By Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro
As the deadline approaches when two University of Namibia (Unam) staff members are likely to face further action if they do no relinquish leadership positions within a political party, the two in the latest salvoes of correspondences between them and the university are advising the university to seek advice on the matter.
Unam’s Head of Department for Accounting, Auditing and Taxation and Swanu President, Usutuaije Maamberua, and a lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Swanu Secretary General, Dr Tangeni Iijambo, have until today to respond to the ultimatum or face action. Speaking at Unam’s commencement ceremony Tuesday on behalf of the Vice Chancellor, Pro Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Research, Professor Osmund Mwandemele, reiterated Unam’s policy against staff members engaging in active politics as office-bearers.
However, Maamberua and Iijambo in their latest communication addressed to the Vice Chancellor, Professor Lazarus Hangula, which is in possession of New Era, are advising the university authority to seek an “independent, unbiased and neutral” person or body to interpret the constitutionality and legality of the university’s decision to ban its staff members from holding political office.
They suggest that the university seek advice in this regard from the office of the Ombudsman not in their personal interest but for the benefit of the entire university community and nation.
“Because everybody that we consulted on this matter had their serious misgivings about the legality and implementability of the rules,” says the letter pointing out that Council Resolution (C/07387/27) was highly contestable.
Through the resolution adopted by the University Council on November 23 2007, the university decided to bar staff members from holding political office. In this regard Hangula issued a circular on January 16 this year notifying all staff members of the ban, alternatively to go on unpaid leave if they choose to hold position in political parties.
However, Maamberua and Iijambo were reminded of the university articles on the policy on “Terms and Conditions of Service” on November 14, 2007 shortly after their election to their respective positions.
These “Terms and Conditions” only talk about outside work by staff members which may encroach on the time they are expected to devote to their university duties.
The “Terms and Conditions” further clarifies that permission for external work shall only be granted where the proposed activity shall not create a conflict with the university’s staff members’ duties and responsibilities.
Article C3.1.3 on participation in politics does not ban staff from belonging to a political party or attending political party meetings, but say staff “may not preside or act as a speaker at such a meeting”.
Staff members are also prohibited by the same article from conducting their political activities in an embarrassing way to the university, on campus or use bodies and meetings to promote a specific politically oriented aim. Further, the article prohibits staff members from compiling or delivering public addresses to further or prejudice the interests of a political party.
Maamberua and Iijambo, since the reminder sent to them after their election to their respective Swanu political offices, have been challenging these articles and the resolution of November 27, 2007.
In the latest letter, they point out that all Swanu positions including that of the president and secretary general are non-remunerative, part-time and community-serving positions.
They thus reassure the university of no other fulltime work outside Unam, making unpaid leave unnecessary.
They also say they do not intend to use Unam resources or even operate from Unam.
They further question the rationality of the policies, saying they were only of use to the demised apartheid dispensation to curtail political freedoms.
“In as much as we are aware of the autonomous status of Unam, we would imagine that policies of this magnitude need to be brought to the attention of Cabinet, the Minister of Education, and indeed be discussed with the university community,” the two state in the letter to Hangula.
Meantime, Swapo Party’s Youth League Secretary for Information and Mobilisation, Charles Siyauya, who is attached to the International Office of Unam, has relinquished his political position in view of a similar reminder about the non-involvement or holding of party political positions by Unam staffers, also sent to him.