Namibia: 'Regulate Political Party Donations'

President Hage Geingob says the government needs to come up with a law to regulate public donations to political parties for elections or campaigns.

Such a law would clearly define what donations and contributions are given to political parties for election campaign purposes, he said on Friday at the last Cabinet meeting for the year.

The president's remarks come in the wake of a corruption scandal in the fishing industry from which over N$150 million was allegedly paid to several people in bribes at the expense of poor communities.

There are also allegations that the ruling Swapo Party benefited from the scandalous fishing scheme through bribes paid as political donations towards, amongst other things, Geingob's election campaign in 2014 by Icelandic fishing company Samherji.

Two top government officials - former justice minister Sacky Shanghala and his fisheries counterpart Bernhard Esau - who are implicated as kingpins in the scandal - have been arrested on allegations of corruption.

They are accused of corruptly benefiting from a fishing quota Namibia donated to Angola - aimed at benefiting Namibians and Angolans.

Other people involved in the scandal, who are also behind bars pending an application for bail, are former Investec managing director James Hatuikulipi, his cousin and Esau's son in-law Tamson 'Fitty' Hatuikulipi, and businessman Richardo Gustavo.

The Namibian reported that this scandal could involve transactions worth as much as N$2,5 billion.

The Namibian reported last week that statements submitted by whistleblower Jóhannes Stefánsson, then managing director of Samherji's operations in Namibia to Namibian authorities this year, indicate that Samherji started paying bribes to politicians in 2014.

"In the preparation in 2014, N$5 million was paid from Mermaria Seafood Namibia's bank account at FNB to one of the companies of James Hatuikulipi in Namibia. This payment was to move things forward with the higher-level politicians in Namibia," he had said.

Mermaria Seafood Namibia is owned by Samherji.

Stefánsson said in an Al Jazeera investigative documentary last week that another N$2 million was allegedly for president Hage Geingob's election campaign in 2014 to "pay his supporters".

He said businessman James Hatuikulipi asked him for the campaign donation.

Hatuikulipi had not responded to questions on the alleged payments before he was arrested last week.

The president, equally, has not responded to questions on this allegation.

Geingob on Friday said Namibians, as a "law-abiding society", must allow those implicated to be tried under due process of the law.

The president also insisted that the #fishrot scandal and other corruption cases and allegations were not sufficient to conclude that corruption was systemic in Namibia.

This, he said, was because the issue was only raised twice during his townhall meetings in August this year.

"This is why I believe that corruption is not systemic in Namibia, but perceptions have been created that Namibia is a corrupt society. Nevertheless, we admit that although corruption is not systemic in Namibia, the actions of a few corrupt officials have tainted the name of our country," he stated.

Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) research associate Frederico Links, however, said there was no need for a new law to regulate political donations because there were already regulations in place.

He explained that the Electoral Act (Act No 5 of 2014) already deals with the disclosure of donations by political parties.

"However, the regulations that speak specifically to the issue of political donations - and prescribed declarations as outlined in sections 139 and 141 - have not been gazetted to date, so those sections have not been fully implemented yet.

"The president, and those who advise him and assist in crafting his statements, are clearly not well-informed about what rules we already have in place on this issue," Links stressed.

According to him, the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) had promised to gazette and operationalise the said regulations before the November 2019 elections "(on 6 November, we were told), but this does not seem to have happened".

He added: "Why these regulations have not been completed and gazetted remains a vexing question, as the ECN and legal drafters have had over five years to finalise these important regulations, and there's no adequate explanation for why this was not done".

Links said the government and related institutions should rather focus on implementing the law already in place to regulate political financing.

"So, we once again face a familiar situation of a law having been passed a long time ago, only for its implementation and enforcement falling woefully short, thereby undermining the very governance framework it is supposed to establish. This is a serious rule of law issue [... ] it is things like these - underperforming regulatory institutions - that influence public perceptions negatively," he said.

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