New Era journalist Kuzeeko Tjitemisa (KT) this week sat with the new defence minister Frans Kapofi (FK) to talk about his new role, political journey, and his ambitions to the country’s biggest office.
KT: Honourable Kapofi, thank you for giving us this rare opportunity, let me start by asking you in what state did you find the ministry, following your appointment last month considering that there were allegations of corruption at the ministry?
FK: Well, I found it solid, going around and about its business. Again, you don’t arrive in a building and start seeing corruption, you don’t see that, and these are things that I still have to see, these are things that I still have to investigate or to get to know.
I have heard about the alleged corrupt practices but as far as I am concerned, the ministry is solid, it’s going on and I have not seen anything that resembles corruption as alleged.
KT: The defence ministry and its subsidiary August 26 have been hogging the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Former minister Peter Vilho was mandated to reform August 26. Have you acquainted yourself with the operations of August 26 and what type of reforms are being undertaken?
FK: Firstly, I have just arrived, it takes a super person to get to know all those things instantly on arrival and you do not arrive at a place and start finding out what is there. You have to do that with the correct approach.
You do not want to come and show people that you came here with a specific agenda against them. You want to build bridges first, you want to make sure that people welcome you and they buy into the ideas that you came with.
The format you are coming with and the style of leadership that you are providing matter.
As for August 26, the investigation of the issues at August 26 is ongoing and I do not intend to interfere with the investigation.
KT: What plans do you have to make the business of August 26 and by extension the operations of the defence ministry more transparent?
FK: The defence ministry is a state institution like all the others and is accountable to the public and the sovereignty; therefore, it cannot be different from others.
We will be reporting just like everyone reports, there will be no exception but you must understand certain activities of the ministry cannot be revealed but will be provided on a need-to-know basis.
As far as accounting or all other things is concerned, such information will be provided to the public. Yes, why not…
KT: Former defence minister Peter Vilho had, among others, called for a forensic audit at the defence ministry, August 26 and the NDF. As the new minister, have you been ordered by the appointing authority to institute a forensic audit?
FK: Well, the minister made the call for the investigations, he knows the reasons why and I still have to set a meeting with him to know more as to why he called for the investigation.
But, I thought that was more because there were allegations of corruption in the ministry and he wanted in my view the investigation to find any wrongdoings on his part.
So far, my appointing authority has not given me the authority to institute such an investigation. Maybe the President [Hage Geingob] is still looking into that option of launching an investigation. If he [President Geingob] feels it necessary it’s fine, we will cross that bridge when we get there.
KT: As a military officer by training, how do you find your new role at the defence and veterans affairs ministry?
FK: I started here as the permanent secretary. I was tasked with setting up the ministry of defence and the Namibian Defence Force (NDF). I was at the helm of that with other colleagues.
I have done a 360 degree… I am quite excited that I came back to my roots, working with people with who we have a lot in common and I hope my stay here will be a success.
KT: You have been holding senior roles in government since independence. At 68, do you still think you have what it takes to continue serving the Namibian people?
FK: There is always an end to everything and when you are given a responsibility by your country to do certain things, it is not necessary always whether you want it or not, if I thought I didn’t have the energy, I would have told the appointing authority.
I think I have the energy to carry on with my current responsibility. The energy I had in 199o is not the same I have now but what I have gained is knowledge.
I have become wiser as compared to when I was younger in 1990.
KT: You have served all three presidents of the republic, including your stint as Cabinet secretary between 1999-2015. Do you think the Swapo-led government has built robust governance over the years?
FK: The systems that we have now never existed in Namibia at independence. We experimented with the system of running a country. The system that has checks and balances, a system that has the division of responsibilities, the three tiers of state governance. It was an experience and it is there for everyone to see.
Like the President [Geingob] always says, the Namibia of 1989 and the Namibia of today are miles apart, and it could not have happened had it not been for the robust system put by Swapo.
It was through Swapo and its policies that the country created universities. Today we have two state universities with campuses everywhere and a private university with campuses in some parts of the country.
