Namibia: Public Trust in State Institutions Key for Democracy and Development

15 October 2021
opinion

In 2017, Namibia acceded to become the 36th African Union member of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). The establishment of the APRM owed courtesy to the acknowledgement that the continent's failures can only be resolved by African countries through inclusive partnerships between governments, civil society formations and the private sector.

In a critical review released by the APRM in 2019, a recommendation was given in relation to the separation of power doctrine in Namibia. The report noted "the independence of checks and balances in institutions like the Ombudsman, Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the Office of the Auditor General should be strengthened by introducing multi-stakeholder selection panels and public interviews when appointing heads of such bodies".

There lies a public trust deficit aimed at almost all our check and balances' institutions in Namibia. In 2019, the Afrobarometer survey results showed that 54.1% of the Namibian population believed corruption had increased 'a lot', rendering the work of institutions like the ACC, Ombudsman and the Prosecutor General (PG) as incapable of executing their mandates effectively in the public eye. This is concerning, because public trust in institutions of the state is a tenet that every democracy ought to possess. In a paper published in 2016, Afrobarometer also notes that pubic trust in institutions of the state is key to good governance and effective development. Hence, for the state to facilitate holistic development across all spheres, it first and foremost has to earn the trust of its citizens in its own institutions.

There remains a need to renew and strengthen the relevant legislation that involves the appointment of heads of key checks and balances' institutions. For example, the Director General and Deputy Director General of the ACC are 'appointed' by the National Assembly, on recommendation of the head of state in terms of Article 94A (5) of the Namibian Constitution. The Ombudsman and the Prosecutor General are appointed by the head of state on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission in terms of Articles 90 (1) and 88 (1), respectively. The modus operandi for the appointment of the Auditor General is similar to that of the Ombudsman and PG in terms of Article 127 (1). This means that parliament has no meaningful say in the appointment of key institutions of state. Hence, it can be argued that all these key figures are all appointed by the executive realm of government.

It is because of this status quo that both public and political trust in these institutions has eroded. For example in 2017, PDM parliamentarian Nico Smit accused the ACC of being an institution that only targets "small fish", whereas those politically connected remain under investigation.

The recent appointment of Basilius Dyakugha as Ombudsman saw public outrage on social media, with the leader of the official opposition McHenry Venaani stating that Dyakugha's appointment demonstrates that "... merit is disregarded" in terms of the appointment of heads of these key institutions. This elucidates that it is imperative that when making the recommendation for the appointment of these institutions to the head of state, the process should be inclusive and allow for democratised recommendations at all material times.

Although arguable that public interviews are now in practice, there lies ignorance in the absence of multi-stakeholder selection panels, which can therefore be said to undermine the inclusive process in appointing heads of these bodies.

Be that as it may, the work of institutions such as the ACC, Ombudsman and the PG should always be held in the highest regard, primarily because they deal with checks and balances that uphold the essence of our democracy. It is, therefore, important to amend articles 88 (1) 94A (5), 90 (1) and 127 (1) in order to allow parliament, through a standing public office appointment committee, to holistically participate in the process of selecting candidates for heads of key institutions such as the ACC, Ombudsman, PG and Auditor General, rather than being used as a rubber-stamp instrument.

We learn from Malawi that the establishment of a public office appointment committee is a necessary catalyst in ensuring participatory and inclusive democracy.

It can further be aided by the participation of the relevant commissions such as the Public Service Commission and the Judicial Service Commission. This would then be followed by a collective recommendation by parliament to the President for the appointment. Through this modus operandi, we should be able to boost public confidence in our institutions, which will then translate to tangible development across the board.

*Alpha Uzera is the chairperson of the PDMYL Khomas region. Maximalliant Katjimune is the national spokesperson of the PDMYL. They are scholars of political science and sociology.

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