FORMER National Assembly Secretary Nama Goabab on Friday became the most senior public official yet to be convicted on a charge under the Anti-Corruption Act of 2004.
In a judgement delivered in the High Court in Windhoek, Judge Marlene Tommasi found Goabab guilty on one of the three charges he has been facing in a trial before her since the end of March 2010.
A co-accused and former colleague of Goabab (55), National Assembly accountant Abraham George (52), was also found guilty on the same charge on which Goabab was convicted.
Goabab was acquitted on the two other charges against him, while George, who faced two counts, was found not guilty on the other charge against him.
Goabab and George remain free on bail following the delivery of the verdict. They have to return to court on April 23, when Judge Tommasi is set to start hearing arguments and possibly further evidence before the two men are due to be sentenced.
Friday's verdict dashed the hopes Goabab and George might have had of achieving the same success they tasted when Judge Tommasi initially discharged them on the main charges against them in August 2010, after the close of the prosecution's case against them.
That discharge was set aside by the Supreme Court in June last year.
Goabab stood trial on three main counts of having corruptly used his office or position for gratification, which is an offence under the Anti-Corruption Act. George faced two of those charges.
Goabab and George were accused of having illegally rented two vehicles at Government's cost for Goabab's private use during March and April 2007, when he was still the secretary of the National Assembly. The total cost of the vehicle rentals was alleged to have been N$23 552,20, of which N$18 497,20 was actually paid by the National Assembly. Goabab paid an amount of N$18 497,20 back to the National Assembly on June 12 2007, which was four days after his arrest.
The first vehicle was rented on March 1 2007 at a discounted government rate, which Goabab would not have been charged if he had rented the car in his private capacity, the prosecution alleged.
Goabab alone was also charged with a third count of corruptly using his office or position for gratification, alternatively using a motor vehicle without the owner's consent, in connection with allegations that he had unlawfully used a Government vehicle on May 25 2007 while he was receiving a motor vehicle allowance as part of his salary.
On the last charge, Judge Tommasi found that by virtue of his position Goabab had the authority to authorise the use of a Government vehicle. She noted that Goabab, who told the court he used the car to attend a memorial service for a former Cabinet member while his own vehicle was being repaired, had used the car for an official function and only for a short period.
A slavish adherence to the public service staff rule that public officials who receive a vehicle allowance may not make use of Government vehicles could have far-reaching consequences for the efficient running of the public service, she remarked.
On the charge relating to the vehicle rental on March 1 2007, Judge Tommasi said the court had no reason to disbelieve Goabab when he testified that he intended to repay the costs of that rental to Government.
She found that it was not proven beyond reasonable doubt that Goabab and George had rented that car in the name of the National Assembly in order to obtain it at a lower government rate.
In that regard she noted that an official who arranged the rental told the court that he secured the preferential rental rate of his own accord, without having been asked by Goabab or George to do so.
On the second rental, though, the judge found that Goabab and George had used Government resources to pay a private bill of Goabab.
In doing so, Goabab had used his public position to obtain gratification in the form of a loan from Government, she found.
Goabab's claim during his testimony that he was not a public officer as defined in the Anti-Corruption Act was dismissed by Judge Tommasi. She found that, as someone who received remuneration from public funds, he indeed was a public officer.
Chief Prosecutor Danie Small is representing the state in the trial. Defence lawyer Lucius Murorua is representing Goabab, while George is being represented by Zagrys Grobler.