Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) Director General Paulus Noa has hit back at politicians attempting to strip the commission of some of its powers, saying such attempts have the potential to destroy Namibia’s good governance image. Noa said the ACC is not immune to criticism, but warned that some public utterances by members of
parliament in the National Assembly last week could roll back the country’s attempts to fight corruption.
Lawmakers castigated the ACC last week, with some proposing that it should be stripped of its powers of
arrest, while others proposed the appointment of more commissioners to assist directors in deciding which
cases to pursue. They also suggested term limits for the director general and his deputy. Some who were against the manner in which the ACC conducts its operations were themselves previously investigated for alleged corrupt practices, while some were locked up after investigations against them were launched.
Some of the MPs who complained about the ACC, such as Attorney General Sakeus Shanghala, Katrina Hanse-Himarwa (basic education minister) and Bernard Esau (minister of fisheries and marine resources) were in the past investigated by the ACC. They were all eventually cleared of having committed any misdeeds. “My message to our honourable lawmakers is that it is morally wrong to pass the law today, but the next day when the same law is enforced you campaign against the enforcement,” Noa said. “It is also not a matter of one or two parliamentarians feeling aggrieved by the action of the ACC. The public must decide.” Noa says the ACC is not taking part in a popularity contest. “The commission is committed to executing its mandate without fear or favour.”
“Some of them or their loved ones who are the subject of investigation will claim to be unfairly targeted. The armchair critics will also accuse the ACC of not taking enough measures to prevent corruption,” he said. Noa indicated that the ACC’s interventions over the years have resulted in the collection of large amounts of
tax money from companies that did not previously pay tax.
“ACC’s actions have resulted in many officials, including officials in the private sector, being charged for fraud and
corruption. ACC has also made various recommendations to the authorities to develop laws and policies that plug the
loopholes of corruption.” Regarding claims that the ACC colludes with the media to shame top-ranking
officials, Noa explained that whistleblowers at times first approach the media and thereafter report to the ACC, or vice versa. “The officials of the ACC do not work at the offices of the suspects of corruption, nor do they sleep at such offices. How will they know what is happening at those offices if information is not brought to them? They cannot suck information from their thumbs.” He said there have been instances where complaints were addressed
to the ACC and the same copied to other institutions, including the media.
He further challenged lawmakers to amend the law if they prefer the appointment of commissioners. “However, if the powers and functions of the commissioners are not clearly defined, they may destroy the performance
of the ACC. Some commissions were destroyed as a result of squabbles and undue interference of commissioners in
the daily administrative and investigation work of such commissions,” warned Noa. The often under-fire Noa also indicated that, in principle, he has no problem with lawmakers instituting term limits for his position. “I do not think there is any head of an anti-corruption agency who wants to stay at the helm of the agency forever. It is not a popular job, for your information.”
Witch-hunt claims MPs also claimed that they were unfairly targeted because of the positions they held. They allege that the ACC wants to prove a point that it does not only target low-ranking officials, but Noa labelled these claims as “unfounded”. The views of the lawmakers are however in contrast to those of the public, who say that the ACC only targets lowranking officials while the big fish are left untouched.
But Noa said the ACC does not discriminate when it comes to conducting investigations, whether it involves a
politician or low-ranking official. “The ACC is legally bound to conduct an investigation if it is satisfied that the
allegations, on reasonable ground, warrant an investigation. Investigations must be conducted irrespective of whether the suspect is a member of parliament or not, whether a suspect is a politician or just a law ranking official.”
Stripping ACC of arrest powers Noa warned that lawmakers should not make decisions based on emotional
arguments. “If that is the type of an anti-corruption body lawmakers want to establish for the people of Namibia, they have all legal powers to do that. My advice is however that decisions based on emotion can yield
negative results. Lawmakers are elected to parliament by the people to represent them, therefore they should first carefully consider public opinion on such proposals,” he said. Some countries had in the past established anti-corruption bodies without power of arrest, only to regret their laws later because corruption grew with
impunity, Noa said. “The ACC at times deals with intelligence which requires swift sting operations to deal with suspects before they flee or before evidence disappears.
Swift action cannot be practically executed if the anti-graft body needs to rely on another law enforcement institution for its operations,” he said.