The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) turned 10 years in 2016, and the public opinion is of dissatisfaction with the graft busting authorities outcomes. Leading the public disillusion with the ACC is the fact that the ACC has not presented ‘big fish’ graft cases over the last ten years.
The perception over the last decade is of the ACC being too pre-occupied to chase the secretaries, clerks and other low ranking officials found with fat on their lips, this while ignoring the senior officials whose hands are literally resting in the cookie jar – having tired from all the eating – they couldn’t even bother to occasionally lift out their hands.
Namibia’s second president Hifikepunye Pohamba launched the ACC in 2006, as the country’s first institution dedicated to fighting corruption. “Corruption [would] be fought with an iron fist,” promised the former president.
He also issued a stern warning that people with corrupt tendencies would face the “full wrath of the law, if found guilty,” regardless of their public standing.
Nevertheless the public perception of the ACC is that of a toothless institution whose mandate is either too restricted or with no capacity to do proper investigation.
ACC’s own perception survey report for 2016 found that “there is strong consensus that corruption is very high in Namibia.” One of the recommendations is that “ACC and its partners need to work hard to gain the full confidence of the Namibian public as allies in the fight against corruption.”
Such perceptions appear to have been more strengthened by the report that the institution has only managed to forward 8,5 percent of the cases received to the Prosecutor General’s Office with recommendation for prosecution.
Public law professor Nico Horn of the University of Namibia opined that the ACC for the last decade has not been an effective institution, with no real force, especially with regard to the investigation and persecution of big corruption cases.
“The ACC has not been able to change the perception of corruption and did not get any big cases apart from those who abuse petrol cards for a few thousand dollars,” says Horn when asked to comment on ACC’s work since its formation in 2006.
“Since its formation the results have been from small issues. Here we have pension fund money missing and this remains unresolved. We have the mass housing incident where a lot of corruption took place and yet there has been no real decent investigations,” says Horn.
“These small cases keep them going and I would expect them to look at more serious issues,” commented the professor.
Mass Housing was initiated in 2014 as a N$40-something billion programme aimed at delivering affordable housing to remove the housing backlog in the country. When it started, various middlemen – many of whom have never had any role in the construction sector – propped up as main contractors in partnership with foreign companies.
Questions were then raised of the quoted prices, which were reported to have been inflated to benefit the middlemen and their cronies, and on the manner in which the main contractors where appointed and allocated housing quotas to construct.
However, ACC’s head Paulus Noa – who in August this year got a new title as director general thanks to the amendments to the Anti-Corruption Amendment Act – does not see it that way.
In his report on the commission’s work since its inception in 2006, Noa speaks of how it fearlessly took actions against suspects, who in collusions with government officials, fraudulently established briefcase companies in some instances acting as middlemen with an intention to steal public funds.
Noa says to date a total number of 5 955 reports are registered with the ACC since 2006.
“After investigations, many of these cases could not be submitted to the Prosecutor-General with recommendation for prosecution because no evidence was found to substantiate the allegations,” he said. “Some are referred to administrative authorities with recommendations for administrative action against the officials for misconduct.”
Over the last 10 years a total number of 1321 cases were referred to various authorities with various recommendations.
A total number of 509 cases were submitted to the Prosecutor-General with recommendations for prosecution, according to the ACC report.
To Horn this is an indication that the ACC is not well resourced. Also disappointingly, says Horn, is the fact that the ACC seldom looks into cases or opens investigations on its own initiative or accord. He wants the ACC to start looking at more serious issues such as tender irregularities involving prominent figures, issues which Horn describe as being at the hearts of the Namibian people.
“They need to become a more professional unit with auditors to run annual checks on books of parastatals and other institutions,” says Horn.
Peter Katjavivi, the Speaker of the National Assembly, however, was more sympathetic to the ACC, saying that the success of the ACC lies in cooperation from the public.
“Fighting corruption seems like something only left up to the staff of the ACC but we need more alert citizens in this regard,” he said.
“On the bills to be discussed next year in Parliament is the Whistleblowers’ Protection Bill so that we can assist the work of the ACC when citizens step in and provide useful information,” he says of the efforts to strengthen the ACC ‘s power and mandate.
Katjavivi also highlighted that the other part of the ACC’s ineffectiveness or limitations is the fact that the annual report is tabled before parliament to inform the members of the work of the ACC.
“It will be ideal for this report to be tabled before the appropriate committee before is comes to the Parliament,” opines Katjavivi.
Noa, when he presented the overview of the commission for the last decade, mentions that the focus of the Anti Corruption Commission was not only limited to the public sector.
“Fraudsters in the private sector where evidence has proven criminal wrongdoings, were as well prosecuted after investigation,” he says.
“Abuse of office for private gain, embezzlement or misappropriation of public funds were some of the many cases investigated by the Commission,” says Noa.
Noa believes that the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies, including that of the Anti Corruption Commission, were increased by the enactment of laws.
These laws, Noa says, made it possible for the identification of proceeds of crime as well as goods or properties used in the commission of crimes.
Two amendments were made to the Act to substitute the naming convention of the director to director general and the deputy director to deputy director general, respectively, as well as providing for the appointment of a permanent secretary for the ACC.
When former president Pohamba launched the ACC in 2006 he said, with clenched fist: “Those who intimidate whistleblowers or attempt to do so are hereby warned.
The State will use every available means at its disposal, within the framework of the law, to deal with such culprits.”
It was also promised that besides whistleblowers, officials and employees of the ACC who may also become targets of intimidation and threats from racketeers, organised crime kingpins and other criminals will also be protected by Government to enable them to carry out their duties in a “deliberate and straight-forward manner.”