If you look at the environment now, you will see the mushrooming of private hospitals, state of the art, if people or companies did not have confidence in the administration of the country, you wouldn’t have seen them investing their money in a failed nation but now that you see them investing is a sign that the country is headed into the right direction.
Running a country is not easy my friend, to run state affairs needs a lot, it is a difficult undertaking, you have people with different expectations.
KT: Do you think demands by the recognised war veterans to serve on government boards are justified?
FK: You don’t go on boards because of your social status, you go to the boards because of the skills you possess.
But if a veteran has the ability and the capacity to be appointed to the board be it public or private, why not? But surely, you cannot be called because you are a veteran. After all, people there might be discussing things such as putting numbers together and you may not have had the opportunity in your career to acquaint yourself with numbers. If you can, yes why not but you can’t demand.
I have not seen the veterans’ demands but if they are demanding which boards do they want to be appointed to? I had a meeting with them but they said nothing in that regard.
KT: Some Swapo insiders believe you are being lined up for a senior role in the ruling party, ahead of the next elective congress. Do you have political ambitions?
FK: No, I don’t. I have not heard of that, this is the first time I am hearing, and I am hearing it from you. Who are these senior people inside Swapo that had said so that are telling journalists but are not talking to me? None of them has come to me.
But, you must know that Swapo has structures, laws and there are processes and procedures for how a person is selected to become a leader. There are party organs, party bodies, like the political bureau, central committee and there are leaders there and I am not a member of any of those structures.
How come I must be considered outside those leaders who are already in these structures?
Why me? No…why me? I don’t have the ambition, I don’t intend to raise such kind ambitions, and I am satisfied with what I am doing. The honour that I have been given since the country’s independence is more than enough for me.
I have been given a lot of responsibilities over the years. I am grateful for my party, my leaders who have given me those responsibilities. I am sorry if I have failed them in any way but I think I have done what was expected from me and I continue to excel where I can.
Laughs… On the subject that you are referring to, sorry, I am not available.
KT: If your comrades in Swapo asked you today to stand as the party vice-president or president in the upcoming Swapo congress will you accept?
FK: No one can do that. How can they do that, somebody cannot just stand up and say Kapofi stand as vice-president or president, there are procedures and processes, there are already people in the leadership of the party they can take one of them. How do I overshadow people who have been there that are already prepared for leadership? No, not Kapofi. The political bureau is the training ground for a serious leadership position and I am not there. Kapofi is not there.
KT: It appears you are very close to President Geingob and appears to be one of his trusted lieutenants. Do you consider yourself a worthy candidate for some of the top positions in both the ruling party and government?
FK: You see you are referring to me as being close to President Hage Geingob. You said I have served others. I was equally close to them. It’s not that there is a special relationship between me and Geingob.
The relationship that we have is just like the relationship I had with Founding Father, President Sam Nujoma who appointed me in all my careers up to the position of Cabinet secretary.
As you know, I was prepared by Nujoma and his other Swapo leaders in exile and when I came here, the same trust was bestowed on me by Nujoma and other leaders of government and President Hifikepunye Pohamba continued with me, so did President Geingob. President Geingob has just taken me as the other cadres of the party not necessarily because there is a special relationship between us.
All ministers and cadres of Swapo should have close linkages with their leaders. I don’t think I am the only one who has a good relationship with my leaders. I don’t deny that I have access to President Geingob. I see him upon request, in my portfolio, and my private capacity. I have access to all my leaders in government and Swapo.
KT: Many young people are calling on Swapo to consider nominating younger candidates for top positions. What is your take on this?
FK: There is nothing wrong with that but as a son, you never want to take over the responsibilities of your father. The youngsters have to show leadership qualities, they are there, they are being prepared.
Being a leader comes automatically, if you look today in the National Assembly and in parliament, you will see a lot of young people. If you look in various government positions, you will see young people, we have young deputy ministers, governors, etc.
KT: Any parting thoughts?
FK: Not necessarily, I want to thank you.