New Era journalist, Kuzeeko Tjitemisa, recently had an interview with the Director of the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN), Professor Paul Isaak. The interview focused on a wide range of issues, including the challenges and achievements during his tenure, which ends in September this year.
KT: Your term is ending at the beginning of September 2018, kindly share with us some of the challenges you experienced heading such an important electoral body?
PI: The main challenge when I was appointed was to deliver free, fair, and credible elections that will be accepted by all stakeholders on all levels, that is, local, national, regional (SADC), continental and worldwide.
On August 14, 2013, I was appointed by His Excellency, the former president Hifikepunye Pohamba, as the Director of Elections of the Electoral Commission of Namibia, with effect from September 1, 2013, to August 31, 2018. I am endlessly thankful to His Excellency for such an opportunity and trust to serve the Namibian nation. Under my leadership, the 2014 Presidential and National Assembly, as well as the 2015 Regional Councils and Local Authorities elections, were hailed as among the most successful and free, fair, peaceful and credible elections in the history of Namibia.
Furthermore, such successful outcome of the elections was characterised by euphoria and excitement and the long winding queues of enthusiastic but patient voters, it has been compared in many ways to the November 1989 watershed United Nations (UN)-supervised and controlled elections, which ushered in Namibia’s independence.
The United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) was a UN peacekeeping force deployed from April 1989 to March 1990 in Namibia to monitor the peace process and elections here.
Elections for the Constitutional Assembly took place in November 1989. They were peaceful and declared free and fair. The Swapo Party won the majority of the seats. The new constitution was adopted four months later and it was followed by Namibia’s official independence and the successful conclusion of the mission of UNTAG.
As ECN, we were glad to repeat the 1989 success story. Therefore, the mentioned elections were historic in the sense that for the first time since 1989 the results were not challenged, unlike in the aftermath of previous elections.
Lastly, they were historic in the sense that for the first time a presidential candidate, namely His Excellency, Dr Hage Gottfried Geingob, was elected by almost the entire electorate of Namibia and won a historic ground-breaking record of 86.73 percent votes.
This has made Namibia a proud democratic African country and thereby consolidating Namibia’s Democracy. I am glad that God enabled me to be an instrument so that our history was deeply cemented in democracy as a democratic nation. I am also thankful to our government and Namibian electorate for trusting me to carry out such a challenging task successfully and to make Namibia proud.
KT: What have been the highs and the lows at the helm of ECN?
PI: The highlights during my tenure remain the most successful management of Namibian elections since 1989 or since our Independence on March 21, 1990.
Fortunately, I can state in good conscience that no experience, especially absolutely negative, was able to defeat me. I am daily following the principle of walking tall and believe your walk makes you also tall in the eyes of the people. In other words, your good is outsourcing your weaknesses.
KT: Apart from the implementation of the use of Electronic Voting Machines during your tenure what other policy decisions were set in motion.
PI: The first major policy that we worked on was to develop and implement a credible, up to date and accurate voters register. Just three months after my appointment as the chief electoral officer, I was engaged in this task to carry out what is known as the general registration of voters.
We employed an election instrument that is known as the Voter Registration Kit (VRK). Such an instrument or machine is capable of, immediately after registration, providing each voter with a Namibian Voter Card at the spot.
Once we carried out this task, we were ready for the 2014 elections. We made use of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).
KT: The opposition parties have been calling for a voter verification paper audit trail, do you think this request is justified?
PI: Yes, let me clearly and loudly say that it is justifiable. In the event that the results of the voting machines and the results of the paper trail do not accord, the paper trail results are accepted as the election outcome for the polling station or voting thread concerned.
However, it should be clearly stated that, according to the Government Gazette, No. 5593 of October 17, 2014, the Minister of Urban and Rural Development shall determine when Section 97 (3) and (4) comes into operation. To date, the Honourable Minister has not yet determined such a date. The date shall be determined when we, as the Namibian nation, are ready for the implementation and in the process, the gains made during the 2014 and 2015 elections must not be compromised.
