State capture is cousin of corruption

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President Hage Geingob on Monday made headlines when, without pulling any punches, he said he would not entertain entrepreneurs seeking appointments with him to discuss tenders and business plans. He referred such appointments to line ministries and relevant offices.

Geingob said his decision is part of his wider plans to transform government into a more transparent and less corrupt institution.

In the common understanding, the definition of corruption is often only confined to either bribery or major embezzlement of public resources. There is also a third form of corruption, less known, but still very pervasive, found often but not exclusively in transition countries. It is called State capture.

State capture occurs when the ruling elite or powerful businessmen manipulate policy formulation and influence the emerging rules of the game, including laws and economic regulations, to their own advantage.

The captured economy is trapped in a vicious cycle in which the policy and institutional reforms necessary to improve governance are undermined by collusion between powerful individuals and State officials, who extract substantial private gains from the absence of clear rule of law.

State capture as a concept gained popularity recently in neighbouring South Africa, where an avalanche of testimonies by senior ANC members about their attempted co-option by the controversial Gupta family‚ have dominated news headlines in recent months.

Whether true or imagined, such a state of affairs exists in Namibia too, where – as Geingob said – individuals have adopted a culture of name-dropping in order to influence major economic decisions.

There’s a circle of Namibian businesspeople who are often accused of seeking undue and unfair influence from higher offices so as to lay their hands on major State contracts and jobs. Namibians with limited or no access to the powers that be are often left to pray for divine intervention as the only source of hope to compete with their well-connected competitors.

This ,however, comes at a significant social cost. If politicians and bureaucrats can minimise their political risks by selling privately such public goods to a few individual firms in exchange of economic revenue, they have little incentive to provide the public at large with open access to these goods.

In truth, State House has been a theatre of some suspicious visits in recent years. Certain businessmen, clad in suits and carrying gift bags, have been knocking on the doors of the first house – apparently to seek favours.

Whenever there was a fundraising event at State House, even those struggling to pay their employees formed part of long queues and processions to donate money, under the guise of being bleeding-heart citizens, when in fact they expected State favours in return.

Of course there are those who attended such events with a clear conscience and honest intent, but others seemingly had sinister expectations.

Seeking favours from one’s own government is not entirely a wrong idea, but such activities must be transparent and well intended. For example, if a certain firm wants to apply for tax exemptions from government in order to save jobs, Namibians could fairly understand and possibly allow that request.

We, therefore, applaud President Geingob’s pronouncement on the matter and hope that Namibians will start to see State House in a different light, rather than a venue where big deals could be brokered for individual elites.

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