WINDHOEK – A study by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says the importance of tackling corruption at sub-national levels does not receive as much attention as national-level anti-graft efforts.
According to a paper titled - Risking Corruption – Regional and Local Governance in Namibia, based on a recent IPPR study, many corruption cases affecting local and regional authorities occur beneath the radar and if they do reach the national spotlight, they are often only referred to in passing with a few follow-up media reports appearing.
The paper states that anti-corruption legislation, regulations and initiatives at local or regional level are often not developed and promoted with the same vigour as national level responses to corruption.
“With little attention being paid to the activities of many local and regional authorities, inadequate regulations in place and council staff teams sometimes short of key personnel and lacking specific skills, the scene is set for corruption to take place,” authors Ellison Tjirera, Malakia Haimbodi and Graham Hopwood state in their study.
It seems as if decentralisation without proper supporting tools poses a danger to local and regional governance.
Decentralisation creates an added risk as more powers and responsibilities are transferred to local and regional levels, but potentially without the introduction of stronger accountability measures or the training and empowerment of staff to deal with these new tasks in a manner that closes rather than opens up the space for corrupt activity.
“For example, are the finance officers at regional and local authorities trained to handle financial reporting in ways that meet the requirements of the Auditor-General?” the authors asked.
The constant references in the Auditor-General’s reports on sub-national authorities on missing information, inadequate controls and other irregularities would tend to indicate that such staff members are often not equipped to submit comprehensive and accurate financial reports, thereby limiting the effectiveness of fiscal oversight.
Law enforcement agencies, including the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), should also be active in all regions so that in addition, the reporting of suspected corruption is a straightforward process.
The authors further suggest that the pffice of the Ombudsman should have an official presence in the regions to enable citizens to report matters that might not be corruption per se, but fall under the Ombudsman’s mandate to investigate.
According to the authors, decision-making processes and activities of local and regional authorities are unclear, with the average citizen remaining unaware of council proceedings and plans that could dramatically affect grassroots communities.
Another problem is access to information, which is the ownership of public bodies and a public good, which should be accessible.
“Greater transparency and access to the local and regional level of governance will lead to greater accountability,” the paper states.
The paper recommends that government services should be offered online to reduce the amount of time it takes for citizens to secure licences, permits and other necessary documents.
In general, local and regional authorities can lessen opportunities for corruption by reducing the time and steps required for any bureaucratic procedure.
Against this background, the paper states that regional and local authorities should be monitored more effectively than is the case at present and held accountable so as to reduce the risk of corruption and to boost public trust in elected politicians and key policy implementers.
Only transparent and accountable governments can ensure effective service delivery to communities on the ground, the paper states.