10 July 2019

Namibia: Curtain Falls As Minister Resigns

President Hage Geingob removed Katrina Hanse-Himarwa as education minister yesterday morning, but indications so far show that the outspoken politician will remain in the National Assembly.

Hanse-Himarwa resigned yesterday, a day after she was convicted in the High Court on Monday on a charge of corruption when she was Hardap governor. The Namibian understands the president had already made up his mind to relieve her of her duties.

Geingob, upon arrival at the airport on Monday night from Niger, appeared to defend the disgraced politician.

But sources said a presidential directive was made at around 9h00 yesterday morning for a statement to be drafted on Geingob's reaction on the minister's resignation.

Hanse-Himarwa issued a statement through her ministry's communications department, saying "I herewith confirm that I have requested to be relieved of my duties as minister of education, arts and culture, with immediate effect".

She thanked Geingob "for his forthright and principled leadership", and that serving in his Cabinet has been an honour and a privilege.

"I apologise to both him and the Namibian people, as I know this conviction has been a source of disappointment and distress for many who know me," she said.

She remembered an oath she took in March 2015 to uphold, defend and protect the Constitution.

"I have upheld this constitutional oath with the conscientiousness that was required of me. This resignation is within the context of this obligation," Hanse-Himarwa said.

The minister added that she intends to appeal her conviction in court.

"I intend to exercise my full legal rights through the appropriate legal channels. I understand the seriousness of the conviction, and I am also mindful of the president's strong views on transparency and accountability."

The minister was earlier seen showboating during her court appearances, and was accused of making a mockery of the judiciary.

She, however, said this case has been difficult and emotionally draining.

She did not indicate whether she will also resign from the National Assembly. However, she is expected to forfeit privileges such as her N$1,1 million per year salary, which includes government vehicles and other political perks.

An ordinary member of the National Assembly earns around N$700 000 a year.

Sources familiar with this matter said the party's hands could be tied if it tries to get rid of Hanse-Himarwa from parliament.

REACTION

Geingob's press secretary, Alfredo Hengari, issued a statement yesterday, a few minutes after Hanse-Himarwa's resignation letter had been widely circulated.

"The president accepted today, 9 July 2019, the resignation of the minister of education, arts and culture, Honourable Katrina Hanse-Himarwa, following the guilty verdict yesterday, 8 July 2019, on charges of corruptly using her office or position to obtain gratification," Hengari said.

He added that Geingob is always advocating processes, systems and institutions in the Namibian governance architecture.

"With the guilty verdict by the High Court, and in line with the expressed commitment by president Geingob to transparency and the fight against corruption, the head of state would have been left with no option but to relieve Honourable Katrina Hanse-Himarwa of her ministerial responsibilities."

Geingob applauded Hanse-Himarwa's decision to resign, and to accept to live up to her responsibility by respecting the rule of law and the institutions of the Republic of Namibia.

MIXED FEELINGS

There have been mixed reactions in the manner in which Geingob handled Hanse-Himarwa's case.

Some supported the president's decisiveness in allowing his seemingly "blue-eyed girl" to take the fall.

University of Namibia's constitutional lecturer, Nico Horn, said the judgement in Hanse-Himarwa's case was a move in the right direction.

He said it was correct for judge Christie Liebenberg to point out that people should not be discriminated against on the basis of their political affiliation, as was done by Hanse-Himarwa.

Horn added that the judgement could be the end of Hanse-Himarwa's political career if she is sentenced to more than a year in prison. The Constitution does not allow people who have been convicted and sentenced to prison for a period of more than 12 months to be members of the National Assembly.

Popular Democratic Movement parliamentarian Vipuakuje Muharukua yesterday said people should not celebrate Hanse-Himarwa's downfall, as she is a human being.

He added that the judgement in her case shows that public office-bearers have a fiduciary duty to ensure that they do not "get involved in corruption in any way to be proven beyond any reasonable doubt in court".

Muharukua said it was only reasonable for Hanse-Himarwa to vacate public office. He added that it does not send a good message when Cabinet ministers and top politicians publicly embraced Hanse-Himarwa after she was found guilty of corruption.

"It is human to show remorse, but it is a balance that we must strike. It is important not to send a wrong message. From a public office, it is very disturbing to show cronyism to someone who has been found guilty of a crime," he added.

Some criticised Geingob's commitment to fighting corruption after he indicated that he would visit the convicted former minister shortly after arriving in Windhoek from an African Union mission.

The president said at the airport that there was nothing wrong with public officials embracing or showing support to their colleagues who have been found guilty of corruption.

Several Swapo members, including Cabinent ministers and youth leaders, attended Hanse-Himarwa's judgement day on Monday to show their support.

"So, if people are convicted you become enemies? I am going there now to see her, and say you must be strong; this is what we are waiting for. You went for justice, but you heard this [was] the outcome," Geingob said.

Swapo Party Youth League secretary Ephraim Nekongo said they went to court as Swapo members to listen to the judgement, but not necessarily to support corruption.

"I have always said that we must respect the justice system in Namibia because it is independent. But it does not mean that if one of our comrades is in court, we should not go there. We went there to listen," he noted.

This, however, did not sit well with some members of the opposition, including the Landless People's Movement (LPM)'s deputy leader, Henny Seibeb. The LPM has been one of the political parties which has been calling for the resignation of officials accused of corruption.

Seibeb said it was also wrong for the president to show sympathy to Hanse-Himarwa, as a head of state, before even considering the details of the judgement.

"It should never be about emotion. It is a public office that we have entrusted the person with, which should be respected, because not all of us in Namibia can occupy that office at the same time," he stated.

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