from AFRED SHILONGO in Windhoek, Namibia
WINDHOEK, (CAJ News) – THE prompt arrest and initial court appearance of some former government officials implicated in the so-called Fish-rot scandal, coinciding with the endorsement of incumbent President Hage Geingob and the South West Africa People’s Organisations (SWAPO), is a clear indication tackling corruption will be top of the agenda in the new five year term.
Six suspects, including two former cabinet ministers, have recently been arrested for their alleged involvement in the scandal that saw kickbacks of at least N$150 million (US$10 million) reportedly paid for the awarding of a contract to Iceland’s biggest fishing firm.
Former Minister of Justice, Sacky Shanghala, and the ex-Minister of Fisheries, Bernhard Esau, who resigned from their cabinet positions after the expose, have appeared in court alongside James Hatuikulipi who had resigned from his position as chairman of Fishcor.
The suspects appeared in the Windhoek Magistrate’s Court in the capital city where their case has been postponed to February 20.
“The prompt arrest of the suspects and their appearance in court is the first crack of the whip against corruption by the incoming government,” said analyst, Petrus Shihepu.
Neville Mandimika, Africa Analyst in the Global Markets division of the Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) noted the scandal could partly be to blame for the ruling party losing its two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.
He highlighted that the decrease in popularity for SWAPO could also partly be attributed to the ailing economy that has been ravaged by Namibia’s worst-ever drought that led to a three-year recession.
“In addition, the recent fishing scandal would have taken the shine of the ruling party,” Mandimika said.
Thus a grueling task lies ahead of Geingob and SWAPO, in not only reviving the country’s prospects but also addressing an apparent decline in fortunes for the ruling party.
While arresting the economic decline and inequality, the fact that the incumbent and one of Africa’s longest-ruling parties saw its two-thirds majority broken, suggests SWAPO has its work cut out for it in revitalising its decades-long dominance of the political landscape.
The emergence of the upsetting corruption scandal implicating some then-cabinet ministers ahead of the election is an indication that tackling graft would feature prominently in Geingob’s new five-year term.
Geingob, at the helm since 2014, has secured a new mandate after receiving 56 percent of the votes, ahead of fellow party member, Panduleni Itula (29 percent), who ran as an independent.
The ruling party, in power since independence in 1990, now occupies 63 of the 96 parliamentary seats, while the official opposition, Popular Democratic Movement (PDM), now has 16 seats, up from five in the 2014 election.
In 2014, Geingob, cruised to 86,74 percent for his first term while his party secured 80 percent.
Mandimika noted the two-thirds majority had always been vital in terms of policy formulation and execution.
The analyst highlighted that the decrease in popularity for the ruling party could partly be attributed to the ailing economy that has been ravaged by Namibia’s worst-ever drought that led to a three-year recession.
Shihepu attributed the decline in Geingob’s victory margin to the fact that Itula’s participation split the vote.
“As such, the president has to ensure he addresses the factionalism within the ruling party. It remains to be seen if he (President Geingob) and Itula can reach out to each other and help heal the divisions and take SWAPO forward.
That seems unlikely for now with Itula running a vilification campaign against the party in social media.
Following his re-election, Gaingob thanked Namibians for the endorsement.
“I am humbled and commit to serve the Namibian nation with more passion and utmost dedication, to bring tangible improvements in the lives of our citizens. I have heard you (citizens),” he said.
His re-election comes at a time the Southern African country is going through an economic decline.
The economy, beset by unemployment of over 33 percent, is projected to weaken for a third consecutive year.
This attributed to drought and dwindling prices of diamonds and uranium in the export markets. Namibia is enduring its worst drought in close to a century with some 300 000 people facing food insecurity.
Inequality, with Namibia’s Gini coefficient put at 74.3, is also concerning. The index is often used as a gauge of economic inequality. A coefficient of zero indicates a perfectly equal distribution of income or wealth.
Namibia is also beset by disease outbreaks, including Hepatitis E virus outbreak which has claimed 56 lives in recent months.
– CAJ News