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It’s wrong for parastatals to pay ministers’ S&T – Jooste

Former public enterprise minister Leon Jooste said it is wrong for state-owned entities to pay for subsistence and travel allowance expenses of politicians and civil servants.

“Public enterprises paying S&T (or any other travel-related costs) for ministries is wrong and should not be allowed under any circumstances,” Jooste told The Namibian on Monday.

He also admitted that “some of us (politicians) did, however, feel that some of the subsistence and travel (S&T) rates were far too high”.

Jooste, who founded the public enterprise ministry before he left office last year, was tasked to manage commercial public enterprises.

“Ministries should also not be allowed to ‘borrow’ money from public enterprises and these entities should not be treated as ‘piggy banks’ under any circumstances,” he said.

These comments come after allegations that higher education minister Itah Kandjii-Murangi received nearly N$1,5 million from parastatals under her political control, which is more than her annual salary of around N$1,1 million.

Kandjii-Murangi is said to have received travel allowances from the following government institutions: the Namibia Training Authority (N$450 000), the University of Namibia (N$310 000) Namibia University of Science and Technology (N$140 600).

Jooste said ministry officials and political appointees travel for their respective portfolio-related functions and should budget accordingly.

“These are separate entities where boards and CEOs are accountable for expenditure and they should not be treated like ministry departments,” he added.

According to him, these practices distort the boundary that should exist between the entities and the shareholder.

“I heard about some of these (incidents like Kandjii-Murangi’s) in the past, but not since we passed the Public Enterprises Governance Act and gained proper oversight powers,” Jooste said.

“I think it may still be a problem under some officials,” Jooste said, adding that he feels president Hage Geingob had a firm grip on travel by ministers where he would not simply approve any application.

It is uncertain whether president Geingob was aware that Kandjii-Murangi was allegedly using parastatals under her control to fund her foreign trips.

The government was focused on cutting its S&T bill during the Covid-19 pandemic, saving N$100 million in travel costs by senior government ministers.

Namibian Sun reported this week that N$15 million has been set aside for travel expenses for members of parliament (MPs) over the next three months. According to the report, parliament has budgeted N$800 000 for eight MPs to attend the Russia-Africa Summit in St Petersburg from 26 to 29 July.

Former fisheries minister Berhard Esau admitted in court last year that travel allowances had been a profitable source of income for ministers.

“Travelling was very lucrative for us as ministers,” he said, adding that the daily rates for S&T trips to Angola and the United States were high, at over US$500 (N$7 500) to US$1 500 (N$23 000) a day.

“That’s where we made money, my lord. And we saved money from there. If you are not a person of style, you can save money.”