From the dawn of independence, Namibian politicians have attempted to be jacks of all trades, juggling politics in which some are novices, and engaging in cuca-shops and shebeen businesses. Gullibility propelled most to graduate into amassing fish quotas, farms, communal and commercial lands, and fronting for foreign monopoly capital among some of their conquests.
From 1990 to this date, politicians and their siblings have been fighting tooth and nail to amass as much wealth as they possible could, in the process vanquishing entrepreneurs and the majority of Namibians into servitude and poverty. Small wonder that only a few of their siblings have been active in any political structures of the ruling party – the exception being those who had joined the party before independence. The politically-unconnected and those poor Namibians, including brilliant entrepreneurs unrelated to the powers that be have been left in the doldrums of poverty. Suffice it to say that the majority of our politicians are now multi-millionaires through ill-gotten wealth.
It is plausible and worthy of praise that President Geingob is, among other things, discouraging government officials from being private businesspersons. This is a welcome development and one hopes it will yield tangible results for the good of Namibia and Namibians. Why now and not then, and why has it taken so long for government to figure this out? Surely, this is elementary. Our first and second republics should have known that juggling private businesses and political office is not tenable and is a breach of the contract between government and the electorate.
After 25 years of unbridled corruption, Namibia is now home to countless multi-millionaires. The advent of asset declarations, though belated, is welcome. Asset declarations will reveal more multi-millionaires, though it is too late in the day when others have left office and will therefore escape the responsibility to account for their fortunate – or misfortunates. What is clear is that at independence, we all started from zero, especially the so-called returnees, or at least so we assumed. By then our declarations would have been scars obtained from the battlefield and a few safari suits for those who had the privilege of being posted at diplomatic missions. Evidently, Swapo, both internally and externally had massive assets, and so did the DTA. Whether or not those assets have been accounted for or pocketed to give individuals a massive head start in accumulating wealth is a topic for another day.
Right now, the major impediment to the socio-economic development of Namibia is lack of service delivery hampered by lack of accountability by public servants – the elected leaders, who have become more preoccupied with establishing private businesses than serving the electorate. This is the debate that we need to engage in and find solutions to.
One could argue that the fiduciary responsibilities of a public officer cannot be less than those of a private individual, a Namibian eking his/her living as a domestic worker. On the same basis, it is plausible to argue that any enterprise undertaken by the public official, which tends to weaken public confidence and undermine the sense of security for individual rights is against public policy and should be treated as such by the law.
The misuse of an official position, and by extension, public office for personal gain undermines the legitimacy of government and negatively impacts on service delivery. It distorts market competition, increases the cost of doing business and decreases the ease of conducting business. It is worsened by nepotism, cronyism and bootlicking. Without political will from the top at national, regional and local government levels, calls for the fight against corruption remain empty slogans that only breed cynicism.
What President Geingob is attempting to do is to ensure that our leaders are beyond reproach when it comes to corruption and conflicts of interest. He wants public officers to set personal examples of abhorring corruption. This will give birth to a track record for not tolerating corruption and will give credibility to messages and efforts from leaders to stamp out corruption. This is a paradigm shift from anti-corruption sloganeering. Conflicts of interest, more aptly corruption, are a cancer that eats away at institutions of government.
We need to be mindful that having the ability to identify conflicts of interest does not necessarily ensure that one can deal with them effectively. Actions to address conflicts of interest may entail ridding employees of the interest (divestiture), excusing the interest (waiver) or ensuring that individuals are not asked to make decisions that could be influenced by personal interests (recusal). Many of these actions require complex administrative systems to make them work effectively.
It should not be misunderstood that this article advocates for public officers to be excluded from owning businesses, whether these are shebeens, cuca shops or ‘kapanas’, immoral as some of them might be. The point is that things should be done transparently and deservedly. Politicians should primarily honour the trust bestowed on them by the public. Their election to public office is a contract entered into with the electorate for them to safeguard the wellbeing of the electorates as trustees. Not to engage in plundering national resources at the expense of the electorate. Evidently, the anti-corruption fight is lost because as the Chinese say “a fish rots from its head”.
*Dr Charles Mubita holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of Southern California