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ANALYSIS: SONA 2020 missed the mark on corruption

Image courtesy: Namibian Presidency / Facebook

Presidential statements were off the mark and even misleading on key aspects of the government’s commitment to fighting corruption. 

Corruption is a topic that is never far from public discussion and debate and the issue once again featured prominently in the 2020 State of the Nation address of president Hage Geingob in the National Assembly on 4 June 2020.

This analysis assessed the factualness of the president’s statements chronologically, as they were made and are captured in the SONA 2020 speech text.

President Geingob stated:

“We have made a good start implementing our National Anti-Corruption Strategy. All forms of corruption are destructive and regrettably continue to taint our country. Contrary to erroneous perceptions, we do not lack the political will to fight corruption. We have taken action and will, going forward, continue to take decisive action to tackle this scourge.”

– SONA 2020
Our assessment:

While it is true that the National Anti-Corruption Strategy was implemented, even though it was effectively implemented late and has now already lapsed, as it ran from 2016 to 2019, indications are that many of the actions that were supposed to have been undertaken have in fact not been. For instance, the strategy speaks of an access to information law being enacted during the three-year period, but this never happened. The same is true of many other proposed actions, such as the institution of a comprehensive asset disclosure and conflict of interest framework throughout the state.

This speaks to the issue of “political will”. If there really had been political will to tackle corruption, then it would have ensured that the six strategic objectives and 76 actions contained in the National Anti-Corruption Strategy would have been fully implemented by the time the strategy lapsed in 2019. As it stands, a report on the implementation of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy is not publicly available for Namibians to assess the performance of various government entities in implementing the strategy over the three-year period.   

President Geingob stated:

“You may recall that long before the so-called Fishrot expose, during February 2018, I requested several Cabinet Ministers to respond to allegations of corruption leveled against them. Their responses were subsequently forwarded to the Anti-Corruption Commission for investigation, consistent with my conviction to strengthen processes, systems and institutions. Today, two senior former Ministers are in jail for 7 months, with no interference from the Executive. This confirms my firm belief in the principle of the Separation of Powers and allowing the law to take its course.”

– SONA 2020
Our assessment:

The president seems to imply that the two ministers snared in the Fishrot scandal came to a fall because he had requested them to respond to accusations of corruption and had passed their responses on to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in 2018. This is not the case. The Fishrot corruption saga came to public as a result of a whistleblower and international and local media coverage, emanating from the Fishrot Files that were subsequently published online by Wikileaks.  

President Geingob also mentioned his “conviction to strengthen processes, systems and institutions”. However, this too is questionable, as anti-corruption processes, systems and institutions would have been strengthened by the implementation of whistle-blower and witness protection, access to information and assets and interests disclosure frameworks and mechanisms, none of which happened, as was called for in the National Anti-Corruption Strategy.

Similarly, the under-funding of the Anti-Corruption Commission, as has been widely reported since the president delivered his SONA address, undermines the claim of strengthening “processes, systems and institutions”.

President Geingob stated:

“Concrete actions” have been taken and he lists the following:

  • The cancellation of the “Hosea Kutako International Airport upgrading tender, which was inflated from 3 to 7 billion Namibian Dollars.”
  • “Investigations into alleged irregularities in the contracts for the National Oil Storage Facility and Neckartal Dam, which exposed the Government to currency fluctuations.”
  • “Government, through the Ministry of Finance also launched lifestyle audits and investigations into tax evasion and money laundering. Charges brought against individuals ended up before the Courts.”
  • “Ongoing cases of alleged corruption such as the SME Bank, Offshore Development Company and the Development Capital Portfolio of the GIPF and the KORA Music Awards are all at the Courts.”
Our assessment:

First, despite repeated presidential statements underscoring that corruption was at play, no one has ever been held punitively accountable for the awarding of the “Hosea Kutako International Airport upgrading tender”, which was awarded at the time Alpheus !Naruseb was minister of works and transport, and who was one of the ministers requested by the president in early 2018 to respond to allegations of corruption leveled against him.

Second, in the cases of the “National Oil Storage Facility and Neckartal Dam” projects, the clouds of suspicion have not yet settled around these projects, even though the president spoke as if the issue of “alleged irregularities” was settled. It should be noted, and is clear from the SONA statement, that actually those who monitored and managed these projects on behalf of the government and were responsible for the wasteful over-spending of tax-payer dollars came off relatively lightly in processes that were and remain wholly non-transparent.

Third, it is unclear whether the president was talking about public servants when he referred to “lifestyle audits and investigations into tax evasion and money laundering” and he didn’t mention any specific figures, which would have grounded his point of action having been taken. 

Fourth, the SME Bank case in the High Court is not a corruption case, but a liquidation matter. The Offshore Development Company case in the High Court is a civil matter against Deloitte Namibia, and not a corruption or criminal prosecution. The “Development Capital Portfolio of the GIPF” matter is also not a corruption matter, but a fraud prosecution of a northern Namibia businessman who had gotten a loan from the GIPF in the early 2000s. According to reports, this matter was the only one out of 20 investigations that has progressed to court.

President Geingob stated:

“A testament to our commitment to improving Accountability and Transparency, Namibia increased in ranking on the Ibrahim Index, making us one of the top five best-governed countries in Africa.Namibia is 4th on the continent …”

– SONA 2020
Our assessment:

Namibia did not increase its ranking on the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, as there was no 2019 edition of the Ibrahim Index. Namibia remained in fourth, as per the 2018 edition of the Ibrahim Index.

President Geingob stated:

“Similarly, key reforms including the voluntary declaration of assets by my wife and I, Members of Parliament and Senior Government Officials, and the Open-Door Media policy of the Presidency, have strengthened transparency.”

– SONA 2020
Our assessment:

A “key reform” would have been the implementation of a mandatory, annual assets and interests disclosure and conflict of interest framework and mechanism for all political office-bearers and public servants, including state-owned enterprises, and for such disclosures to be publicly available in some form. This is what the National Anti-Corruption Strategy called for and what Namibia signed up to under Article 8 of the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). A once-off “voluntary declaration of assets” by the president and first lady does not make a “key reform”. 

Against the backdrop of these assessments, president Hage Geingob’s statements on the topic of corruption in the State of the Nation 2020 are considered misleading by Namibia Fact Check

19th June 2020

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