Questions of polygamy, bigamy trip up law on package for presidents

Questions of polygamy, bigamy trip up law on package for presidents

LEGAL technicalities yesterday stalled the passing of a law that would entitle President Sam Nujoma and future former presidents to a retirement package.

The Congress of Democrats’ Nora Schimming-Chase set the cat among the pigeons in the National Assembly during the final consideration of the very first clause of the bill. If the president had more than one wife, she asked, would they all be entitled to a share of the former president’s pension upon his death.This question sparked a heated debate lasting more than an hour.Attorney General Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana argued throughout that the provision was unconstitutional because, in her opinion, it went against the rights of equality.The Former Presidents’ Pension and other Benefits Fund Bill states that upon the death of a former president “his or her surviving spouse” will be paid a monthly pension equal to 75 per cent of the pension that would be payable to the former president.Minister without Portfolio Ngarikutuke Tjiriange said it was “a reality” in Namibia that many men had more than one wife and that it was quite possible that a future president could too.The Attorney General did not take kindly to this remark.”If we have a person who occupies a very important position in society obviously the number one person in our society should uphold the number one law in our country [the Constitution].If [he or she] is living in contradiction with the Constitution, then we are sitting with a problem,” she said.She was supported by Health Minister Libertina Amathila who said that bigamy was punishable by law.”If you have two wives, we are not going to allow you to be come president,” she chastised male MPs.But Justice Minister Albert Kawana told the pair that in terms of the Constitution customary law had to be recognised unless it contravened any of the country’s other laws.Speaking as the trustee of the Political Office Bearers’ Pension Fund, Minister of Agriculture, Water and Rural Development Helmut Angula said that the pensions of political office bearers were divided equally in cases where there was more than one surviving spouse and that the fund was known to have paid as many as seven wives of a political office bearer – whom he did not name.Amathila vehemently refused to accept that there had been such a case.”Many are pretending here like white fellows of England,” Angula said, maintaining that polygamy was common in Namibia.Deputy Finance Minister Clara Bohitile questioned whether the issue of equality would still arise if women married more than one man.”Of course you can do it …if you are brave enough,” retorted Angula.Iivula-Ithana requested that the clause be deferred until such time as a suitable definition of spouse was drafted.But she was shot down by Mines Minister Nickey Iyambo and Tjiriange who said that the Attorney General had had ample time to peruse the bill before certifying it for tabling in Parliament.In his final remarks on the issue, Kawana said that the provision met the “letter and spirit of the Constitution” and that both customary and civil marriages were recognised in law.He confirmed that in the case of a former president having more than one wife, they would be paid in equal shares.Schimming-Chase requested that the House record the divergent views on the issue.Once the dust had settled on that issue, MAG’s Kosie Pretorius picked up on an earlier issue he had raised – the legality of the president’s salary.He persisted that increases in the President’s pay had not been authorised by parliament in accordance with his interpretation of the country’s laws.Information Minister Nangolo Mbumba disputed his argument.He maintained that it was adequate that salaries were approved through the national Budget which was also an act of parliament.Today will be the last day for the House to pass the bill before it goes into recess.If it is not passed today, the bill will have to be re-introduced during the next session.If the president had more than one wife, she asked, would they all be entitled to a share of the former president’s pension upon his death.This question sparked a heated debate lasting more than an hour.Attorney General Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana argued throughout that the provision was unconstitutional because, in her opinion, it went against the rights of equality.The Former Presidents’ Pension and other Benefits Fund Bill states that upon the death of a former president “his or her surviving spouse” will be paid a monthly pension equal to 75 per cent of the pension that would be payable to the former president.Minister without Portfolio Ngarikutuke Tjiriange said it was “a reality” in Namibia that many men had more than one wife and that it was quite possible that a future president could too.The Attorney General did not take kindly to this remark.”If we have a person who occupies a very important position in society obviously the number one person in our society should uphold the number one law in our country [the Constitution].If [he or she] is living in contradiction with the Constitution, then we are sitting with a problem,” she said.She was supported by Health Minister Libertina Amathila who said that bigamy was punishable by law.”If you have two wives, we are not going to allow you to be come president,” she chastised male MPs.But Justice Minister Albert Kawana told the pair that in terms of the Constitution customary law had to be recognised unless it contravened any of the country’s other laws.Speaking as the trustee of the Political Office Bearers’ Pension Fund, Minister of Agriculture, Water and Rural Development Helmut Angula said that the pensions of political office bearers were divided equally in cases where there was more than one surviving spouse and that the fund was known to have paid as many as seven wives of a political office bearer – whom he did not name.Amathila vehemently refused to accept that there had been such a case.”Many are pretending here like white fellows of England,” Angula said, maintaining that polygamy was common in Namibia.Deputy Finance Minister Clara Bohitile questioned whether the issue of equality would still arise if women married more than one man.”Of course you can do it …if you are brave enough,” retorted Angula.Iivula-Ithana requested that the clause be deferred until such time as a suitable definition of spouse was drafted.But she was shot down by Mines Minister Nickey Iyambo and Tjiriange who said that the Attorney General had had ample time to peruse the bill before certifying it for tabling in Parliament.In his final remarks on the issue, Kawana said that the provision met the “letter and spirit of the Constitution” and that both customary and civil marriages were recognised in law.He confirmed that in the case of a former president having more than one wife, they would be paid in equal shares.Schimming-Chase requested that the House record the divergent views on the issue.Once the dust had settled on that issue, MAG’s Kosie Pretorius picked up on an earlier issue he had raised – the legality of the president’s salary.He persisted that increases in the President’s pay had not been authorised by parliament in accordance with his interpretation of the country’s laws.Information Minister Nangolo Mbumba disputed his argument.He maintained that it was adequate that salaries were approved through the national Budget which was also an act of parliament.Today will be the last day for the House to pass the bill before it goes into recess.If it is not passed today, the bill will have to be re-introduced during the next session.

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