Namibia: Swapo's Criminals Predicament

The Swapo party is facing a constitutional dilemma on how to deal with senior leaders who break the law.

The recent conviction of former party politburo member and education minister Katrina Hanse-Himarwa on corruption charges has sparked debate about her future in the party and that of fellow senior law breakers.

At the heart of the debate is whether the party should align its rules to accommodate politicians charged with committing crimes, or clean up its ranks to avoid sending convicted persons to parliament.

Hanse-Himarwa is the third top Swapo politician to be convicted of a criminal offence in recent years. Her presentencing hearing is scheduled to start this week.

The other two are politburo and central committee member Tobie Aupindi, and Swapo National Assembly member Marina Kandumbu.

Hanse-Himarwa was convicted of corruptly using her office to benefit herself and her relatives.

The charges originate from 2014 when as Hardap governor, she removed the names of two people from the town's housing beneficiaries' list, and replaced them with those of her relatives.

Hanse-Himarwa resigned from her ministerial position after her conviction.

She did not resign from her parliamentary seat, and it is unclear whether she will contest for a place on the party list for its representatives in the next parliament when Swapo holds its electoral college in September.

Swapo secretary general Sophia Shaningwa refused to comment on the party's position, or whether the party's top brass will discuss Hanse-Himarwa's issue.

"I cannot deliberate on such issues or discussions," she said, adding that she does not celebrate the downfall of other people.

The party rules for the election of leaders in parliament and the government do not explicitly pronounce themselves on whether members with criminal convictions can be included on the party's parliamentary list.

Its code of conduct and disciplinary procedures only state that a party member shall be guilty of misconduct if he or she is convicted in a court of law of a serious non-political offence, and is sentenced to a term of imprisonment without the option of a fine.

Another clause states that members are guilty of misconduct if they behave in a disgraceful, improper or unbecoming manner that embarrasses the party.

Former Swapo secretary general Nangolo Mbumba, now the country's vice president, told The Namibian last week that the party's stance remains the same, and prohibits those convicted of committing crimes from qualifying to be on the party list.

He added that there is a need to take a relook at the provisions within Swapo, but that the party's stance has always been stricter when it comes to allowing people convicted of crimes to serve on the party list because of Swapo's moral obligation.

Mbumba, however, said cadres have been challenging the party's tough stance in relation to the country's Constitution, which is more lenient when it comes to preventing people from serving in the National Assembly.

Swapo secretary for legal affairs and attorney general Albert Kawana yesterday said this issue was discussed by the central committee in 2012, and that the consensus was that the rules should be aligned to Namibia's Constitution.

A Swapo leader who declined to be named said convicted leaders were automatically disqualified from holding any positions in the party.

Now, the rules are being tweaked to align with the Constitution of the country, to accommodate the party's convicted members.

Swapo disciplinary committee chairperson Kashindi Mathias declined to comment.

A member of the committee told The Namibian that they cannot initiate cases. Aggrieved party members must bring cases to them.

Political analyst Hoze Riruako said Swapo does not revolve around one person, and that its power base in the south will not be undermined if it acts against Hanse-Himarwa.

"The dominance of Swapo down south has been entrenched to such a level that this case will not drive voters away. What the party needs to worry about is the division within its ranks, which has led to the phenomenon of independent candidates," he stated.

Fellow analyst Phanuel Kaapama said it is premature to comment on the impact of Hanse-Himarwa's conviction.

"We first need to see whether she will remain in parliament, resign or be recalled by the party. The south is a very multicultural area, so one cannot really speculate on the potential impact of this case," he continued.

Aupindi was convicted last year on charges of dishonesty and misleading law-enforcement officials after a businessman who scored construction contracts from the state-owned tourism agency Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR) gifted him a swimming pool.

Aupindi was NWR's managing director at the time.

Kandumbu was convicted in November 2014 for using her position in the government for personal gratification after she rented out a government house allocated to her.

The discussion about who is eligible for party leadership positions, and especially who should be placed on the Swapo list for parliament, became heated in early 2015 after Kandumbu's name was removed from the party's National Assembly list.

Mbumba, as former secretary general, removed her, and said at the time that "party policy dictates that convicted persons do not qualify to get onto the list".

The 2015 move to prevent Kandumbu from going to parliament was in line with the anti-corruption stance taken by Swapo's top four at that time: president Hifikepunye Pohamba, vice president Hage Geingob, deputy secretary general Laura McLeod-Katjirua, and Mbumba.

The party leadership later made a U-turn, and allowed Kandumbu to go to parliament.

The leadership relied on article 47 of the Namibian Constitution, which states that someone is disqualified from becoming an MP if they are sentenced to imprisonment of more than 12 months without an option of a fine, unless they have received a pardon, or the term of imprisonment ended at least 10 years before the date of their election.

Kandumbu was sentenced to five years' imprisonment, or a fine of N$100 000. Four years or N$90 000 was suspended, and she ended up paying a N$10 000 fine.

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