In his inaugural address as second president of the Republic President Pohamba made a personal declaration of war against corruption. Whether he had lived up to this declaration is no longer the issue. What is important is to make three acknowledgements in the national interest.
First, we have to accept that when president Pohamba made the declaration in the 15th year of our Republic, something must have driven him to this point, since he was neither an outsider nor a member of the opposition.
Pohamba was at pains to tell the world in his first statement as president that corruption was a cancer eating away at the nation’s well being. He must have known of something that had gone on in the first 15 years of self-rule when he was a minister holding various portfolios.
Pohamba made the pledge to the world: “As before, there will be zero tolerance for waste and corruption in public life. I, therefore, make a solemn pledge to you my compatriots, and fellow citizens that I shall set a personal example.”
The context that time was that several presidential commissions were tasked to investigate matters of corruption, yet they yielded no fruit. In fact, so far only one such report, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Ministry of Health and Social Services under Minister Richard Kamwi was published.
President Geingob did not mention corruption in his inaugural speech, but dwelt somewhat on corruption in his first and most memorable State of the Nation Address in April 2015, when he said, inter alia: “According to Transparency International, Namibia has remained one of the least corrupt countries in the world. It is important for public officials, to take note that corruption, in any form, whether it is a kickback, commission or any other benefit in the regular execution of duty is unacceptable.
“Private sector should also take note that by paying a bribe, it perpetuates and entrenches the very corruption it laments. As a rules-based Nation, we must capacitate and allow our institutions such the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Namibian police and our courts to investigate and prosecute cases of corruption without fear or favour.”
By way of state and the official pronouncements thus far, one sees only that there is no corruption in Namibia’s officials of state and government is free of corruption, save in the definitions that are in the Constitution and standards of all anti-graft laws and all precepts and requirements of good corporate governance. It would also appear that Afrikan political leaders, with a very few exceptions, do not see corruption in the same manner as the world and people see it.
Afrikan leaders have their own notion of corruption, which exempts them because they are the leaders and any mention of their ill-gotten wealth is in their opinion anti-peace and anti-stability talk. Namibia 27 years after independence is right where most of Afrika has been and still is: namely the unfortunate reality that good people, once in power, become more greedy and begin to take from the national wealth a great deal, then baptise it private property or private this and private that.
This reality makes it difficult for good citizens to have normal and objective conversations about the growth of corruption within our state and public sectors because any discussion will point to very high officials who are involved in dealings of corruption. In the end people are labeled against the leader or against the government and the consequences are often dire retribution.
Before we point fingers, let us agree on some fundamental rules that shall guide our conversation. First, that Namibia has done very well in managing corruption thus far, thanks to the political leadership we have had.
Second, human nature is such that corruption and greed can never be eradicated, no matter how well intentioned we sound, just as it is not possible to eradicate poverty (by 2025), however committed we so are.
Third, most of the consternation in our debates about corruption has nothing to do with corruption as such, but other ills in our body politic, such as incompetency, maladministration, malpractice, theft and various forms of abuse of power.
One must also hasten to put the record straight that corruption is not an exclusive province of Afrikan leaders or black people. Cupidity is a disease that is part of the human existentialist experience as we scramble for more safety and security over others. This moves over to greed, power and influence.
What makes the Afrikan version of cupidity worse is the tendency of those who have influence and power to exact inconvenience on others. Other civilisations have their own share of managing corruption better than most African nations, but corruption there is in all societies where people compete for the same survival based upon the instinct of self-preservation and survival.
What is corruption?
Many of us tend to all kinds of behaviour that causes bad experience at the hands of public servants as corruption. There are many instances of bad practices that are not part of the fibre of corruption, but are conducts of malfeasance, misfeasance, maladministration, malpractice and sheer theft—all of which could be part of a dysfunctioning system.
Malfeasance is the wrongdoing when an official who handles public affairs takes graft or violates trust. Misfeasance is the wrongdoing when an official does a lawful act in an unlawful manner, so that there is an infringement on the rights of others. Maladministration is the wrongdoing of administering public affairs in a manner that violates the original intention of the process at hand.
