Namibia: 'Virtual' Geingob Escapes Fishrot Heat

President Hage Geingob (file photo).
10 February 2021

Opposition politicians who had vowed to disrupt president Hage Geingob's speech to open parliament were left furious yesterday when a pre-recorded video statement was instead played in the National Assembly chamber.

Parties such as the Namibia Economic Freedom Fighters (NEFF) and the Popular Democratic Movement (PDM), as well as the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) have been anticipating Geingob's appearance in the National Assembly this week to bombard him with questions on the Fishrot corruption scandal, among other things.

The Namibian last month reported that Geingob's 2017 intra-party election campaign and Swapo were prominently mentioned as beneficiaries of the scandal in documents submitted to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) by lawyers Sisa Namandje and Marén de Klerk.

Geingob has in the past denied knowledge of the scandal, insisting that Swapo did not "directly" benefit from the scam.

The president's supporters insisted that Geingob was not aware of the scandal and that he is a victim of name-droppers.

MPs had to wait yesterday only to learn the president was not going to attend parliament physically.

Speaker of the National Assembly Peter Katjavivi explained Geingob's absence at the opening ceremony yesterday was planned and done to allow parliament to comply with Covid-19 regulations.

Some MPs, especially Henny Seibeb and Bernadus Swartbooi of the Landless People's Movement (LPM), tried to disrupt the proceedings without success.

They demanded that Katjavivi stop playing Geingob's pre-recorded message to answer to why they were not informed of his absence in advance.

This was also in vain.

After Katjavivi's attempted explanation, opposition party members walked out of the chamber while Geingob's pre-recorded message, which was inaudible at times, was being played.

PDM leader McHenry Venaani also expressed disgust at the president's absence.

"What the president did is an act of cowardice for opting not to come to this house and act responsibly," he said.

Swapo MPs clapped loudly after Geingob's recorded message came to an end.

After the virtual opening, LPM parliamentarian Utaara Mootu said it was clear from Katjavivi's explanation that Geingob dodged parliament to avoid questions on the Fishrot scandal.

Mootu said Geingob has now created an "illusion that he is indeed involved in the Fishrot scandal and that he does not want to account [for it]".

"He is a runaway president. It shows that he doesn't want to talk about what the nation needs to know right now. The president is taking us for a joke . . . and we are not going to sit back and allow things to happen as they did. We will make sure the president is held to account," Mootu said.

PDM parliamentarian Inna Hengari said Geingob's virtual address yesterday was a clear indication that the executive does not have regard for the rules of the National Assembly.

She said the president has, as a result, lost the public's trust and that of the legislative arm of government.

"It was disrespectful for the president not to show up and to play a pre-recorded video. We will table a vote of no confidence in the speaker because he does not respect the rules of the house," she said.

NEFF MP Longinus Iipumbu was also not impressed with Geingob's absence.

Prime minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, however, defended the decision to allow the president to open the parliament virtually.

"I don't understand how we [MPs] can debate from three or two different places and don't see anything wrong with that but we see something wrong with the president opening parliament using a virtual platform. There is nothing illegal about that. There is nothing unbecoming about that," she said.

She said it was also not correct to assume that Geingob's absence meant he was running away from questions as he is "not obliged to take questions during the opening of parliament".

"It is only during the state of the nation address when the president is allowed to take questions, but even if the state of the nation address was to be held virtually, they were still going to be allowed to ask those questions virtually. We do hold international conferences virtually," she said.

VIRTUAL MESSAGE

During his virtual address, Geingob urged parliamentarians to conduct themselves inside and outside the parliament chamber with honesty and integrity.

"As lawmakers, you are representatives of the people and therefore you are held to very high standards. I say this to you with cognisance that this applies to representatives of all the organs of the state, including the executive, which I represent," he said.

The president emphasised the government's effort to address the negative effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the local economy.

He further called on MPs to respect the rules of the National Assembly during debates and that their conduct should not betray the public trust.

"You should aspire to set high standards of conduct by displaying exemplary behaviour, as well as setting goals which the people of this nation, especially the younger generation, can aspire to. Lively and intelligent debates are welcome, as these are signs of our vibrant and thriving democracy," he said.

The president further urged MPs to work in unison to ensure that the bills lined up for tabling during this session of the National Assembly are debated and passed.

This includes laws to punish gender-based violence perpetrators such as the combating of rape amendment bill and the combating of domestic violence amendment bill, which include appropriate penalties "that not only demonstrate that the government takes the offence of rape seriously, but also our resolve to deter offenders from committing these heinous crimes".

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