13 February 2018

Namibia: Katjavivi Fails Assets Transparency Test ... As Lawmakers Disregard Rules

National Assembly Speaker Peter Katjavivi has failed to transparently manage the assets register of parliamentarians despite promising to make it publicly accesible three years ago.

An updated register of MPs' assets has not been publicly available since 2009, and Katjavivi blames parliamentary bureaucracy and budget cuts for not making MPs' assets declarations public.

Assets and interest declarations are considered effective tools to fight and prevent corruption, detect illicit enrichment and conflict of interest, in both the public and private sectors.

Today marks the start of the ninth year in which the National Assembly is maintaining a shroud of secrecy over Namibian parliamentarians' assets and interests.

The last time Namibian parliamentarians declared their assets and interests and they were made public was in 2009 as per requirements of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament Act of 1996.

In 2015, when he became Speaker, Katjavivi promised to ensure that members of the National Assembly would not be lawbreakers, and that they would declare their assets to parliament.

He told The Namibian last year that around 95% of National Assembly MPs had declared their assets and interests.

However, starting his third year as NA Speaker, Katjavivi's pledge to be open about the declarations still just rings empty.

The secrecy surrounding declarations means that possible conflicts of interest remain hidden from the public as MPs debate and pass laws or policies that could impact their own interests.

Katjavivi promised to comment yesterday.

He briefly told The Namibian that the declarations had not yet been made public because of a shortage of staff at the National Assembly due to the vacancy freeze by the finance ministry.

It is unclear why Katjavivi wants new officials to be employed to deal with the MPs' assets register.

People familiar with National Assembly matters said the responsibility to compile assets declarations and make the register public was shifted to Katjavivi's office in 2015.

Sources said some National Assembly officials refused to deal with the assets register because of intense political interference in the process of compiling it.

Katjavivi insisted yesterday that the register would be made public, and countered fears that he will withhold them until the term of the current parliament expires next year.

Parliamentarians have historically disregarded rules to declare their assets and interests.

The Namibian has in the past reported that ministers blocked the declaration of assets in parliament because they felt they could not do so twice.

Cabinet ministers declare their assets twice - to the Presidency and the National Assembly - while MPs only declare to parliament.

In contrast, the National Council, under the chairpersonship of Margaret Mensah-Williams, has outshone the National Assembly in transparency around its MPs' assets register.

The Confidénte newspaper reported two years ago that the 2016 assets register at the National Council showed that members of parliament owned businesses such as shebeens, fishing companies and farms.

President Hage Geingob began his tenure by voluntarily declaring his assets and interests, in an attempt to ward off perceptions and suspicions of corruption during his Presidency. The secrecy around the National Assembly assets register, coupled with failures to declare by some politicians, flies in the face of Geingob's call for transparency, as he has repeatedly said that "transparency plus accountability equals trust" from the public.

Geingob, who is set to open parliament today, warned lawmakers in February last year to embrace the principles of accountability and transparency.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) explained the importance of assets declarations in a 2016 report, stating that such processes could reveal unusual increases in assets or extravagant spending by politicians.

"Disclosures can act as a deterrent for public officials who might consider accepting bribes, receiving public contracts in an irregular manner, or indulging in other types of corruption," the report stated.

According to the report, declaring assets also protects lawmakers from false accusations as they can point to the public record to convince the public of their innocence.

The same report suggested that judges should also start declaring their interests and assets.

"After all, they often decide on matters involving business transactions, and it is very easy to conceive of potential conflicts of interests. South African law has had a requirement for disclosures by judges since 2008; perhaps Namibia will follow suit," the IPPR stated.


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