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Do the Right Thing, Voluntarily

How sad is it that Namibia’s Cabinet and lawmakers only react to foreign pressure when it comes to doing what is right?

The Namibian parliament went into a frenzy after realising it was left with about three weeks to table and pass a dozen laws aimed at fighting corruption and preventing common (and often violent) criminals from exploiting the financial system for self-enrichment.

The country’s political executives rushed at least 13 proposed laws to the National Assembly to urgently close loopholes related to money laundering, human trafficking, terrorism, extradition and cross-border crime-fighting mechanisms.

In the first year after being sworn in as president in 2015, Hage Geingob started by making lofty promises on improving accountability and trust in elected leaders. These included steps to introduce lifestyle audit measures to ensure that anyone found to have accumulated wealth doubtfully would be investigated and required to explain.

Measures against unexplained wealth are only now surfacing in parliament seemingly because Namibian politicians and bureaucrats have belatedly realised the danger of the country being “greylisted” by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global inter-governmental watchdog on money-laundering and terrorism financing.

Greylisting can have dire consequences. It makes it difficult for countries and companies to use the international financial system seamlessly.

A greylisted country can struggle to attract foreign investment, struggle to borrow money, and can experience trading blockages.

Namibia has a deadline of October this year to clean up its laws to avoid greylisting that would have flagged the country’s financial system as open to violent criminals and white collar corruption activities.

It sounds like a tool to promote good governance and transparency voluntarily.

Why it needed international pressure to strengthen the crime-fighting mechanism, only politicians and bureaucrats can explain.

The government should thus expect scepticism that there will again be lofty laws on the books, but a myriad excuses why they are not being swiftly implemented as we have seen with the anti-corruption and whistleblower protection laws.

Those anti-corruption measures have become law, but are yet to be implemented effectively. We can only hope that unexplained wealth measures will not go the same way.