Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) Director-General Paulus Noa tells chief New Era’s political reporter, Mathias Haufiku, that recent outbursts by members of parliament, including Cabinet ministers, will not deter the commission in its efforts to bring corruption under control.
How has the Commission faired since its inception and what have been the major success stories and challenges?
Paulus Noah (PN): The Commission became operational in January 2006 although it was officially inaugurated by His Excellency Hifikepunye Pohamba on 1 February 2006. At that time, except the director and deputy director, there was no other additional staff until the middle of 2006 when three supporting staff members were appointed. ACC also did not have office accommodation to operate from.
The actual investigation work only commenced in 2007 after four investigating officers were appointed. Members of the public started reporting what they suspected to be corruption, although many of the reports did not fall within the mandate of ACC in terms of the Anti-Corruption Act. The trend only changed after a few officials in the Unit of Public Education and Corruption Prevention were recruited and started with awareness workshops, informing the public about what corruption is, the causes of corruption and where and how to report corruption.
In the meantime, we started developing anti-corruption materials, which are distributed during seminars and workshops. We also developed anti-corruption materials, which are used by Life Skills subject teachers from primary to secondary school level. We have conducted surveys to gauge public opinion on corruption in the country and what they expect to be done. We have developed an internal strategic plan, as well as the National Anti-Corruption Strategy and Action Plan.
Every year we prepare an annual report, which we submit to the Prime Minister for tabling in the National Assembly. Many officials of public and private institutions took part in seminars and training workshops. Programmes, such as integrity management training, are developed for public officials. Regional and local authority officials were engaged in much of the anti-corruption training.
Many allegations of corruption were investigated, after which the matter is either referred to the prosecuting authority for a decision, or it is referred to another relevant authority to deal with administratively. Other matters were also closed after we found nothing that merits prosecution or disciplinary charges.
As a result of the appropriate measures taken, ACC has made and continues to make a positive impact. A total number of 468 cases have been referred to the Prosecutor General for decision on whether to prosecute.
The challenge ACC faces is the shortage of investigating officers. The organisational structure only creates 31 positions of investigators for the whole of the country. This is a small number, if you consider the geographical area of the country.
The Attorney General has proposed that ACC be stripped of its arresting powers, and that arresting powers be left to the Namibian Police. How will it affect the operations of the ACC?
Parliamentarians are lawmakers and the ACC enforces the anti-corruption law, as passed by parliament and signed by the president. If that is the type of anti-corruption body lawmakers want to establish for the people of Namibia, they have all the legal powers to do that. My advice is, however, that decisions made out of emotional feelings 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.
Some countries had in the past established anti-corruption bodies without power of arrest, but only to regret their laws, because corruption started increasing with impunity. Culprits did not care, because the anti-graft body was powerless and action in urgent matters was being delayed. 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 operation.
The AG called for term limits for the ACC director general and deputy director. What is your take on this?
Term limits of tenure of office also depend on the law passed in parliament, after consultation with the public. In principle I have no problem with term limits, although I know it has its own pros and cons. 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.
I know of countries with tenure of office of one term only. I also know of countries with two-term limits and there are also countries with security of tenure, like that of judges of the High Court, meaning until they reach retirement age. They all have reasons for the prescribed tenure of office. There is nothing wrong with the law making provision for the renewal of terms of office and there is also nothing wrong with the law that limits the tenure of office – if that is what the people want.
Some members of parliament say there is a need for additional commissioners to be appointed at ACC, instead of the current two.
Article 94A (4) of the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia provides that the Anti-Corruption Commission shall consist of a director general, a deputy director general and other staff members of the Commission. There is nothing wrong with the appointment of commissioners, provided that the Constitution and the anti-corruption law are amended to provide for the appointment of commissioners.
Depending on the type of mandate given to the commissioners, they may make an effective contribution to the performance of ACC. 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 investigative work of such commissions. Some commissions also perform well, because the commissioners understand the limit of their powers and functions.
MPs also claim they are unfairly targeted because of the positions they hold, as ACC wants to prove a point that it does not only target low-ranking officials. Is this the case?
I do not think all the MPs made such unfounded accusations during the debate on our reappointment. Only a few members of the National Assembly made the accusation of being unfairly targeted, if what I read in the media is to be relied upon.
Let me inform you that allegations of corruption are reported to the ACC by whistleblowers. At times they first approach the media and thereafter report to the ACC and vice versa. Officials of 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.
The officials and members of the public, who observe suspicious acts of corruption in the respective offices, report to the ACC and sometimes to the media. I have seen complaints addressed to ACC and the same copied to other institutions, including the media. In terms of the law, they are entitled to report to ACC what they suspect to be corrupt practice.
The ACC is legally bound to conduct an investigation if it is satisfied that the allegations, on reasonable grounds, warrant an investigation. Investigation must be conducted, irrespective whether the suspect is a member of parliament or not, whether a suspect is a politician, or just a low-ranking official. The anti-corruption law does not provide for exceptions and, therefore, the ACC does not apply discrimination. Discrimination is prohibited by our Constitution.
It is not the policy of ACC to discuss the facts of matters under investigation in the public, but because these matters were publicly discussed in parliament, I am compelled to put certain information reported in the media in the correct perspective.
The two allegations under investigation by ACC against Honourable Hanse-Himarwa are that she influenced the allocation of resettlement farm to her son, and the second allegation is that she misused her public office by ordering the removal of the names of two residents from the list of beneficiaries of the mass housing project and replaced them with other residents, who are allegedly related to her. It is further alleged that one of the two relatives of Honourable Hanse-Himarwa is instead renting out the house, rather than living in the same house. These are allegations, which must be investigated to either confirm or refute the claims.
In doing so, Honourable Hanse-Himarwa was also given an opportunity to state her side of the story. A letter was addressed to her summoning her to come and give her explanation. I must sincerely thank her for complying with the request. She has requested to be given time to consult with her lawyer before she decides whether she will give an explanation in respect of both matters or not.
The ACC respects her request, because it is her right to consult her lawyer. The ACC is still waiting for her to give her explanation before a decision is made whether to submit the dockets to the Prosecutor General or not.
With regard to the previous arrest of Honourable Hanse Himarwa, allegations were reported to ACC against her, which were investigated. Upon finalisation of the investigation the docket was submitted to the Prosecutor General, who decided to prosecute her, because she found that the evidence was sufficient to charge her.
Again, ACC investigates, but does not decide on prosecution. The prosecution is conducted by the prosecuting authority and the courts pronounce whether a person is guilty or not guilty. It is not within the power of the ACC, or the prosecuting authority, to pronounce any person guilty. These are checks and balances put in place in our legal system.
My message to our honourable lawmakers is that it is morally wrong to pass the law today and the next day when the same law is being enforced you campaign against the enforcement. The ACC was created with the objectives to lead the fight against and to prevent corruption, and further to promote the implementation of national development programmes.
I am aware that the ACC is not a popular agency and will never be popular in the eyes of some people, as long as it commits itself to execute its mandate without fear or favour. Some of those who are investigated, or whose loved ones are the subject of investigation, will claim to be unfairly targeted.