In Namibia, three words top the discourse of how governance plays out: corruption and political interference. Both remain denied by those who practice them, that is very sad for governance. Nobody is punitively held liable, and nothing will change for the better. What a sad state! Honest Namibians do not care with the jailing of those who commit petty crimes of corruption when those who milk government institutions walk free or remain in their paid jobs, just because they benefit from the abuse of political power. Is political power a licence to be corrupt in Namibia?
Little attention has been paid to exactly how elected politicians must conduct themselves in the affairs of discharging public administration in Namibia. Before this article goes any further, I wish to remind the reader that power belongs to the people, not the few politicians – the Constitution of Namibia is clear on this. To exercise the power, the citizenry need to quickly unite over common issues that affect them. This article examines the governance of public enterprises in Namibia.
Public enterprises, some of which become registered as companies under the Companies Act, are generally created by their own statutes. Several state-owned companies do not have an enabling law, but are directly incorporated under the Companies Act, with the State being the majority or sole shareholder.
To understand how public enterprises work, one would not limit their search at an enabling law, the Public Enterprises Governance Act or the Companies Act. The Constitution is the supreme law which binds all laws in Namibia. For this reason, what it provides in relation to public enterprises is critical to their governance. Generally, shareholder ministers of public enterprises serve in Cabinet, while part of their duties in relation to public enterprises is laid out in Article 40 (a), which states:
“to direct, co-ordinate and supervise the activities of Ministries and Government departments, including parastatal enterprises, and to review and advise the President and the National Assembly on the desirability and wisdom of any prevailing subordinate legislation, regulations or orders pertaining to such parastatal enterprises, regard being had to the public interest”.
Arguably, members of Cabinet are politicians, mainly drawn from the ruling party of the day. When serving in Cabinet, their duties arise from the Constitution for which they have all taken an oath.
Some Cabinet ministers are shareholders in various public enterprises. Their involvement in those public enterprises must, as the Constitution states, be in the public interest. If in Namibia politicians have been allowed to come into the affairs of public enterprises and turn their governance upside down, then someone in the affected public enterprises, or even the general public, should stand up to demand good governance.
What the Constitution and enabling laws, including the Companies Act, determine is that there is no room for political interference. Public enterprises are not political parties’ institutions; they are not a theatre for politicians. When elected politicians are in office, they need to forsake self-interest and embrace the good corporate governance of public entities under their watch.
I, therefore, do not understand how political interference becomes a concern in Namibia if a board of directors knows its job. If a board of directors in a public enterprise is arm-twisted to align with a political or other ulterior interest contrary to what the public enterprise was established for, or which will not add value to the public enterprise, why should a board of directors bend? The only way political interference will stop in public enterprises in Namibia is when the appointment of directors is on merit, and not the rampant cherry-picking under the guise of a hollow advertisement.
Namibia needs board members of strong character, and not errands’ boys and girls. A suspicion looms that there are compromises in the appointment of board directors of public enterprises in Namibia. This is established when public enterprises collapse, or when grandscale corruption or other forms of poor governance manifest, and nobody is taken to task decisively.
The compromises affect how the board of directors discharge their governance duties as they owe it to those who, without merit and transparency, appointed them, clearly against the Constitution and all relevant laws. Boards of directors must govern the affairs of public enterprises as the Constitution says, in the public interest. To achieve this, all decisions made must be uncompromised and of great value to the public enterprise.
Namibians forget to talk one word: Compromise. If political interference is to stop and good governance to thrive, all involved must stop being compromised. For the governance of public enterprises to work, Namibia needs shareholder ministers who leave politics and self-interest outside public enterprises, and whose sole interest is the success of the public enterprises, always in the public interest.
Importantly, governance will only improve when kingpins are jailed and made to pay for the poor governance of public enterprises which they caused. Does Namibia have the kind of leadership that is uncompromised which can cause greater efficiency and accountability in public enterprises? Cabinet cannot say the governance of public enterprises is excellent, if one thinks of the RCC, NBC, Fishcor, Air Namibia and many others to follow soon.
Good governance must never give way to political interference.