By Kuvee Kangueehi
Namibia’s official opposition party Congress of Democrats (CoD) has spent over half a million dollars in legal costs in a legal dispute involving two warring factions that have been fighting for authenticity.
On Tuesday afternoon, Judge Louis Muller reserved his judgment in the case. At the close of the case, one faction led by Ben Ulenga had spent more than N$350 000, while the Nora Schimming-Chase faction had spent in excess of N$250 000.
While the Ulenga group could afford the legal costs because they currently have access to the government grant to political parties, the Schimming-Chase group has been struggling to keep up with payments and subsequently submitted a postponement, which was dismissed by the court.
Speaking to New Era yesterday, Ulenga said legal costs have paralyzed the party and money that was supposed to be used for party activities has ended up in lawyers’ coffers.
Ulenga said he hopes that the judge rules in his favour so that the party could start with its political programme in view of the national elections next year.
The ruling by the judge will also include costs and it appears that if the ruling goes against any of the two factions, they will struggle to pay the costs.
In the High Court on Tuesday, the applicants withdrew their first request that the court declares the elections and the results of the extra-ordinary congress in Keetmanshoop as null and avoid. The withdrawal by the applicants is significant as the request is the essence of the application.
The applicants however requested the court to order the respondents to respect and adhere to the recommendations of the Audit Panel, which the two warring factions agreed to.
The Audit Panel last year found that there were serious irregularities during the extra-ordinary congress and thus the Ulenga leadership should be dissolved and an interim leadership consisting of both factions should lead the party.
However, Theo Nel who is representing the Ulenga faction informed Judge Muller that the audit panel agreement was not binding and individuals that were involved in the agreement had no mandate from the party.
Nel further argued that the panel clearly failed to apply its mind properly to the matter and that its decisions were arbitrary and unsupported by evidence.
“The panel was clearly execersing a judicial function and it is expected to do so on a rational basis and only to come to reasonable conclusions supported by evidence.”
Giving a brief history of the case, Nel informed the court that there is political infighting amongst the leadership of the CoD.
He said Ulenga has been the main driving force behind the party since its inception in 1999. But towards the end of 2006 and beginning of 2007, a rival faction in the party moved to have Ulenga ousted as the president of the party.
Nel said the action was ostensibly spearheaded by Ignatius Shixwameni but in reality by Schimming-Chase.
Nel informed the court that confident that they would be able to topple Ulenga in fresh elections for party president, to be held at an extraordinary congress, they feverishly campaigned for an extraordinary congress to be held.
“This was preceded by cunning plotting to stack vacancies on the National Executive Committee with their sympathizers and by launching a smear campaign against Ulenga and his followers.”
The conflict in the official opposition party started last year after an extraordinary congress which was held at Keetmanshoop.
Shixwameni who has since resigned from the party, challenged Ulenga for the presidency but lost by 14 votes.
A group led by Shixwameni walked out of the congress and contested the outcome of the congress, claiming that the elections were rigged. Ulenga, however, maintained that the elections were free and fair.
As the internal battle intensified the three CoD MPs made an urgent court application after the party, under the leadership of Ulenga, decided to expel them from the party.