Anti-Corruption Commission – Is It the Car or the Driver?

WHEN one reads screaming headlines like “Nghimtina under probe”, then one thinks the ACC is up to its mission.

But like in so many other cases they suddenly go cold. Are we losing the fight against corruption then? If the answer is yes, what is the problem?

The recurrent criticism of the ACC is that it has hopelessly failed to deal with high profile cases, giving the impression (perhaps wrongly) that the director and the deputy have feet of clay.

The simple question is: do we have the necessary and sufficient structures in place to fight corruption in Namibia? But why ask the question, some might wonder, since we already have a statutory body created by an act of parliament to do precisely that. Yes, we do but was the commission properly configured? Is it built on a solid foundation? I’m not a structuralist but in this case I have to make use of its principles to argue that the commission was from the outset not properly structured. Yes, we created a commission but then we forgot to appoint the commissioners.

It is thus a commission without commissioners. Instead we appointed a director and a deputy as if we were setting up a directorate. And this is where the problems started – it was a design flaw. Some might even say: plus the driver’s error. I recall that the initial reaction, reservation and perhaps skepticism about the appointment of Paulus Noa and his deputy, Erna van der Merwe, was that the two were neither high-profile figures nor known anti-corruption fighters.

But, of course, the selection panel and later the authority felt that these were the best candidates to run the daunting task of the commission. It must have been a job that no one was particularly interested in.

In some countries high-profile jobs like this one require that those who apply must reveal their credentials for public scrutiny – but not so in our case. Don’t get me wrong here. I’m by no means questioning the qualifications of the two directors as lawyers.

The point I’m raising is that this body is in need of redefinition and reconfiguration if we are serious about fighting corruption in this country. The unfortunate thing is that no one thought about (fighting) corruption for the good part of our existence as an independent nation.

Commissions of inquiry were set up to probe corrupt cases in government and the parastatals but not much came out of those. This meant that for a good 15 years Namibia was a ‘corruption paradise’ – creating a few instant millionaires while the ‘wretched of the earth’ looked on in bewilderment.

As it is now, corruption in Namibia reminds one of an Indian folk tale about the four blind men who are led to an elephant. Each of them is positioned at a different part of the animal. One feels the elephant leg, the other the tail, the third an ear and the last one the body. And as a result of their tactile encounter each in turn describes what he has felt as a log, a rope, a fern and a wall.

Corruption in Namibia is like that elephant – it has taken root and spread its tentacles rather widely and I don’t think that one person and his deputy would be able to figure out what this animal really is.

Well, some might argue that the commission has a number of investigators (drawn mainly from former police officers) and other support staff. That’s fine.

Some people have, however, questioned the competence of the investigators given the lacklustre performance of many officers in the Namibian Police Force even in dealing with the most mundane cases. The issue here is that the support staff has to report their findings to someone. That person is, of course, the director and the deputy who in turn have to make the final decision. And this is where the question of perception and interest comes in.

I personally think that the appointment of two lawyers to lead the commission was an ill-thought and shortsighted move that is now in need of immediate review and rectification. This is not just a legal issue. In fact, I have never come across a textbook on law dealing comprehensively with corruption as they do in political science for example. Corruption affects the whole of social, economic and political life thus calling for a more nuanced approach to eradicate it.

Thus, we need a team of commissioners drawn from a plethora of disciplines and, yes, from a broad section of our population to reflect the diversity of our society. Such a commission would ideally have a rotating chairperson in order to avoid building a hierarchical structure. There is always a danger in vesting the power of such a commission in one person because he or she can easily override decisions taken at the lower level. Yet another problem with the current set-up is that the director has his own perception and world view and thus his definition of what constitute corruption. It’s time we revisit this institution.

Source : The Namibian