While Namibia has continued to rank very low on the corruption perception index, the director general of the Anti-Corruption Commission Paulus Noa has been globetrotting.
Documents seen by The Villager show that from 2014 to 2016, Noa, who sits on the African Union Advisory Board on Corruption, has spent 304 days globetrotting and spent hundreds of thousands in allowances.
Noa’s globetrotting happened when the government had ordered departments and ministries to tone down on international trips.
In 2014, the documents show that Noa spent 119 days that is slightly more than three months out of office, while in 2015, he spent 121 days away (about four months). In 2016, Noa was away for 64 days (two months).
The globetrotting also happened when most of his staff says that they are frustrated with the manner Noa was running the commission.
The complaints against Noa go back to 2015 when, according to document in the possession of The Villager;
In spite of available documents that show claims Noa made since 2006, he denied that the ACC funds his trips abroad.
Although Noa said there were no outstanding cases, there has not been a report in the past two years – 2014/15 and 2015/16.
The last report released in 2013/14 shows that from 2006 when the ACC was formed until 2014, there were 4 864 cases reported.
Of these, 1 987 were closed; 1 186 referred back by the Prosecutor General without feedback; 593 were unsubstantiated after investigations; 440 were unfounded after investigations; 216 were under investigations; 191 were in court; the prosecutor declined to prosecute 73 cases; 70 had been convicted; there were 34 acquittals and 26 pending feedback from the Prosecutor General.
This is not the first time Noa has been caught up in accusations of operating like a lone ranger and of blocking cases.
Last year, there were reports that some of his investigators were not happy with the way Noa had handled the case of an army commander who had unlawfully used military equipment.
Of course, Noa denied the allegations at the time telling the media that the ACC is run according to the law.
“I do not comment on baseless accusations. The commission does things according to the law. We do not want to do things for publicity or to please someone,” he was quoted saying.
Unnamed sources told an English daily that most of the staff at the ACC were unhappy and frustrated after some of the cases are thrown out or blocked.
In 2015, there were similar accusations against Noa. At the time, the accusations were that Noa would warn those whose cases are pending investigations or that some top figures would refuse to be interviewed alleging that they would have already briefed him.
When the accusations were first made, Noa was said to have closed three cases involving prominent people – the former mayor of Windhoek Agnes Kafula; fisheries minister Bernard Esau; and labour minister Erkki Nghimtina.
In 2014, Kafula was implicated in shady land deals in Windhoek. Although the cases were high profile, Noa said the ACC was waiting for whistleblowers to come forward with evidence.
“No one has come forth with evidence that shows the mayor was involved in corruption and I can therefore confirm no case has been opened against her,” Noa was quoted saying. “It is one thing to write reports and it is another when evidence is brought forth.”
Esau was implicated in a N$300m fishing quotas scandal in 2015 and the ACC moved in to investigate him. But nothing came of the case.
In 2014, Noa told the media that Nghimtina was under investigation after allegedly receiving gifts from some businesspeople.
Later, Noa said that the whistleblower had not given them enough information to warrant further investigations.
Apart from his staff and some ordinary people accusing Noa of doing nothing, politicians accused him of targeting softer ones.
Swapo parliamentarian Veikko Nekundi told parliament in 2015 that the ACC was being used by a few people to advance their agendas.
Nekundi also said the ACC was a “wishy-washy” organisation that serves the interest of some people only.
“I am concerned about the ACC. You cannot operate on tarnishing people’s image. Those that tarnish the reputation of others should be accountable for their claims,” he said.
According to Nekundi, the ACC should not get a budget because the money was used to tarnish other people’s names.
He urged parliament to call ACC administration to order so that they do not persecute people and then clear them later.
“I will, in my five years, God willing, stand up in this house (during the ACC budget discussion) and say that I do not support the budgetary vote,” said Nekundi.
Another parliamentarian who was not happy with the ACC is the Attorney General Sakeus Shanghala who, in 2015, said the ACC should be stripped of some of its arresting and investigating powers.
Speaking in the National Assembly when Noa’s term was renewed, Shanghala said the director general’s term should be limited.
“I hope this is their last term, because they have been there since the ACC’s inception. I’m sure there are also other competent Namibians who can do the job,” Shanghala said.
He accused the ACC of working with journalists, who swarm over suspects moments before they are arrested.
“Those of us in decision-making positions are even investigated for exercising our powers. Their powers of arrest must be taken away,” Shanghala said.
Former Hardap governor and now education minister Katrina Hanse-Himarwa, who was arrested in 2010 by the ACC on two counts of corruption after she was accused of misappropriating N$2 000 from an entertainment budget and a N$3 290 tender for curtains at her residence, accused the commission of is being used as a “tool to witch-hunt some of us”.
Speaking during the same debate on whether Noa’s term should be extended, Hanse-Himarwa said: “I was perhaps one of the first senior government officials to be embarrassingly arrested and the bad part is that you are charged and prosecuted in the newspapers, even before you reach the court, by being labelled a corrupt person.”
Esau also said the ACC is being abused by some individuals and that the ACC is challenging the validity of court judgements by investigating cases on which the courts have already pronounced themselves.
“They should understand the relationship between themselves and the courts. By investigating cases that have passed through the courts they are implying that they are superior to the court,” Esau said.
