18 April 2019

Namibia: Corruption, Not the Media, Is the Threat to National Security

opinion

Corruption has a debilitating effect on the lives of thousands of people around Namibia. And usually it's the most vulnerable members of society that are hardest hit.

Corruption persists relentlessly despite efforts by the United Nations, various institutes, NGOs, specialised units and international organisations to eliminate it.

This is certainly the case in Namibia where the country's media is flooded with reports of corruption at all levels of the public sector.

In fact, even countries such as China where corruption is punishable by death, are struggling to contain and eliminate the pandemic.

At the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee meeting in 2016, President Xi Jinping as well as the heads of the country's anti-corruption bureaus painted a disastrous picture of public service corruption.

This despite the fact that China has perhaps the most rigorous and severe legal punishments for corruption in the world, even as severe as having the death penalty for corruption.

On that note, one cannot help but think that there is nothing stopping officials in our public service from being corrupt because the punitive measures are not strenuous enough.

Last week's decision of the Supreme Court to dismiss the appeal of the Namibia Central Intelligence(NCIS) should be heralded by all.

Accountability and transparency should be the hallmark of our democracy, hence no public institution should be spared from being held accountable.

In recent times, Namibians have witnessed several scandals involving the national intelligence apparatus. From the purchasing of properties dubiously, the arrest of an agent who allegedly defrauded the agency of about N$17 million and funding an association of former spies, the once secretive institution is now in the spotlight.

Do not get me wrong, the role and function of the intelligence services remains of particular importance and the agency must be supported by all, but it is my distinct view that we now have the opportunity in this young democracy to interrogate and debate the nature and functions of the intelligence domain.

As a country, we should respect the mandate of the NCIS to safeguard the national security interests of our country because their work allows peace and tranquillity to thrive, but that is not reason enough not to keep the agency under check.

The NCIS should understand that corruption itself is a threat to national security and the economy because resources meant for the poor and downtrodden Namibians are channelled towards a selected few, a situation which can breed unrest amongst those affected most.

In most cases, the diverted resources were meant to improve the lives of those drowning in the deep ocean of poverty.

Rampant graft has turned many developing countries into kleptocratic states where extreme poverty and undermining of democracy are the order of the day.

A central part of establishing a functioning State is minimising corruption in the defence and security forces, often the largest recipients of government funds in most countries. In Namibia it is no different.

The security cluster has over the years received the third biggest chunk of the national budget, yet it remains one of the most secretive when it comes to accounting for the resources allocated to it.

It is understandable that the operations of those involved in the security cluster should be kept under wraps, but we cannot allow a situation where blanket secrecy is the order of the day.

There must be a level of accountability in order to give confidence to taxpayers that their tax money is utilised in the correct manner.

Accountable secrecy

Constant reckless comments by Defence Minister Penda Ya Ndakolo that defence spending should not be scrutinised must be rejected with the contempt they deserve, simply because such setups are fertile grounds for structural kleptocratic governance.

In fact, the minister must read the 2009 policy brief that was compiled by Lauren Hutton and published by the Institute of Security Studies titled "Intelligence and Accountability in Africa".

Hutton asserts that "the development of more open and transparent intelligence services will move this secretive sector out of the shadows and allow it to leave behind a sinister terrain filled with assertions of abuse and misuse. To ensuring democratic control and oversight of intelligence agencies in Africa, and to make them fully accountable, is one of many steps towards achieving freedom from fear in Africa."

Transparent security

They [lawmakers] must remain cognisant of the fact that when corruption becomes entrenched, it undermines the development of state authority and its institutions, resulting in a fragile state with potentially more space for insurgents to operate.

Key institutions such as the NCIS should therefore work around the clock to root out corruption instead of running to courts to prevent the media from holding them accountable.

Politicians and lawmakers must also be mindful of the fact that they will pay in the currency of losing the trust of their citizens if they continue to pay lip-service to corruption.

National security and the public's right to know are often viewed as pulling in opposite directions.

While there is at times a tension between a government's desire to keep information secret on national security grounds and the public's right to information held by public authorities, a clear-eyed review of recent history suggests that legitimate national security interests are, in practice, best protected when the public is well informed about the state's activities, including those undertaken to protect national security.

Those operating in the security cluster must remember that, as citizens, we want a secret services that pursue security for all, not one that is subverted for personal or group interest and that sees itself as untouchable.

*Mathias Haufiku is former editor of The Patriot newspaper and former chief reporter at New Era newspaper. These are his personal views.

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