The ruling Swapo party’s silence on allegations that it may have benefitted from the proceeds of the Fishrot bribery scandal is dumbfounding,” according to political pundits.
Video footage shown by Al Jazeera shows the former minister of fisheries, Bernard Esau apparently soliciting some $200,000. A portion of these funds was apparently slated for Swapo political campaigns.
The footage seen around the world forms part of an international broadcast by the Qatar-owned media house. It was an investigative documentary. The video-story exposed how Namibia’s marine resources were allegedly plundered by Esau, Shanghala and their cronies.
The story further reveals that another $140,000 was allegedly paid by Samherji, an Islandic fishing company, to Esau’s alleged accomplice James Hatuikulipi. These funds were allegedly earmarked for Swapo's campaign. There have been allegations that the Swapo party district office at Oshikuku may have been bankrolled with funds accrued from the scandal. Sources allege that the local Swapo party office in the North received a large amount of money from one of the accused in the matter.
Other accused in the Fishrot scandal include: former minister of Justice Sackey Shanghala, suspended Investec Namibia clients director Ricardo Gustavo, Esau's son-in-law Tamson 'Fitty' Hatuikulipi, and Pius 'Taxa' Mwatelulo.
Swapo information secretary Hilma Nicanor referred all questions to secretary-general Sophia Shaningwa. "She is the SG and will be in the best position to articulate the party’s position on these matters.”
After attempting to refer this writer back to Nicanor, former Cabinet minister, Nahas Angula expressed hope that the allegations of Swapo party involvement are not true.
“If they are true, than we as Swapo party are implicated and this whole thing is going to bring the party into disrepute,” Angula said. He maintained that, having fought for the liberation of the masses, the party’s moral compass comes into question if it starts using public resources to fight internal squabbles.
Asked about whether any leadership organ within the party is planning to look into the allegations Angula said, “If this happened, it may have happened with the knowledge of some of the leaders. As such, there is only so much that can be done now. Anyway, the matter is currently at the courts and we will wait and see.”
According to political analyst Phanuel Kaapama, the important question would be whether the party actually received the money. He queried whether the party was aware of the source of the funds. “Since the allegations are in the public domain, one would expect a party of Swapo’s magnitude to pronounce itself on the matter immediately,” Kaapama said.
Kaapama maintained that this is not only important for the assurance of its members or to salvage its hopes at the polls, but because the party owes it to all Namibians as the governing party.
Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) associate researcher, Frederico Links pulled no punches when he maintained that Swapo is silent with the hope that the hype over the Fishrot saga will fade. He opined that the party is weighing the options of how to appease a visibly aggrieved electorate.
“It is telling that the party is silent, since it too is implicated in the alleged corruption. And people have picked up on this by now. It needs to come forward and address these allegations and state clearly whether it actually benefited indirectly, though donations, from alleged corrupt activities of some of its more prominent office holders,” Links said.
“I suspect they're trying to figure out the scope of the party's exposure to Fishrot before going public. But then, Swapo has never demonstrated openness about its affairs, so they might just decide to ride it out by keeping silent and count on people forgetting their alleged beneficial involvement,” the political analyst said. Links added that ‘hoping people will forget’ could be an exercise in futility, given the current mood among the public.
“I don't think that it a good strategy. They need to be dealing with this proactively and transparently, to show that the party has heard the people. Of course, the clearest statement of this would be the removal of Aupindi and Hanse-Himarwa from the parliamentary list. Only then will they communicate serious intent,” Links maintained.
Earlier this week President Hage Geingob announced that the Swapo Politburo decided to withdraw both corruption-tainted former ministers Bernhard Esau and Sacky Shanghala from the ruling party's parliamentary list for the new National Assembly.
It was not clear as if Esau, who is a member of this high decision making party organ, was also stripped of his seat in the Politburo. Shangala is also said to be a member of the Central Committee.
Citizen Angula opined that it is better in such a position for the accused to recuse themselves from those organs, pending the completion of their respective trials. By serving on these bodies, “they will not restore the trust of the people in the party, they will destroy the party’s reputation.”
Opting not to comment on this matter, Nicanor maintained that the party has not deliberated on whether to recall Esau and Shanghala from their respective politburo and central committee positions, but will consider the matter when an opportunity presents itself.
“Swapo is a party that is run based on a set of principles and beliefs that needs to be adhered to,” she said.
Links maintained that those implicated or convicted of corruption should not be holding senior positions of any sort. If assertions that Esau still occupies a politburo seat are true, the status quo undercuts the party president's 'zero tolerance for corruption message' and sends out a mixed message to members and the public.
“There needs to be decisive action from the party leadership on this. The foot-dragging is not helping the party's image, and this is indicated by how members are now openly criticising the party's handling of this matter,” Links stressed.
In the meantime, the six suspects in the Fishrot scandal have been denied bail and are remanded in custody until the 20th of February 2020, pending further investigations. There have been calls for the suspects to be placed under tight security for their own safety. The charges against them state that the six men accepted or agreed to accept in excess of N$100 million from Samherji’s Namibian subsidiaries, between 2014 and 2019, in exchange for fishing quotas.
One Johannes Stefansson was in charge of Samherji’s Namibian business interest at the time. The latter, later resigned from the company and blew the whistle on the scandal. Esau is also charged with awarding a quota of up to 55,000 tonnes of horse mackerel to a private company, Namgomar Pesca, in exchange for bribes.