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On The Spot: New Ombudsman: Ready for action

2021-10-15  Maria Amakali

On The Spot: New Ombudsman: Ready for action
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Newly appointed Ombudsman Basilius Dyakugha sat down with New Era’s journalist Maria Amakali to shed light on his journey and plans for his new role. 

 

MA: Not much is known about you. Briefly, tell us who is Basilius Dyakugha.

BD: I am known by those close to me as Basi or Mr B and now as Ombudsman. 

I hold a Diploma in Human Resources from the University of Science and Technology (NUST). Back then it was just an academy before it turned into a technikon. I then went on to work as an HR officer within the ministry of education. 

But as you know, that period was a time of activism in the country. So, during my time as a student, I was also a student activist with Nanso and when I started working, I became a trade unionist. Probably this is what made people think that I qualified to be in politics. So, when the first regional council’s elections came in Namibia in 1992, I was then approached to stand as a councillor for Mukwe constituency. I accepted the invitation and I participated in the elections. I would admit it was a tough one, because, during the time, most people were still supporting the previous regime. But we prevailed and won the elections.

I became a councillor at the age of 28 and served the community for six years. During that journey of being a politician, I realised that politics was probably not the best for me at the time and I made a decision that the moment my term come to an end, I would go back to school and study law.

I left active politics in 1998 and enrolled at the University of Namibia (Unam) in 1999. 

I did not lose elections, I decided to step away for someone else to take over. Founding President Sam Nujoma and then Swapo’s secretary general Nghifikepunye Pohamba tried to convince me to stay but I ended up convincing them on why I wanted to step away. 

When I finished my studies, I went straight into the profession, did my articles and was admitted as a legal practitioner in 2007. 

I stayed in private practice for four years and then joined the Ministry of Justice within the Directorate of Legal Services and International Corporation. The directorate has since changed its name to Legal Services. 

I was later moved to the Directorate of Human Rights. I was then tasked to draft state reports on human rights issues to the treaty bodies, African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. I would also attend Red Cross meetings on International Humanitarian Law. 

During my stay at the justice ministry at that division, I had an opportunity to travel the world and got exposed. Locally, I was also exposed to work with this very office and other NGOs on human rights issues. So, I would say human rights issues is one of my strengths and area of expertise. My work further extended to my role as a chief legal officer attached to the Law Reform and Development Commission.

 

MA: With your vast experience, what can the public expect from you during your tenure as Ombudsman?

BD: This office has been here for the past 31 years, and the foundation has been laid. We are just going to pick up from there and make some necessary improvements. If you look at the area of public service like the provisions of government services to the public, is really concentrated to the communities that are having a culture of complaining but other communities such as the marginalised communities do not have that culture. These communities are shy and doubtful that if they complain, something will be done. I would like this office to focus on them. So, I would need to have a focal desk specifically dealing with the marginalised communities. This desk will engage the community so that we are well equipped when we approach government with their plight. 

Right now, there are very few people from the marginalised communities who have national identity documents. This puts them at a disadvantage because they are unable to receive benefits from government. 

I would also be focusing on environmental issues. Similarly, I would also like a focal desk for environmental issues. Remember that our mandate is to receive complaints but we can also follow up on concerns. I want to focus on the environment, as it is everything. This is because if your neighbourhood is not good, you will not enjoy your human rights. So, we intend on working with the line ministries and relevant NGOs on how best to protect Namibia’s environment.

 

MA: With all these ideas, how do you plan on garnering government’s support to bring them to fruition? 

BD: You must remember our key role or function is actually collaborative in nature and it is to assist the executive, which is the branch of government tasked to implement policies and to comply with the constitution in terms of good governance and enhance the rule of law and democracy. So, they must consider us as partners. They should not consider us as people who want to name, blame and shame them. But key partners who want to assist them in delivering good services to the Namibian people, because in the end, it is in their interest to buy in on our reports as in the end, they will get more votes if they do what we are recommending on their shortcomings and issues they have missed or have disregarded in terms of the law. 

 

MA: You said one of your priorities would be to focus on the marginalised communities, what is your take on the Amnesty International Report on how the San people are treated? 

BD: Honestly, I only perused that report, I did not have the chance to read it in detail. But, from our office as human rights defenders, when one reads something like that, you need to hear from the relevant ministry on whether there is any truth to these allegations. If it is as reported, then we have a huge problem and we would need them to correct it. But from looking at the report, probably some of the points raised need to be placed into context. But we would love the relevant ministry to respond to those allegations. 

 

MA: The issue of funding the office, has always been a bone of contention even with your predecessor, how would you ensure that your office is adequately funded so you may effectively carry out your mandate? 

BD: That is a very important question, but as you know, I have only been in the office for nearly two weeks. So, I have not really familiarised myself with how funding actually plays out to this office. So, it is something that I would have to familiarise myself with. From my experience, budgets work hand in hand with the planned programmes for the next financial year. 

As you know, funds are never enough. But we expect them to cover us on our usual programmes. So, we will see how it pans out as I have ideas on how they should allocate a budget to this office.

 

MA: The issue of funding also ties in the matter of marketing the work that the office does. How would you ensure the office stays relevant and visible to the public?

BD: There are two ways; through outreach programmes where the office would be going to regions without offices and engage the public. 

We will also be innovative and start using the media, for instance, I plan on having a newsletter online as printing cost will be an issue. So those are my plans, we need to have those arrangements in the office so we can make the office more visible to the public.

 

MA: Your predecessor was fighting for child-friendly jails, how would you ensure that goal is achieved? 

BD: The issue of children is more than that. That is just one area of concern. But it is clear in terms of Namibian laws and international law that children in detention should be incarcerated separately from adults. I also see children in the streets on a daily basis. One wonders where they are coming from and what is actually the problem and has the line ministry ran out of ideas on how to help these children? Those are also some areas of concern for me, so I will take it up with the line ministry to solve this problem. 

I think in the correctional facility, this issue is well managed because they have a section within the correctional facility where the minors are kept. So, our challenge is mainly with the holding cells.


2021-10-15  Maria Amakali

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