The Ombudsman has ruled that the decision by the government to accommodate the late former Vice President Nickey Iyambo in a state-owned villa in Eros following his retirement in February 2018 was not illegal despite the absence of a legal instrument backing the action.
Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) president, McHenry Venaani, had written to the Ombudsman Advocate John Walters demanding that the late Iyambo pays rent for the state-owned property where he was staying after retiring from his government position because of ill-health.
In the letter to Walters on 18 March, Venaani demanded that Iyambo pays rental fees commensurate with the standard of the property and that proof of payment is provided to him within 25 days through the Office of the Ombudsman.
In his findings, which were made known to Venaani through a letter dated 2 September, Walters concluded that it was fair and just for the state to provide the former vice president with free lodging and retirement benefits in the absence of legislation which gives effect to benefits for former vice presidents.
Iyambo became Namibia’s first vice president on 21 March 2015, but an Act of Parliament which regulates his conditions of service and remuneration only came into operation on 21 June 2016, 15 months after he took office.
Four years after Iyambo became vice president, resigned and passed on, and with the current vice president, Nangolo Mbumba in office, Namibia still has no law that spells out the retirement benefits of a vice president.
In its defence, the government said the Bill dealing with vice presidents and former vice presidents’ remuneration and benefits is on the cards.
Responding to Walters, the government said the Bill will regularise the conditions of service of the first former vice president and future former vice presidents which will be a different regime from what is availed and provided for presidents and former presidents.
“Regrettably, when the first vice president assumed office, legislation was not contemporaneous with his appointment and only ensued months later, once we were able to complete the law-making process. Regrettably, the situation was the same for the first former vice president when he left office,” the government said in its response to Walters.
It said all arrangements that were made for Iyambo, and are being made for his widow, were done by way of an executive order in the absence of a legal framework.
Regarding the issue of rent, the government said no rent was anticipated from the former vice president and as such none was paid and none will be paid in that regard.
Although Walters said executive directives have no force of law and should only be used in very exceptional circumstances, he concluded that it was fair and just to provide the former vice president with free lodging at a government villa and retirement benefits in the absence of legislation.
“To judge whether it was fair and just one has to compare the position of the former vice president to that of a similar or related position. In the Namibian context, one can only compare his position with that of the former vice presidents,” the Ombudsman said in his letter to Venaani.
The Former Presidents' Pension and Other Benefits Act gives an outgoing head of state the privilege to choose between a multimillion-dollar state-funded house or cash on leaving the office.
The law states that a retired president must be accorded “a furnished official residence at any place in Windhoek or at the request of the former president such housing allowance as may be determined by the Cabinet in lieu thereof, including an allowance for telephone expenses and water and electricity charges in respect of a residence other than an official residence”.
Iyambo died at home in Windhoek in the early hours of Sunday, 19 May, leaving his wife Johanna and three children.
Before Iyambo’s death, his stay in the government-owned house became a source of embarrassment for him and the government after revelations that he had demanded that a costly elevator be installed in the house.
One of the officials at State House who was involved in installing the controversial N$1 million elevator allegedly killed himself in April.
The deputy director for maintenance in the Office of the President, Reinhold Namupala, is alleged to have shot himself in the parking lot at Midgard lodge, about 90km from Windhoek.
Namupala's suicide came three days after the presidency issued a statement slamming the installation of the elevator, and promising to charge the culprits.
This week, Police spokesperson Deputy Commissioner Edwin Kanguatjivi said investigations into Namupala’s death were still ongoing.
He said the document on the case is still with the police and will be handed over to the magistrate’s court once investigations have been finalised to determine the cause of death.