NC spends big on US tripBy: TILENI MONGUDHI
THE National Council recently spent close to N$400 000 in travel allowances alone on a 16-day trip to the United States of America that the second House of Parliament had no business in, sources involved with the trip told The Namibian.
This is the latest in a string of accusations that the NC, especially its vice chairperson Magreth Mensah-Williams, has a penchant for travelling abroad, often wasting state resources on unnecessary trips, just so the officials can claim hefty subsistence and travel (S&T) allowances. Mensah-Williams said the claim was not true.
The latest trip of a seven-member delegation for more than two weeks to the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York was at a cost of N$372 829 and allegations are that there was no invitation to attend the conference. The National Council insisted on going anyway.
The National Council is accused of organising an one-day ‘side event’ on domestic violence on March 6.
The event lasted for less than two hours and the National Council paid for the venue and equipment rented for the event.
The leader of the delegation, Mensah-Williams, said they were invited by the Inter Parliamentray Union (IPU), who also initiated the rural women’s parliament.
The Namibian understands that the NC was advised not to attend by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, since Namibia stopped being a member of the commission in February 2011.
The delegation left Namibia on March 1 and is expected back tomorrow. The delegation consists of a committee clerk, the National Council’s chief legal officer, two members of the National Council and two members of the National Council’s outreach programmes for rural women.
Intrestingly, Namibia’s Minister of Gender Equality, Rosalia Nghidinwa, was invited by the Zimbabwean government to co-host another event during the same conference, also on domestic violence but sanctioned by the UN, on March 5. Zimbabwe is a serving member of the commission. Sources said Nghidinwa’s trip to New York was justified.
The ministry sent a delegation of six people, including Nghidinwa, to New York, and four of the six stayed in New York for four days only, between March 4 and 8, because they understood that as non-serving members they had no reason to remain for the duration of the commission’s conference.
The conference of the UN Commission on the Status of Women started on March 4 and will end on Friday.
The secretary to the National Council, Panduleni Shimutwikeni, said in response to questions from The Namibian that “the National Council sent a delegation of three MPs accompanied by two support staff members.”
“We did not receive any communication from Foreign Affairs advising that the National Council should not attend the event after having requested their accreditation and visa application,” she said.
Mensah-Williams denied the allegations, stating that “all the information is wrong,” and that “somebody is trying to twist facts.” She said the Foreign Ministry never advised the NC but rather the Gender Ministry. She added that she was not in New York for leisure but for work by attending nine events during her stay. She said she chaired four meetings, made presentations and was part of panel discussions and that the two Namibian representatives of the rural women also made presentations which were impressive.
Foreign Affairs Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah said she saw nothing wrong with the trip and that she was the one who signed off the delegation’s credentials to the UN. She also added that it was not the first time that a delegation of parliamentarians had attended the commission’s session.
Sources from Foreign Affairs told The Namibian that Nandi-Ndaitwah told her officials that she would not prevent Mensah-Williams and her delegations from travelling to New York because they would “market Namibia” internationally.
According to government S&T guidelines, a trip to New York, including accommodation, meals and incidental expenses, would cost government US$777 per day for someone on the same level as Mensah-Williams, and US$579 a day for each of the MPs.
A chief legal officer would receive US$416 a day in New York, while a committee clerk would be entitled to a daily allowance of US$347 in New York. All of the above figures add up to US$40 470, or about N$372 829, and this does not include the delegates’ air fare.
The National Council’s S&T budget last year was estimated at N$11,9 million and this year it is expected to increase to N$12,4 million. In 2009 it was N$9 million, N$10,4 million in 2010 and N$ 11,4 million in 2011.