Former SWAPO Politburo member and Minister of Sport, Youth and National Services, Kazenambo Kazenambo, has leapt to the defence of President Hage Geingob and Founding President Sam Nujoma amid the furore surrounding the cost of Nujoma’s retirement residency.
Government says it spent N$43 million upgrading Nujoma's house on the outskirts of Windhoek along the Hosea Kutako International Airport road.
According to The Namibian, the renovations, which began in 2015, were initially estimated at N$20 million in 2014, but had ballooned when the house was completed in April last year.
In an interview with the Windhoek Observer this week, Kazenambo said the debate surrounding Nujoma’s residency was causing a lot of confusion and creating a lot of smoke instead of producing fire.
He said he is surprised that the debate has been reduced to a Geingob versus Nujoma issue when Namibia has laws and structures dealing with benefits of former presidents.
“In Namibia, we have procurement laws and a budget that is tabled in Parliament. The budget covers the Office of the President and the Office of the Founding President.
“If we have an Appropriation Bill and procurement laws, what we are seeing and reading is political smoke screen because we are not being told where the two presidents and how they have violated this procurement law,” Kazenambo said.
He said there is nothing so far discussed on how the founding president violated any policy to benefit himself, either with a dollar or with a billion.
“What we are hearing is greed on the part of Nujoma, and President Geingob being attacked left, right and centre regarding the construction of the house of the former president, but there are no facts coming out clearly.
“How does the construction of the residence of the founding president become an issue for the two because none of them deal with procurement? Even their salaries and benefits are not determined by them according to the laws of this country.
“To make matters worse, Nujoma did not retire in the era of President Geingob; he handed over power to President Pohamba. Do you think the issue of benefits came about 15 years later after he had retired? I don’t think so because I was still in Parliament when we were debating the issue of President Nujoma’s retirement package.
Asked if it was not possible for Nujoma to have declined construction of his house on moral grounds as he did with the planned State sponsored 90th birthday celebrations, Kazenambo said that is another issue.
“Let us present facts on the table to say that the issue of procurement was taken up with Nujoma and he knew from day one that the cost involved would be this amount, that the tender process is this amount, the companies that are going to be involved are so many and so on.”
He said at the moment, there is no proof that Nujoma was technically involved in this procurement.
“The same with Geingob, how did he temper? How does this become a Nujoma/Geingob issue, even president Pohamba because this issue was during the Pohamba era? It is a political smoke screen because so far we are not shown the technical aspects of how the matter was handled. What we are hearing are opinions, and mudslinging to either the founding president or the incumbent.
“This is the problem with our system. I even had problems with it when I was still in the government system. You have public servants who are non-political office bearers who are the real implementers and power holders because they are the very people who decide on these things, but they go unaccountable by and large because they are not subjected to public scrutiny.”
Kazenambo said the battle being waged and that is manifesting in the saga surrounding Nujoma’s residency is bigger than SWAPO.
“The cause of the whole thing is the politics of patronage. There will be many who perceive either real or imaginary, that the founding president was their patron and that they are not receiving the same patronage from the incumbent president.”
He said patronage is caused by a number of things including tribalism, business interests and economic interests as well as political positioning.
“It is normal in politics, but the challenge with that is, in many cases the tendency is to sink the ship and that is where the continent is really bleeding.”
He said there is need to discuss issues of national importance openly without fear or favour in order to prevent such a scenario from happening in future.
“For us to safeguard the situation of sinking the ship, we need to bring back fairness and to discuss issues on their merits without fear or favour because if the ship sinks we will all sink irrespective of who sank the ship.
“Let us not make it a Nujoma/Geingob issue because they are not a procurement system. Let us be fair, from a policy point of view. Let us respect policies and let us guard our policies and systems. Let us not hide by violating individuals and lie about individuals, let us also not protect people.
“This is Namibia for all of us, it is our right and entitlement and whoever is going to benefit must benefit based on the laws that are there. If the laws are benefiting certain individuals, let us debate the law to say that these leaders are benefiting unfairly given the current economic crisis.
“These things should not be subjected to opinion, if there are certain people whose benefits are not commensurate with the current economic crisis, let us openly discuss that.
“Let’s discuss and follow the law and negotiate to review benefits, let us engage, let us not criminalise, that is the question of fairness I was talking about.
“If there are policies put in place and I am benefiting according to the system, do not judge me on the basis of your morals and values because there is nothing criminal that I am doing.
“Do not criminalise me on the principle of your moral values and understanding, but let the system review itself to say that under the situation it should be this way, but if the person refuses then you can judge that the person is greedy. But if the person is benefiting according to the law, how do we judge them?
“Under this situation there are people getting exorbitant salaries, but are they criminals? They are not. Those salaries have been negotiated with them duly and according to the law. Let us not criminalise those people because they are implementing what has been decided according to the law. Let us be fair and discuss issues in their proper context.”
The Namibia Exile Kids Association also said in a statement that media reports regarding Nujoma’s retirement benefits were distasteful and filled with undertones aimed at portraying the Founding Father of the Namibian nation as greedy with insatiable entitlement mentality.
It said it is concerned that the manner in which this reporting is taking place is to deliberately tarnish the legacy of the Founding Father.
“We strongly condemn this,” NEKA said, adding that “NEKA will not allow the Founding President’s legacy and image to be defamed by anti-revolutionary elements that are determined to destroy what he built since we highly regard him as our liberation icon for his sense of patriotism and revolutionary accomplishments.”
SWAPO Party Information Secretary Hilma Nicanor also said on Thursday that those criticising the decision to renovate Nujoma’s retirement house were ungrateful.
Nicanor added that Nujoma was entitled to the benefits he got from the government as an appreciation for the role he played in bringing about the country’s independence.
According to the Former President’s Pension and Other Benefits Act 18 of 2004 as amended in 2012, Nujoma is entitled a furnished official residence at any place in Windhoek or in lieu of that a housing allowance as may be determined by the Cabinet.