When Swapo and Opposition Found Common Ground

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By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK THE Anti-Corruption Commission Bill is generally seen as the most enterprising piece of legislation that came out of the National Assembly during both sessions of the Fourth Namibian Parliament this year since Independence. On the contrary, the tabling and steamrolling of the Status of Father of the Nation Bill through the National Assembly by a majority vote, was condemned and criticised by some and out-rightly rejected by all oppositions parties in the National Assembly. The sensitive Status of Children Bill is one of a number of Bills that met with little opposition and was unanimously accepted by both sides of the House. Other Bills of cardinal importance to the country that passed with flying colours with whole-House approval, were the State-owned Enterprises Bill, aimed at curbing the scourge of corruption; the Transfer of Convicted Offenders Bill; the Accreditation Board of Namibia Bill; the National Youth Bill; the Appropriation Bill and the Namibian Standards Bill. Some existing Bills were also tabled for amendment. Among those were: the Insolvency Amendment Bill; the Communal Land Reform Amendment Bill; the Animal Diseases and Parasites Amendment Bill; the Forest Amendment Bill; the Metrology Amendment Bill; the General Law Amendment Bill and the Estates and Succession Amendment Bill. The Status of the Child Bill is one of the parliamentary milestone achievements for the ruling party, Swapo, this year. This became clear during a New Era interview with the party’s Secretary of Information and Mobilization, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, yesterday afternoon at her home. “The Child Status Bill took such a long time due to delays before it was finally approved and passed by the National Assembly because of various factors of which the change of ministries played a big part. Dr Nickey Iyambo as the Minister of Health and Social Services at the time gave birth to the Bill whereafter Dr Libertina Amathila and myself worked on it until finally it was tabled in the National Assembly by the present Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare,” Nandi-Ndaitwah said. According to her, the Status of Father of the Nation Bill and the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Commission are two equally important accomplishments of her party. “The Bill is a confirmation of the respect Namibia has for a person who has vastly contributed towards what the nation is today enjoying. It was just proper that former President Sam Nujoma be honoured in such an appropriate way,” said the current Minister of Information and Broadcasting. To Swapo corruption is an evil causing serious problems in the society. “Over the years in exile many of us have learned from others the dangers of corruption, which inherently has the potential to collapse a country, any country. Hence the fact that Swapo is fighting it before it becomes institutionalized and causes untold suffering among the have-nots. I do not want to sound moralistic, nor religious, but we should all search our souls to combat this evil. There are those that embrace corruption and they help create a market and supply for it, something that is not in the interest of the Namibian people,” she said. In her view the quality of debate in the National Assembly can be improved in various ways. “Members of Parliament do not have the privilege that their counterparts have in other countries regarding research of topics to be discussed during debates, no. We have to do our own research on whatever subject comes to the table. Should this service be provided, resources permitting, MP’s will have more time and a wider scope to make more quality inputs into debates,” she intimated. As far as a democratic parliamentarian culture is concerned, it’s growing and maturing. “With regard to cooperation with opposition parties Swapo is not unwilling to do that. We have agreed on motions such as the increase of pensions to the elderly and accepted the DTA’s motion after it was amended. We cannot just accept any motion if it’s not realistic and in the interest of the people. It is imperative that we as the ruling party take sound decisions because things need to be done in a proper manner,” Nandi-Ndaitwah said. In conclusion she expressed her party’s hope and wish to further strengthen democracy in the years to come. On the opposition side, a number of motions had also been submitted for discussion in the House, but were mostly opposed and rejected by the ruling party. However, two such motions from the official Opposition had been unanimously endorsed and accepted by the National Assembly. A motion calling for an investigation into the banking financial systems in the country by the Congress of Democrats’ Rheinhardt Kalla Gertze, was broadly welcomed and thoroughly debated by all political parties and was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Economic Affairs. Ben Ulenga, the official CoD opposition leader in the House, tabled a motion on corruption and the abuse of public assets and resources. The motion was widely debated and unanimously accepted by both sides of the political divide. A motion by the leader of the DTA, Katuutire Kaura, that asked for the increase of old age pensions was also unanimously accepted and was also referred to a Standing Committee. A motion requesting the restructuring of the Public Service from the leader and only representative of the Republican Party in the House, Henk Mudge, was vehemently rejected by the ruling party. The eminent departure and exit of Swapo back-bencher, Paulus Kapia, the former Deputy Minister of Works, Transport and Communication, from the chambers of the National Assembly caused quite a public and parliamentary stir especially among opposition parties. Sacked former Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Nujoma government, Hidipo Hamutenya, resurfaced in the National Assembly as a replacement for Kapia. In an openhearted parliamentary overview assessment, four of the five official opposition parties, the CoD, DTA, RP and MAG, aired their views in writing on certain issues and political matters. “The motion on corruption and the abuse of public resources, tabled by my party, in particular created the opportunity for MP’s and political parties to express themselves on the most topical issue of the year. A record number of MPs (24) spoke on the motion, and it was a pleasant turn-around when many of those who participated in the debate managed to find a lot of common ground on this very important issue. The fact that the motion on corruption was unanimously passed testified to a consensus that straddled not only several political parties, but whole sections of our diverse communities,” said Ben Ulenga of the CoD. According to him, the opposition mainly dominated the activities in the House this year. “As we have said on so many different occasions and from many platforms, the CoD stands for zero tolerance on corruption. That is why we declared our support to the current government on this very issue. It will require the unity and cooperation of all Namibians across political communities to successfully fight this menace,” Ulenga, who claimed that there had been a slight upward shift in the standard of debate, said. In the view