Lawmakers must lead crusade against dishonesty

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This week lawmakers in the National Assembly went haywire about their anticipated declaration of interest, zooming into the tricks book for any excuse they can hang onto to avoid disclosing the extent of their riches.
Among a string of flimsy excuses used this week was that the media and political adversaries would use the declared assets to wage wars against individual MPs. Yet President Hage Geingob – and indeed his wife too – declared their assets long ago, even when they are not required to do so.
Perhaps it is too much to ask relatives and spouses of MPs to declare their assets, but there is no reason for MPs themselves to now look for cheap excuses not to do what the law requires them to. MPs knew – way before they availed themselves for parliamentary seats – what the requirements were, including the mandatory declaration of assets.
If any of these leaders had a problem with this requirement, why did they avail themselves for parliament if they were not ready to respect the rules of the same House they contested for?
As the famous saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. It’s simple arithmetic. Lawmakers cannot arrive with a consignment of rules of their own by which they hope to be governed. It is grossly selfish of lawmakers to make rules for the rest of the population, but avoid at all costs complying with laws that relate directly to them.
Namibia’s approach to the disclosure of assets and interests on the part of officials wielding considerable power across the various branches of the State is sluggish.
Our country is littered with cases of conflict of interest involving public officials. The majority of these cases go unpunished, because the system is mostly controlled by the culprits involved in these cases.
Asset declaration was seen as one of the first moves towards arresting the widespread conflict of interest involving public officials, and it is sad that the MPs – including some ministers – are at the forefront of refusing to comply with this simple requirement.
Not even the president’s own declaration of assets was enough to inspire these officials – even when he made it clear that his action was meant to set an example for others to follow.
According to a joint publication of the World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC): “The requirement that public officials declare their income and assets is intended to help deter the use of public office for private gain, whether financial or through other benefit to self, family, or associates.”
“Income and asset disclosure (IAD) systems can help reduce the incidence of conflicts of interest in the exercise of official duties and assist in the detection and prosecution of illicit enrichment by public officials. Effective IAD systems, thus, can be an important element of broader anticorruption regimes and can contribute to building a climate of integrity in the public service, as defined by the United Nations Convention against Corruption.”
This, therefore is a well-intended exercise, which should not even be a subject of debate – except perhaps in midnight meetings of those who want to loot. Any public official worth his salt would not argue against a system that simply attempts to promote transparency, so that our country is lifted out of the quagmire it currently finds itself in.
The National Assembly must therefore accept that it is leading in the advocacy of secrecy by further delaying the process of asset declaration. The National Council has met its August 31 deadline to declare assets, and to those MPs who have done their lawful duty, we take our hats off.

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