Dr Abisai Shejavali wrote an Open Letter to me as the Speaker of the National Assembly. This letter was published in the New Era newspaper of 27 July 2018. It covered a broad array of issues, several of which do not necessarily fall under the mandate of Parliament. I now hereby take the opportunity to reply to my good friend’s Open Letter, by identifying the key issues he raised as follows.
Issue: The amendment of the Constitution to allow the President to appoint Ministers from beyond the cohort of parliamentarians, and that the individuals so nominated should be subject to screening and approval by parliamentary committees. Ministers are Members of Parliament and therefore it is difficult for Parliament to hold them to account.
Response: The parliamentary system of Namibia is based on our Constitution. This already gives powers to the President to appoint eight MPs in addition to the MPs that have come into the House through elections. The President can appoint such MPs to the National Assembly and make them Ministers.
This enables him/her to bring in people with appropriate knowledge and skills to fill certain positions. It is not desirable for the President to be able to appoint all Ministers because this would undermine the existing balance between the three Organs of State – namely the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. Power would be concentrated in the Executive. At present, Ministers and Deputy Ministers are held to account by the Executive through Performance Agreements and evaluations with the Appointing Authority, which have been introduced by President [Hage] Geingob.
Furthermore, through Parliamentary Oversight and Parliamentary Committee Outreach exercises, the Parliamentary system is able to hold to account Ministers and Deputy Ministers, and their offices, ministries and agencies. The Public Accounts Committee and the Auditor General play crucial roles in this. Therefore it is not accurate to suggest that Ministers are not held to account simply because they are Members of Parliament.
Issue: Proportional representation that allows Members of the National Assembly to come to Parliament on the political party ticket rather than representing a geographical constituency does not allow for proper popular representation.
Response: The origin of the system currently serving this country is based on the Constitution. It was chosen within the framework of implementation of UN Resolution 435 in the lead up to the November 1989 elections because it was felt that this system was less likely to be manipulated by the then South African regime. It was also not possible to demarcate the country into constituencies within the UNTAG timeframe. The Constituent Assembly decided to retain this system of proportional representation to allow a broad Namibian representation in the National Assembly. The National Council, which came later, does have constituency based representation.
This system has served the country well, and parties that gain a smaller number of votes are able to have MPs in the National Assembly, which they might not have if they were subject to a first-past-the-post constituency based system. If there is need for a change, then a debate and referendum could be held on the matter.
Issue: Parliament needs to consider grassroots perspectives.
Response: The Parliament is ready to engage citizens, whether youth, women, different communities, and civil society, to deal with issues of particular importance to them. We already have a Children’s Parliament to involve young people in parliamentary processes. The National Assembly has the following Parliamentary Committees: Economics and Public Administration; Public Accounts; Constitutional and Legal Affairs; Defence and Foreign Affairs; Natural Resources; Human Resources and Community Development; Gender Equality, Social Development and Family Affairs; Information Communication Technology.
These Committees consult, carry out hearings, and undertake outreach missions in order to ascertain the views of our citizens on various matters that affect them. This system enables citizens and NGOs to interact with Parliament. A major initiative to support Parliamentary interaction with civil society will commence before the end of 2018.
Issue: The enactment of a law to introduce a universal health care system to cover all citizens.
Response: This is a valid point, and the Minister of Health and Social Services has himself spoken in favour of such a system. It is the mandate of that Ministry to explore the possibilities of introducing such a system, and submit a Bill to Parliament.
Issue: The exploitation of our natural resources by multinational companies with very little value addition and at the expense of our citizens.
Response: This has been raised by Government and Opposition MPs in and outside Parliament. The Government is indeed already trying to encourage and promote value addition to our natural resources through the ‘Growth-at-Home’ strategy and various other interventions. The Ministry of Mines and Energy is fully aware of the need for value addition and the Minister has spoken at length about the subject matter. It is encouraging to see that our universities have trained a growing number of graduates with high-level professional skills in the mining and engineering fields. We need to extend this to other fields, such as fisheries, etc. to improve our ability to manage our natural resources.
Issue: We have a liberal Constitution that is highly praised internationally, but issues of social injustice continue to be serious challenges, e.g. the gap between the rich and the poor and the lack of access to land by the poor.
Response: Yes, we have a democratic Constitution but as the President has said, you cannot eat democracy. The Harambee Plan introduced by President Geingob sets out a detailed programme to address social and economic inequality. The establishment of the Ministry of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare is a step in the right direction. The gap between the rich and the poor concerns all the three Organs of the State, and each Organ handles specific facets of the solution to this challenge. On the land question, the Government will host the Second Land Conference in the first week of October this year, with the specific objective of examining issues of land reform and addressing the challenges that will be identified. The outcomes of the conference will no doubt be presented to Parliament for possible implementation.
Issue: The legalisation and legitimisation of traditional authorities by Government contributes to ethnic divisions.
Response: We need to acknowledge that the question of ethnicity in Namibia is a reality and not a creation of the Government of the day. The Government is trying to empower our various communities to play a constructive role in the development of the country, and to bring traditional leaders into that process. The Council of Traditional Leaders is there to advise the Government on matters pertaining to their respective communities, within the framework of One Namibia, One Nation.
Through this summary, I hope I have covered most of the issues raised by Dr Shejavali. No doubt we can continue to exchange views on these important matters.