of McHenry Venaani of the DTA the highlight and milestone of the year was the appointment of the Anti-Corruption Commission’s two directors. His party sees corruption as manifested in the human mind. “It should be fought collectively and must be condemned anywhere it is found. In this regard, we wish our Anti-Corruption directors all the luck they deserve. We have a functional government that seems to be willing to fight all the evils of corruption, but it has to urgently address the question of land reform and land redistribution as well as improve agricultural productivity in the country as means to create food security and employment,” he said. To the Republican Party, it is a great concern that in its opinion the Swapo Party government has not yet realized that the country is in serious political and economic trouble “Corruption and all its evils is a sickness, allowed to root itself in the society by the Nujoma Government. It is having a devastating overall impact on the social, economic and political development of our country. It is thriving in Namibia purely because of opaque and arbitrary decision-making, a lack of accountability and because of failure to introduce effective and adequate control measures,” the leader of the RP, Henk Mudge, charged. He claimed that the net effect of corruption is that the country does not adhere to political accountability whereby corrupt officials are exposed and punished. “It seems as if Namibia is no different to so many other developing countries claiming to be democracies, but only appear to have some democratic forms and processes poorly institutionalized. It is a known fact that the State is the main source of corruption and it offers fertile ground for it,” he said. In his opinion the time for talking is over and the RP and the nation now want o see action. “There should be zero tolerance for corruption and the Anti-Corruption Commission must start its work without any further delay. The RP is adamant that since nobody is supposed to be above the law, everybody suspected of corruption should be investigated and if found to be guilty, be charged and sentenced to jail to act as a deterrent for any other person considering such deplorable behavior,” Mudge said. Jurie Viljoen of MAG praised the government for being more transparent and prepared to deal with corruption more aggressively. “This year alone Namibia has lost millions of dollars due to corrupt practices and due to people appointed in executive positions without a sense for accountability. MAG is of the opinion that corruption is directly caused by poor governance and the absence of measures to prevent it. A more effective administration system should be designed to make corruption impossible,” Viljoen suggested. On the question of the size of government, Ulenga claimed that the government is too large at the top. “There are too many ministers. This compromises the system of political checks and balances, and influences governance issues negatively. We shall continue to bring this matter to the table until the situation changes. It is apparent that the economic and social situation did not change with the change in administration. If anything, it has worsened, especially with the decline in the fishing industry. Furthermore, if the economy does not improve it will be harder for the government to deliver services,” he said. Probed on his party’s views on legislation that was passed by the National Assembly, Ulenga had the following to say: “The budget was the most important, followed by the bill aiming to regulate state owned enterprises. The Conferment of the Status of Father of the Nation to the founding President was not only totally unnecessary, but embarrassing to say the least. It is however passed and will become an Act of Parliament when the process has been completed. We must see it as water under the bridge.” The COD considers democracy as the only way forward for Namibia. “As official Opposition we have the special responsibility to respond to government’s every action with debate and alternatives. We hope to come back recharged in the new year to make our contribution,” Ulenga said. To the DTA “a motion on tribalism in Namibia was a further highlight, although we never got the opportunity to reply as it was voted out prematurely. This was clear testimony that, yes, indeed the facts we put on the table were true and no speaker really challenged the statistics we put forward. We maintain that deliberate policies need to be implemented to fight the ugly face of tribalism in our society,” said Venaani. Venaani pointed out shortcomings such as training in vocational areas that needs to be emphasized to improve the skills of the citizenry. “Our schools need to be expanded and hospitals need dire improvements. Pensioners also need to be looked after. These are the shortcomings and challenges facing the new government. For instance, some cabinet posts are working quite well, but some not, particularly the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Works, Transport and Communication, to name but a few,” the DTA member said. It is the DTA’s wish that democracy be natured through political tolerance. “Furthermore, the chaotic state in which almost all ministries find themselves suggests that the President should seriously consider replacing ministers and their deputies who clearly seem to be incapable to do their jobs. Namibia can no longer afford to have persons appointed as ministers, deputy ministers, permanent secretaries, etc., just as a reward for their contribution in the struggle.” On a question of government service delivery to the nation, the RP’s Mudge accused the government of not honoring its promises and commitments to the people of the country. “It is just not good enough for the government to keep on making promises to the people and not honouring them. It seems as if the government wants the nation to remain patient while it struggles to learn how to govern the country properly. Our country just cannot afford to be led by politicians, who obviously have no clue how to run their ministries in the interest of the nation first,” he said. Mudge expressed a lot of optimism for the future of the country and the nation as a whole.”Namibia has all the potential to become the country in Africa in setting the example of how things should be done to ensure that every citizen benefits from the wealth created from our natural resources and for all the people to live in peace, harmony and prosperity,” he asserted. On his part MAG leader Viljoen welcomed the establishment of various Parliamentary Standing Committees within the parliamentary system. “MAG is not convinced that the present ministers and their deputies are the best team in the field. These office-bearers are part of the ‘struggle team’. However, some of the ministers are not equipped to run their ministries effectively. They should receive a high standard of training in financial and managerial skills,” he proposed. However, Viljoen expressed his disappointment about the quality and standards of debate in the National Assembly. “The informal debates between members is a big concern and usually of a very low standard. Some members do not have the ability to make a positive contribution and therefore they take to non-relevant issues. It seems as if some members still live with their face to the past and their back to the future,” he claimed.