When free speech isn't

13 December 2019
We agree with the recent comments made by Ministers Tom Alweendo, Calle Schlettwein and Leon Jooste expressing their points of view on the corruption of those given positions of public trust.  However, we recognize that one of the sacrifices of public service is a suppression of one’s personal point of view.
  Unless the three ministers have chosen to purposefully make a statement that they reject the collective Cabinet silence on this embarrassing scandalous fishrot blot on Namibia, one united statement from the entire cabinet condemning the events was in order, rather than individual points of view.  Free speech isn’t free for high officials who are members of one select, powerful group, i.e., Cabinet.
We await a united Cabinet statement condemning the Fishrot mess in the most severe terms.  Without it, the entire Cabinet’s credibility is suspect.  We begin to wonder if their silence is approval of Fishrot on some level, a sympathy for their erstwhile colleagues who were caught out or if they are trying to not point fingers lest that same finger be pointed at them. 
The public wants to know if the Cabinet has its head in the sand about corruption as the president does.  Geingob has already stated his fantasy that corruption in Namibia is individual and not systemic.  Geingob believes that corruption cases that consistently pop-up in the media are once-off, isolated incidents.  We are disturbed that anyone could credibly argue that deep, years-long multimillion dollar schemes involving scores of people are a fluke.  This does not auger well for the house cleaning needed to root out the rot. The three ministers who made their separate points are on the top echelon of skilled, committed, honest leaders that we wish there were more of in the cabinet.  But, the overriding issue of concern is that once you are a part of a whole, you cannot cherry pick which part of being on the team works for you.  You disagree with this issue a lot, so you speak out; you disagree with this one only a little so you stay silent.  This confuses the already stressed-out public even more.
If you are in, then you are in; the rules apply.  That means taking the good with the bad and managing that.   If there is a severe matter of conscience, then let those ministers who cannot abide issues accepted by the others leave the fold with their heads held high.  We are compelled to agree with Hage’s position on this. 
It is harsh.  However, if you cannot ride the wave of pretending something big is not happening, then you need to examine if this is the government you care to be a part of.  There is an old adage that, “Evil thrives when good men do nothing.”  Each member of government has their reputation on the line.  History will record what happens in these post-Fishrot days and who was on what side of the integrity line.  Perhaps these three wanted something on the record stating what side they are on.  We submit that if this is the case, then, more is needed.  When it comes to moral and ethical viewpoints, principles must dictate action.  And it is not easy.  One cannot pay the bills with principle.  And, one cannot effect positive outputs for government unless you are a part of it.  Given the vindictive nature of some in leadership when people break away, there is a determination to make it ‘cold’ for anyone outside of Swapo.  Anyone wishing to disagree must consider this as well.
Often we have received reports about the president in meetings when he disdains anyone who does not agree with him.  He does not like anyone disputing his point of view.   Those who disagree must just be silent lest they be slapped down.  This is a dangerous situation among high level decision-makers and a serious flaw in our president’s leadership style.  You cannot be the big ‘bear’ and growl at anyone who does not walk lock-step with you.  A secure leader should not need happy clappers, but mentally engaging, smart, informed advisors who will speak truth to power.  In the end, the decision lies with the president, but if advisors are hesitant to make their personal views known, particularly if there is research that should inform the choices made, then something dangerous is happening in Namibia.  This ought not to be a country ruled by one, but democratic rule in a party system when each accountable leader has been duly elected as per their agreed national manifesto, not the will of one person.
We recall the lambasting and eventual demotion of former Health Minister Bernard Haufiku for disagreeing with the president.  Haufiku evidently perpetrated the crime of the century by asking for private donations to keep a key but cash strapped eye clinic open for the needy public.  After that, he continued visiting sites (as per his remit) for a hospital to be built in the North.  Geingob had laid down the law on these points and Haufiku acted otherwise and paid the price.
Using constitutionally cloaked words, Minister Obeth Kandjoze publicly chided his fellow ministers for expressing their disgust with the Fishrot scandal involving their former fellow ministers. We reluctantly agree with Kandjoze’s point, though we are uncertain why he felt the need to make it.  The same silence he wanted from the three ministers about Fishrot is the silence he should have exercised himself.  There are those who could have spoken publicly about him when the yet unproven accusation of corruption included his name when he was reshuffled away from the Ministry of Mines and Energy.   The president made a direct statement about corruption rumours when he announced those cabinet changes back in 2018.  Kandjoze’s cabinet colleagues were quiet about his slap on the wrist.  We think the president’s statements about the three best ministers in his cabinet speaks for itself and did not need the choir to say Amen. 
Free speech isn’t free for public servants at the highest levels in government.  There must be public unity of voice and purpose or else credibility suffers for all.  Robust debate on issues should happen in secret and without leaks inside the Cabinet room.  Thin-skinned leaders are not good leaders.  Rumors about dissention in cabinet cannot be helpful at this low point in national unity.  Indeed, those with principled points of view who cannot be reconciled with decisions taken, must consider well.  They are free to choose to make the ultimate statement and step away or remain in the fold and silently accept the status quo.


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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