KT: As it has become the norm after elections for opposition parties to always dispute the process, what has ECN learned from the lawsuit that emanated from the elections held under your stewardship?
PI: What we have learned is to ensure that in a truly democratic fashion, we must engage in constant consultations with all our stakeholders on equal level. In my convictions, all political parties and organisations registered with the ECN are equal and are treated in word and deed as such.
When one has fully paid attention and developed trust among all participatory stakeholders, we face each other without any suspicion.
I am glad to note that in good conscience, I am able to look into the eyes of any political party or organisation boldly and without any shame because justice has been constantly done to all on equal levels so that we all uphold our Constitution, Article 1 that states that our nation is founded upon the principles of democracy, the rule of law and justice for all.
KT: In terms of compliance with accepted global electoral norms and credibility, how does the ECN rank?
PI: In my considered opinion, the most reliable source to gauge the status and ranking of the ECN, as an electoral management body in Africa is to quote from Afrobarometer. The Afrobarometer is a pan-African, independent, non-partisan research network that measures public attitudes on economic, political, and social matters in Africa.
As an African democratic nation, (according to Afrobarometer survey 2014-15) we are ranked fifth on the continent in terms of good governance, including on electoral management. To be precise, out of 54 African countries, as a nation, our score was 71.2 out of 100.
Furthermore, Namibia is one of the 10 African countries that had a change of leadership since 2007.
The others are Egypt, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, Tanzania and Tunisia. On cross-border tensions, Namibia is at peace with its neighbours and got a score of 100, while on the issue of political refugees it got a high of 98.6.
Namibia’s performance in other categories was ranked as follows: human rights 75.5; political participation 81.5; civil society participation 83.4, free and fair elections 89.9; civil liberties 79.2; human rights conventions 71.4; customs procedures 66.4; business bureaucracy and red tape 66.7; investment climate 72.2.
On the provision of welfare services under the human development category, Namibia got 72, on social safety net it received 76.9 and on narrowing the income gap Namibia got a mere 37.3, whereas on employment creation it received 51.4, on educational provision 83.9 and on quality of education 66.7.
In short, I am proudly stating that as the ECN under my stewardship we are making our nation proud on the continent and worldwide. In short, we walk the talk of democracy and free, fair and credible elections.
KT: Do you have sufficient staff and is ECN adequately funded?
PI: The current staff establishment only makes provision for 53 permanent posts and is complemented by a staff component of 127 temporary employees placed both at head office and regional level.
The temporary staff at head office provides support services to the institution in different divisions and sections, while the majority temporary staff at regional level provides voter and civic education.
Such a situation is not suitable and we urgently need more permanent staff. Currently, the ECN is preparing to request adjustments to be made on the existing organisational structure. On financial matters, we must clearly state that our government has always funded all Namibian elections adequately and we remain thankful.
KT: In your view, what areas need to be improved at ECN?
PI: We need more specialised staff, especially in the areas of ICT (information and communication technology) infrastructure and risk management. Today, the issue of security remains a major challenge at the ECN. Since we are the custodians of Namibian elections, all aspects relating to security must be comprehensively addressed and implemented.
KT: Should you be requested to go for another term, will you entertain such a request?
PI: According to the Electoral Act, Section 17, the chief electoral officer must notify the Chairperson of the Commission to invite by notice in at least two daily newspapers circulating throughout Namibia any person who complies with the qualifications of and criteria for appointment as the chief electoral officer, to apply in writing for the appointment. I have already given such notification.
KT: Any other information that you would like to share with us?
PI: As my tenure is coming almost to an end, my message is captured in a few words: Let the spirit of hope, optimism and courage prevail. I remain thankful to the Government of the Republic of Namibia, to political parties, to the print and electronic media, civic organisations, to religious and traditional institutions, and the Namibian nation for their support throughout my tenure.