such controls can do is to take a small part of guilt away from those who come up with the initiatives and those who pass such laws.
But the resultant damage of disintegrated families, bankrupt people, suicides and other negatives gambling causes can never be compensated for by a Government who simply promotes so-called ‘responsible’ gambling while pocketing millions in blood money.
There should be other ways to raise revenue for the Government while people can have more fun other than working the slot machines.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ithana Has A Strategy For Geingob

IN July 2009 Swapo’s Central Committee took a resolution which, at first glance, looked like it was effectively paving the way for Hage Geingob to succeed President Hifikepunye Pohamba.

The rules and procedures passed with the resolution for the election of Swapo’s office bearers clearly defined the line of succession and stated that the party’s presidential candidate would come from the top four party leaders in order of seniority.
Party insiders, especially the youth wing who moved the proposal, argued that the documented line of succession would avoid what happened at the 2004 Swapo extraordinary congress where Pohamba went head-to-head with Hidipo Hamutenya, after Prime Minister Nahas Angula fell out in the first round.
The acrimony around the tussle for the position was so bad it led to Hamutenya ultimately leaving Swapo to form the Rally for Democracy and Progress.
The rules and procedures state that if the sitting President cannot be re-elected because of the two-term constraint, the ruling party’s vice president will be the automatic choice as presidential candidate.
Geingob, being the current vice-president of the ruling party, just needed to hold onto the position at the 2012 Swapo congress to be in line to contest the country’s presidency for the 2014 presidential elections.
The rules are also clear that in the case of the vice president not being available, the secretary general is next, followed by the deputy secretary general in case the SG cannot stand or declines.
The secret, however, was for Geingob to hold onto the position he currently occupies.
Those in the party’s inner circles regarded such ‘holding onto’ as ‘very easy’. He was just required to remain quiet - not campaigning and going about his work as Trade Minister while diligently attending party functions.
But those supporting Geingob must have got wind from somewhere or did not trust the party inner circle enough and started campaigning openly.
One of those is Kazenambo Kazenambo who made no secret of the fact that Geingob should be the next leader of the ruling party. In the process he ruffled a lot of feathers.
Geingob has not openly stated his ambition to take over when Pohamba steps down but it is no secret that he is after the position.
It is also a fact that, although there are others, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana has emerged as his immediate challenger.
The party’s secretary general has repeatedly attempted to play the ‘if people want me’ and ‘it is not the right time’ card. That is at least in public, but she has been doing a lot of behind-the-scenes campaigning among the party wings.
We know that in Swapo, to progress at the electoral college, you need to hide your ambitions as much as possible in public circles.
That’s Ithana’s recipe for now, coupled with the fact that it is time for a first female President of Namibia.
But it should be on record that both Geingob and Ithana have gone all-out with their campaign and that both are not holding back in their attempt to be the presidential candidate of Swapo.
Meetings are held on a one-on-one basis with key people while the machinery is running at full steam to get the right people at section, branch and regional levels.
The aim is to have enough people in the right places when the party’s wings elect people who will attend the electoral college.
So when Ithana publicly states that ‘it is not the right time’ to talk about succession or that the people have not yet decided, this is merely a strategy and nothing else.
She has already informed the people that she is ready to stand. As has Geingob.
It will be interesting to see who else, if anyone, will join them in the race and if so, what strategy such a person will employ.