Presidential press secretary Albertus Aochamub reiterates the assertion that openness remains the cornerstone of President Hage Geingob’s administration in general and the Office of the President in particular. He relayed his story to Toivo Ndjebela.
New Era (NE): How are you settling into your relatively new job as press secretary in the presidency?
Albertus Aochamub (AA): The function is extremely challenging as one has to balance the function of timeous media responses on matters raised and managing various stakeholder expectations from the presidency. Another unintended consequence of openness and transparency of the administration has been that many citizens from all walks of life call on us for advice on matters often unrelated to the functions of the President’s office. So we are busy, and enjoying being of service to our great republic and her people.
NE: What does your job entail?
AA: As explained above, the function is predominantly one of being the link between the media fraternity, various public and the presidency.
NE: How difficult a decision was it to quit your job as director general of the NBC?
AA: I didn’t quit as DG of NBC. My five-year contract had run its natural course and ended. It wasn’t a difficult decision to make when one is asked to serve one’s country. We were raised in Swapo to put our country first and put all other considerations second. I believe there is still merit in that approach to life and if more of our citizens hold the same attitude, this country would even be a greater place on earth to call home. Difficulties lie in the fact one had to take a pay-cut to assume this responsibility, contrary to popular belief. This was even hard since I had done the same thing five years earlier when I left the employ of MTC to become the DG of NBC. But one rationalises these things in the context of national duty.
NE: What is your professional background in relation to your current job, or were you thrown in at the deep end?
AA: I was prepared for the role. I have spent a significant part of the past 15 years of my public life in some communications role or the other, both in the private and SOE sectors. Not only that, I spent the past five years as DG of NBC and as president of the Southern African Broadcasting Association promoting and advocating for better public broadcasting across the continent. In a more international role as the vice-president of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (now Public Media Alliance) I also spend many hours advocating for Africa’s place in the global fraternity of media organisations. My academic qualifications are also in the area of marketing and management and thus complementing the practical experiences from the world of work.
NE: What new dimension does your role bring to the presidency with regard to transparency within that office?
AA: The President has been a firm advocate of open and transparent governance for the past 60 years of his public life in Swapo, abroad and at home. There is also a significant chapter in his PhD thesis that deals with matters of media freedom and importance of openness if the country is to succeed. It, therefore, follows logically that with his assumption of the presidency a year ago there has been more openness advocated and practised. Global recognition of that already came from Transparency International with Namibia’s ranking jumping 10 points.
My role is to further drive that agenda of government in advocating for more openness and transparency in all its dealings. Cabinet and all arms of the state are committed to the same goals, giving us all the assurance that the country is poised to climb to even greater heights in future.
NE: How is your role different from that of the ICT minister as government spokesperson and PROs of different ministries?
AA: The minister of ICT is the official spokesperson of the whole of government. PROs complement that role at the level of offices, ministries, and agencies. The press secretary’s role in the Office of the President is to speak on behalf of the President and as directed by the Head of State.
NE: How is your role different from that of Mr Mukwaita Shanyengana, who is also believed to be an advisor on media affairs in the presidency?
AA: Mr Shenyangana is the advisor responsible for matters pertaining to senior citizens and is located in the Office of the Vice-President.
NE: What has been the most challenging aspect of your current job, and what is exciting about it?
AA: The challenge, and opportunity, lies in the speed and efficiency with which we can serve all the public. Media management is a complex process but we strive daily to share quality information about the activities of the presidency. We are working on improving the range of platforms and opportunities for messaging and engagement with all citizens.
NE: What would you highlight as your key achievements at NBC?
AA: The top three could be that we were able to build a coherent team of experts determined to pull in the same direction. Establishment of industrial peace was difficult but we made good progress over five years. Second is that Namibia was one of the three countries in southern Africa to have met the international deadline of migration from analogue to digital TV broadcasting. NBC now has the capacity to offer a larger choice of channels at the back of that investment. Third is that we began regularising financial reporting and accountability with key measures put in place. Of course, this is still work in progress and much work still needs to done going forward.
NE: Having headed a public media institution, what do you think is the role of such institutions in Namibia?
AA: Public media are publicly funded and are therefore held to higher levels of responsibility in respect of their accountability to the public agenda. Note, I didn’t say government agenda. All media have the same role in ensuring fairness, accuracy and balance of what they publish or broadcast. But we expect more from public media to be at the service of all citizens. In a post-conflict society such as ours, their role in driving reconciliation, redress of past wrongs, forging a national identity, are all matters that need to inform all programming discourse on a daily basis.
NE: What needs to be in place for such institutions to execute their mandates to the letter?
AA: It is not fair to have lofty expectations from these institutions with poor resourcing. If we continue to slash their budgets we will continue to restrict them from executing their full mandates. Appropriate funding and resourcing, however, are a function of the correct governance structures in place and plans that drive the national agenda. Without those minimum provisions intact, public resources cannot be invested. Also, where leaders of these institutions believe that they can allow themselves to be used in furtherance of hostile third party agendas and compromise the integrity of the institutions they lead, public resources cannot be extended under such circumstances as well.
NE: In an opinion piece published in New Era this week you suggested that there’s a media agenda against President Geingob. What informed your views?
AA: Media institutions, non-profit, public and private, have the same critical role to play in a developmental state such as Namibia. As mirrors of the country they cover and report on they have to be agents for positive reinforcement of effective governance, transparency and improved access for all to the country’s riches. Media must engender a general belief that we should all celebrate our achievements as a country as much as we correct the mistakes we make. They are partners in developing a positive self-esteem for all citizens and a belief that we can overcome all our challenges as a country. They have that power and need to use it responsibly in selling the story of Namibia and her people. The anti-Geingob tirade and reportage isn’t imagined but there for all to see. I have used an article published last week in a daily to illustrate the same point and we can cite many more examples that fall short of meeting the basic tenets of journalistic ethics. The call is on all to realise that our propaganda, lies and fabrications might have negative impacts on those they are targeting and the image of the country. Critical but balanced reporting has its place in Namibia and must be defended by us all.
NE: Are you opposed to any critique against the presidency by the media?
AA: Not at all. To the contrary, we welcome critical, fair and balanced reporting on all aspects of the state in ensuring that public officials perform their functions to the fullest extent of their mandates. Media are the watchdogs of all citizenry and have an important role in our country. The freedom fight was for an open and transparent society and now that we have it let us not abuse our rights without careful consideration of the responsibilities that accompany those rights.