Ministers in the dock - what does it really mean?

29 November 2019
While the national election votes are being counted, the other landmark story of the month trudges forward. The entire fishrot gang has been arrested. In the gang are two long-serving former ‘Honourable’ Members of Cabinet. Former ministers Sackey Shanghala and Bernard Esau join Katrina Hanse-Himarwa in making 2019 a historic year of political shame. Three Namibian ministers have been arrested and put before the court for corruption. What does this signify?
The fishrot scandal must lead to legal action, the forfeit of all profits from theft and removal from office of all proven to be involved on any level. Otherwise, what is the point? If there are no fishrot convictions, this gives green light to the thieves to continue destroying this beautiful country.
While Geingob has focused blame on international media sources for the fishrot scandal, we do not fall for such sleight-of-hand. It is not who called out the fishy mess that holds any modicum of blame, it is those who did the deed that must face the music.
If not for the international media agencies and WikiLeaks, this long-term corruption scandal would likely never have come to light. Rather than blaming these news and information outlets for exposing massive corruption, they should be applauded for doing what we lack the capacity and political will to do for ourselves.
Geingob has been quoted as saying that corruption in Namibia is a matter of individual actions, and is not systemic. We beg to differ. With three ministers that he anointed now defrocked, it is a hard sell to say these are once-off anomalies. There is a pattern, a system and an overall climate of tolerance for corruption, graft, theft and ineptness in this government. It goes deep and has been in existence for a long time. Who has the courage and credentials to bring it to an end?
We look at the Ministry of Defence buying farms seemingly with no plan or explanation. This use of state money seems to be only for high ranking military officials to use the property for hunting (do they even pay for permits?) and holidays. We see the unnecessary farms purchased as those owned by the friends of those holding defence ministry purse strings. Such farms are places where high ranking officials in that ministry have held weddings and events. Things like this are arguably evidence of systemic mis-use of government funds. Fishrot may not be the only place to look for high level scams and schemes.
There are many cases of insiders depositing government money into personal accounts. Other cases accuse officials of making payments to fictional vendors or payments in full made before the service is provided. We read about non-existent companies and companies in the names of relatives that have received state funds. These cases point to systemic corruption that benefits inside power people and they are driving this country to its knees.

We will not believe that the Geingob Administration, members of Cabinet and those working day-to-day with the accused fishrot ministers had no idea of this scandal. No one steals hundreds of millions over several years in complete secrecy.
Those involved were demonstrably living above their means. A minister and his business partners had farms, estates in Cape Town, various companies and lucrative business interests. This was well-known according to many sources. In the nonsensical way that many accused thieves advertise themselves, those involved in fishrot exalted in the luxury benefits of their 'wealth'. Were the accused former ministers blackmailing others to keep their racket protected?
We have been informed that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) led by Paulus Noa was aware of accusations for almost a year before the scandal broke. And yet, he took no action. His said that there was insufficient evidence to make the case. As this mantra has been chanted before by the 15-year controversial ACC leader, we cannot sit still for it yet again.
Someone of his rank and authority could have gone directly to the president, Ombudsman, or Supreme Court Judges to find a way forward. While we are not lawyers, we believe that if there was a will, he could have found a way. Working with the Prosecutor General on lesser charges of tax evasion or money laundering could have been done. Investigations for corruption could have continued. Instead, there was not a peep from Noa until the Namibian newspaper broke the story of the year.
We are outraged at reports that even in fishrot procedural meetings with prosecutors, Noa is not present. He has delegated this role to his deputy. Even if he is nonchalant about fighting corruption in Namibia, where is his attention to reputational optics? He should be visible and vigorous on all aspects of this matter.
The public should recall that Geingob moved Shanghala and other ministers from their original portfolios in February 2018 because of accusations of corruption. Rather than firing his ministers at that time, as should have been done, he kicked the can down the road. Looking at Shanghala now, we wonder if Geingob is pleased with his prior decision to not make the executive decision that was within his remit to fire the man long ago.
Two Geingob ministers have been allegedly caught with their hands, feet and face deep in the cookie jar. Another one was convicted earlier of corruption earlier. But, to our national shame, all three remain members of Parliament with salaries, benefits, perquisites and “Honourable” titles. Most countries demand resignations from any post of trust and honour when leaders bring shame to the doorstep of the government.
When ministers are in the dock, the game must change. In Geingob’s next inaugural address, we do not want to hear another long speech about being against corruption. We want to see direct, aggressive action against it. Change the systemic corruption in the halls of power in Namibia. No more soft-landings for those that have abused the public trust. Only the future will tell the real end of the fishrot story.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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