Esau said he is not against the ACC, but they must be transparent in their approach.
“Sometimes they investigate officials in your ministry, but they do not even inform you,” he said.
Information minister Tjekero Tweya said it was high time “we remind the ACC of their mandate, because everyone is innocent until proven guilty”.
“The behaviour of ACC investigators, who go to suspects with the media, must stop. The abuse of media and tarnishing of citizens’ characters cannot be condoned,” Tweya told the National Assembly.
“Even in court the names of suspects are not released until he or she appears. If they cannot observe this basic legal principle then we need to remind them that they must respect the law,” he said.
In 2015, Erongo governor Cleophas Mutjavikua said the ACC needs to start focusing on bigger corruption cases if it is to gain the full confidence of the public.
“The ACC should really get to the big guns. Their target remains very low. We should start and push ACC to take a closer look at high-profile corruption as the nation wants to see such arrests,” he said.
“This will convince the public to report corruption. All these cases you mentioned only saw the arrest of ordinary citizens. You need to convince the public at large to report corruption. Currently the ACC looks like a toothless bulldog,” he said.
Noa has, in most cases, dismissed tipoffs saying there was not enough evidence to go by but Mutjavikua said: “Sometimes you see hanging food but you don’t act on it. How do you think the public will report cases while information is in front of you?”
Responding to the politicians in 2015, Noa said their comments could destroy Namibia’s good governance.
“My message to our honourable lawmakers is that it is morally wrong to pass the law today, but the next day when the same law is enforced you campaign against the enforcement.
“It is also not a matter of one or two parliamentarians feeling aggrieved by the action of the ACC. The public must decide,” Noa said, adding that the ACC was not in a popularity contest.
“Some of them or their loved ones who are subject of investigation will claim to be unfairly targeted. The armchair critics will also accuse the ACC of not taking enough measures to prevent corruption,” he said.
Noa said the issue of press was a result of whistleblowers who first approach the media before they report to the ACC.
He said there is nothing the ACC can do if they do not receive information on corruption.
“The officials of the ACC do not work at the offices of the suspects of corruption, nor do they sleep at such offices. How will they know what is happening at those offices if information is not brought to them? They cannot suck information from their thumbs,” he said.
If the politicians want to limit his term, he has no problem with it because heading the ACC is not a popular job.
“I do not think there is any head of an anti-corruption agency who wants to stay at the helm of the agency forever. It is not a popular job,” he said.
Last week, Noa denied that the ACC is being used to target politicians. He also denied that it was toothless.
Addressing one of the Critical Conscious Dialogue events held in Windhoek last week where he was the keynote speaker, Noa said the ACC seeks to satisfy public morality and to uproot corruption.
“I am here to serve the Namibia people. I am not here to arrest a minister, and I am not here to satisfy the moral feeling of the society, fairness must always prevail,” he said.
Dismissing notions that the ACC targets small fish, Noa said people should not undermine corruption and that the value of the money stolen should not determine the corrupt act.
“Today, someone can steal N$10, tomorrow the same person will steal N$1m,” he said.
He further said there was a deliberate move to discredit the ACC and its work, saying that there was no case given to the ACC to investigate and they failed out of fear or favour.
ACC Noa response
Linekela Halwoodi engaged Paulus Noa on Tuesday for a three-hour interview. Below are some of the responses Noa gave. The Villager will run the entire interview in the next edition.
Noa explained that the complexity of the ACC’s job requires of him to attend to both regional and international queries in person.
He added that his absence from the office does not hinder the operations of the office because the ACC is equipped with an administrative officer and an accounting officer as well as a deputy director who can stand in for him.
He indicated that he has not travelled outside the country this year.
“There are cases where I have to drive to the regions myself because the person or the source who might have information is requesting to speak to me personally and refuses to speak to just anyone from the ACC.
“For instance, traditional authorities do not just give attention to anyone you have to go there yourself to explain why an investigator is enquiring about something,” he said.
He, however, said during his domestic travels he does not claim travel allowance from the ACC except for fuel money.
“The question of money is also a concern for the UN. It is a global concern,” he said.
“I am telling you I am not using your money. The job of the ACC is also to go out for fact finding to win the hearts of the people. We have to solicit the support of the people.”
He also added that his job is not office bound and therefore concerns of him being present in the office are irrelevant as his job requires of him to travel, as he also has the powers to work as an investigator.
“I will not be able to tell you how many days I have been outside the office. We would have to look at the records and not only from 2014 but we have to go back to 2006.
When there is money, he said, they assist staff to grow because theydo not want them to stay where they are.
"If there are some people telling you that the morale is low it is maybe because the ACC management is not training to boost the morale," he said.
He added that there are people who have gone out of their way to create a malicious view of the institution because they were under investigation.
"Look, I have not even claimed close to half a million. Remember that the sessions of attending the meetings that I told you about, if they were many they were maybe two.
He added that when he made international trips he stayed in the most economical hotels for the week he was attended to his duties with the UN.
"The money people are alleging cannot even be closer to the truth. My last trip to Vienna last year, It was maybe N$15 000 that I had. When we realised that we do not have money we tried to look for a hotel that was really cheap. The hotel I chose that time was something like maybe N$3000 for those days."