‘Wink, wink, don’t worry…’ That is the signal Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) director general Paulus Noa has sent to higher education minister Itah Kandjii-Murangi, politicians and bureaucrats over what he declared as unethical conduct tantamount to corruption.
For an organisation that treats too many cases involving top officials with kid gloves, the ACC probably believes it acted decisively by ordering Kandjii-Murangi to pay back N$69 000 of N$952 000 obtained in questionable subsistence and travel (S&T) allowances.
Noa seems convinced that telling higher education executive director Alfred van Kent he “is seriously warned against” repeating practices that create “a fertile ground for corruption” is sufficient sanction and deterrence.
Far from it. It is simply another missed opportunity for the ACC to send a clear signal that unethical conduct and corruption will not be tolerated.
Instead, Noa and his team have been lenient after finding that Kandjii-Murangi unethically raided public entities under her authority for S&T allowances.
Kandjii-Murangi dubiously got close to N$1 million from the Namibia Training Authority (NTA) and the Namibia University of Science and Technology (Nust) in S&Ts in the space of three months from May to August 2022.
The ACC said “the practice is not only ethically wrong, but also creates fertile ground for corruption”.
The N$69 000 that Noa and the ACC ordered Kandjii-Murangi to repay appears to be an amount that was anyway overpaid and which should have been refunded whether there was unethical behaviour or not. Ordering a refund of money she should not have taken is neither a sanction nor a deterrent.
The ACC completely failed to take action against the minister and Van Kent, who was accused of putting pressure on managers at institutions that fall under her ministry to divert money from their operations to feed Kandjii-Murangi’s jet-setting lifestyle.
S&T allowances have become a source of abuse at tax-funded institutions to the extent that officials even get the money in instances where their travel costs are fully covered.
The Namibian has been criticised for its reporting of president Hage Geingob raking in as much as N$3 million a year in S&T allowances, despite 100% of the president’s living expenses being paid for by the state.
S&Ts are no longer used to pay for incidentals and enable officials to do their work, but are seen as an entitlement to augment public officials’ income, pay off housing loans and buy luxury goods.
In fact, talkshops are engineered at far-away places at most state entities by employees who treat S&Ts as a secondary source of income. This leads to core work being neglected in favour of jaunts.
In some institutions, reports are rife that officials fight over foreign trips compared to work within Namibia where S&Ts are not in foreign currency.
Fishrot accused former fisheries minister Bernhard Esau last year told the courts that S&T allowances were his most lucrative source of income, enabling him to live a plush lifestyle that his more than N$1 million salary doesn’t ‘afford’.
A yet to be quantified cost is how much government and parastatals lose in productive hours when officials undertake frivolous trips. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Namibia Investment Promotion and Development Board (NIPDB) had officials stay in Dubai attending virtual meetings from hotel rooms and then flying back home.
If the ACC and institutions like the Office of the Auditor General are serious about stamping out “a fertile ground for corruption”, they must undertake a comprehensive review of S&T allowances and the overall travelling habits of public officials, especially outrageous cases such as that of Kandjii-Murangi.
They should then report their findings to parliament and ensure that the loopholes are closed. They should also use their extensive powers to mete out preventive sanctions.
It is not enough to simply issue oxymoronic verbal-written warnings.
Without doing that, the ACC is either pathetically incompetent, or it is woefully complicit in laying the ground for corruption to flourish in Namibia.
Small wonder Namibia remains stagnant in the class of corrupt nations on the Transparency International’ Corruption Perception Index.
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