Malpractice is the wrongdoing when unprofessional conduct leads to injury of others, like when a medical doctor is guilty of wrong prescriptions or neglect of patients, which leads to misconduct. Theft is the illegal taking of something that is not offered.
The word corruption derives from the Latin word corruptus, (verb: corrumpere), meaning the degeneration of something from the original state of well being to where it is no longer as good as it used to be, the deterioration of something from a sound condition to an unsound condition.
A fruit gets corrupted when left to decay in the scorching sun, and its looks and shape will show that it is no longer what/how it was before it got to the state of corruptedness. It means therefore that something, in order to be corrupt, must have been in a purer and more perfect state before.
In the context of the ongoing discussions on the subject, corruption has been defined invariably as the use of public office for personal gain in one way or the other, directly or indirectly. It is a two-way activity – one offers and the other accepts. One demands and another complies, even with the use of agencies as intermediaries.
It is the practice of offering, giving, receiving, obtaining or collecting of a bribe or any advantage to influence action for the benefit one’s own or related parties. It is also the abuse of public office or entrusted power for private gain.
Examples of corrupt behavior are: bribery, fraud, including tax evasion, embezzlement of resources, public or other, extortion from or of coercion of vulnerable persons to pay, influence peddling – such as party financing during national elections in exchange for influence or protection, abuse of position or authority for personal benefit, facilitation of payments or services with kickbacks for the facilitator, intervening to influence tender or prosecutorial processes on behalf of a person who is induced to pay a token of appreciation in return, formal stopping or concealing of statutory investigations when findings are seen not to favour a particular outcome, changing of rules in aid of advancing a particular outcome or preferred result from a process, and using access to information to influence outcomes of deals in order to derive benefit or cause to benefit, such as under-invoicing using insider information for personal gain.
One way of measuring whether a country is corrupt is by looking at the costs of what is on the ground: corruption, undoubtedly, has a negative effect on economic growth and the moral fiber of any society or organization.
Corruption causes the system to be unpredictable and un-transparent and can thus not promote justice. Corruption leads to excessive high expenditure. Corruption leads to personalised fights in the system and renders the national system unable to defend and protect the innocent. Corruption creates a culture of the law of the jungle wherein the fittest survives.
Corruption leads to loss of faith and confidence in public institutions and law enforcement agencies such as the police. Corruption leads to a national political culture where the leaders are arrogant, defensive in their conduct with the preconceived and aloof and unable to respond to the issues affecting the people, as the leaders no longer work for the people, but only serve themselves in the name of the people. Corruption is when people get appointed to positions that everybody knows the appointee does not possess the competency to do the job, but everyone is compromised to say that it is not right, the result of which is to sacrifice the common good and national development.
If we accept the legal definition of corruption as the use of public office for personal gain in one way or the other, directly or indirectly – even with the use of agencies as intermediaries to process the exchange of material goods that one would not have had if one was not in such an office for the benefit one’s own or family, we have all the signs to assert that Namibia is corrupt, from top to bottom.
Consider the following factors and gauge whether they pass the smell test of official corruption: many Cabinet ministers and Members of Parliament get into business after they are sworn in as people’s representatives, thus gaining access to loans and bonds to buy farms, properties and even own shebeens that they would otherwise not qualify for; appointed regional governors and highly placed heads of parastatals dabble in real estate business and other activities, where they rely on their corruptors, often Chinese partners, who do the work at the expense of the Namibian electorate; spouses and children of government officials ride on the reputations of their honourable spouses to access loans and land; foreign scholarships for children for state officials and mini-Nkandlas in the regions belonging to ministers, MPs and permanent secretaries.
In democracies where leaders are not only expected to be clean, but are expected to be seen to be clean, such shenanigans would not be tolerated. In Namibia, these are not signs of corruption, and to point them out is a sign of being unpatriotic and disloyalty to the liberation struggle, thus deserving of condemnation and vilification. What exciting times we live in!