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ACC Stands for Anti-Corruption Cover-up

Namibia’s top corruption fighter Paulus Noa is either hopelessly incompetent or knows only too well he was placed in the post to defend politicians and bigwigs – or he’s a dangerous cocktail of both.

We’ll bet on Noa being a tool to sweep corruption under the carpet for the ruling elite rather than believe he is irredeemably incompetent.

There would be no logic in Swapo retaining the loyal party member as director general of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) for 20 years if he was unable to do a “good job” for them?

Twice this month, Noa has once again shown why Swapo appointed him in 2006 despite the recruitment panel stating that he and his deputy Erna van der Merwe were not fit to lead the anti-corruption fight.

The ruling party has time and again used its majority in parliament to bulldoze Noa’s appointment through despite not following procedures as happened again in 2021.

Two weeks ago, Noa was quick to brush aside reports that higher education minister Itah Kandjii-Murangi crossed good governance boundaries and may have corruptly benefited by taking travel allowances from institutions she is supposed to oversee.

“Unless there is a hidden agenda between the minister and those accusing her, the ACC finds no reason why she should be vilified, persecuted and judged in [a] public kangaroo court,” said Noa, despite stating that the investigations were ongoing.

This week, Noa went overboard and accused the Namcor board of overzealously gunning for the state oil company’s MD, Immanuel Mulunga, who defied a board decision to pay US$6,7 million (N$100m in 2021) to Angolan state oil company Sonangol.

Noa went as far as defending Mulunga, saying the MD “found himself between the rock and a hard object” [sic] when he decided to make the unauthorised payment in order to “save” Namibia’s “reputation and image” in doing business with Angola.

Noa seemed to focus the ACC investigation into Mulunga’s decision to bypass the directors’ authority on a narrow approach – that the MD did not act with criminal or malicious intent.

In his memo, Noa does not lay out how diligently he arrived at his conclusion despite determining that Mulunga was dishonest in using a board resolution purporting to give him powers to take any action in the Angola transaction.

By focusing on obvious criminal action, Noa ignored the ACC’s broader mandate.

The ACC law states that acting “corruptly” means “contravention of or against the spirit of any law, provision, rule, procedure, process, system, policy, practice, directive, order or any other term or condition pertaining to – (a) any employment relationship; (b) any agreement; or (c) the performance of any function in whatever capacity”.

By that definition, the spirit of the anti-corruption law and good governance may have been breached as Mulunga defied the board by paying funds without authorisation, not to mention potential recklessness.

Good governance rules dictate that boards of public entities should have a majority of independent non-executive directors. All three directors of Sungura Energy, which landed Mulunga in trouble, were not independent.

Noa has made a mockery of the ACC and has most of the time correctly been criticised for targeting “small fish” while often defending or outrightly exonerating political elites and their cronies as happened in the Fishrot scandal until he was put to shame by the preponderance of evidence.

The state ought to strengthen the anti-corruption fight by avoiding incompetent people and stooges.

To safeguard the independence and ward off abuse of the institution, a director general like Noa cannot be the alpha and omega of investigations and decision-making.

A board of independent and diverse commissioners will be key to moderate bias and the blatant inappropriate conduct of an ACC director general such as Noa being active in Swapo with the same people he is supposed to watch over.