MPs fear media will abuse asset declarations

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… Discussions to continue behind closed doors

Windhoek – Lawmakers want the National Assembly to strictly guard the asset declaration register to prevent the media from “abusing” it, while others insist their spouses and close relatives should not be compelled to declare their assets and interests.

Despite the stipulations of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament Act of 1996 that compels them to do so, lawmakers in the National Assembly have not declared their assets and interests since 2009.

Despite the law being clear that lawmakers could face “disciplinary action” for failing to declare their interests, some are unhappy with the manner in which their declarations are publicised, claiming their asset declarations are used against them during political campaigns.

As expected, when discussions on the long-awaited Code of Conduct and Declaration of Members’ Interests forms – that would compel MPs to declare their interests and assets – kicked off in the National Assembly yesterday, MPs came up with all sorts of tactics to fine-tune the forms to their satisfaction.

Minister of Land Reform Utoni Nujoma was one of the MPs, who took the floor yesterday to accuse the media of “abusing” the asset declarations and using it against MPs. He called on the National Assembly to apply strict rules when it comes to making the information public.

“We declare as requested, but we have seen that the process was being abused by journalists. Some of us are even targeted. You declare in confidence, but during political campaigns it is used to tarnish your image,” Nujoma charged. He wants parliament to strictly control access to the declarations made.

“If journalists want to have access to the information, they must clearly state what they want to do with it. The information is used to slander some of us. We need to put rules [in place] when it comes to these things, because we are also human beings with fundamental rights, but we are being abused left, right and centre,” the minister said.

“Just because one is a minister it does not mean you must be abused and targeted,” he further said, adding that, “In the past I declared and then some people came to me so that we can open a company to look for diamonds. I did not even make a single cent from this company, but I was made to seem as if I was a diamond dealer.”

Minister of Education, Arts and Culture Katrina Hanse-Himarwa is opposed to the clause that compels spouses and relatives of MPs to declare their interests and assets. Hanse-Himarwa argued that their spouses did not take an oath in the National Assembly, therefore should not be compelled to declare.

“If my relative is receiving contributions, why must they be held responsible to declare if they have not taken an oath in this House? It is also not fair that my dependents are being held accountable through me for their involvement in their private activities,” Hanse-Himarwa said.

Fisheries minister Bernhard Esau and finance minister Calle Schlettwein also questioned the need for spouses and relatives to declare. Political observers have repeatedly pointed out that it is important for the close relatives of MPs to declare their assets, in order to eliminate the use of proxies.

Copies of the Code of Conduct and Declaration of Members’ Interests form and the draft Standing Rules and Orders have been distributed to all parliamentarians for their perusal and input in writing to the Attorney General, but it seems only a few have lodged their objections in writing.

Although National Assembly Speaker Peter Katjavivi last week indicated that the form would be discussed and adopted yesterday, this was not the case. Discussions were halted and will continue next week behind closed doors.

The lawmakers did, however, agree that by month-end, all parliamentarians should have declared their assets and interests.

by Mathias Haufiku

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