Namibia: Judge Slams Lawbreaker Shaningwa

Former urban development minister Sophia Shaningwa

A High Court judge has said former urban development minister Sophia Shaningwa violated the law when she cancelled dubious land deals in 2015, describing her actions as a "gross scandal".

Judge Thomas Masuku delivered this scathing judgement on 29 May 2019.

"One thing is abundantly clear, and it is that the actions of the minister which are not explained or justified by her in this application, are in stark contravention granted to her by the Local Authorities Act," Masuku said.

The Namibian first reported on part of this judgement last week when an Italian company won the race to buy six plots in the city centre.

Shaningwa served as urban minister from 2015 to 2018 and is now Swapo secretary general, the ruling party's de facto administrative chief.

Shaningwa kicked off her spell as urban development minister on a high-note and blocked several dirty land deals at the city of Windhoek worth N$200 million.

Her strong stance - at least for that year - earned her public praises for attempting to clean up corruption at municipalities.

That reputation faded a year after, as Windhoek municipality executives pushed back, and insisted that land deals she blocked be approved.

That resistance gave private companies a chance to poke holes in her 2015 cancellation.

Some unhappy companies such as Italian controlled Holmes Investments subsequently dragged Shaningwa to court to challenge her decision.

Holmes bid N$60 million to buy six municipal owned plots near the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in Windhoek's city centre.

The High Court ruled in favour of Holmes and found that Shaningwa's decision was illegal and that she "did not conduct herself appropriately in this matter".

"I am of the considered opinion that there is no proper basis upon which the impugned decision can be allowed to stand," the judge said, adding that even her successor, urban development minister Peya Mushelenga, seemed not to support her decision.

The urban development ministry initially filed court papers to defend the case but Mushelenga, who replaced Shaningwa last year, withdrew that option.

Key reasons cited by the judge revolved around an objection by NID Holdings which is owned by businessman David Imbili.

NID Holdings which wants the land to build Nujoma Towers, wrote to the Windhoek municipality, opposing the sale of the land to the Italian company.

The judge said Shaningwa should not have ignored the decision by the City of Windhoek to shoot down Imbili's objection.

"That appears from all perspectives and prism or angles, to be a gross scandal, which in the face of no explanation, must be accepted, regarded and treated as such," Masuku said.

"One issue that sticks out like a sore thumb in this matter, and the very epicentre of the case is the conduct of the minister which has seen the court setting aside her decisions," the judge said.

He said his judgement was not the first case against Shaningwa's conduct.

"The question that needs an answer is whether the previous actions of the minister [Shaningwa] should force this court to take the matter into its own hands and then substitute its decision for that of the minister," Masuku added.

He said the court would not go that far, yet. The judge instead gave Mushelenga 40 days to make a decision on whether to sell to the Italians.

Mushelenga flip-flopped. At first he, around 10 July this year, decided against selling the land to the Italian firm.

He changed his mind about two weeks later, instructing the Windhoek municipality to sell the land to the Italian company.

The judge said ministers - like Shaningwa - who make reckless decisions should be held accountable.

"It is proper that the minister should, in the light of her illegal and prejudicial conduct, be ordered to pay the costs of this matter on the punitive scale," the judge said.

This, according to judge Masuku, was "done in a bid by the court to mark its disapproval of the former minister's actions".

Shaningwa did not respond to questions sent to her on Saturday.

The deals rejected by Shaningwa included land linked to veterans' deputy minister Hilma Nicanor, Namibia Trade Forum chief executive officer Ndiitah Nghipondoka-Robiati, property developer Colin Bassingthwaighte and John Nauta, the ex-personal assistant to former president Sam Nujoma.

Shaningwa said at the time that the move to cancel the deals was to give everyone an equal and fair chance to bid for the land.

"This will ensure that interested parties get an equal opportunity to acquire these prime properties," she said, adding that the public should be well informed about the properties so that they can decide whether they want them or not.

She said the need for a restart is to ensure transparency and accountability but some saw it as laying a red carpet for Imbili's company.

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