ACC issues stern warning to Ministry of Higher Education ED

Martin Endjala

Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has issued a stern warning to the Ministry of Higher Education, Technology and Innovation Executive Director Alfred Van Kent, against the potentially corrupt habit of committing the Ministry to financial debts through requests for travel payments from public enterprises, especially when conferences and meetings to be attended have no bearing to benefit such public institutions.

This comes after the ACC finalised its investigations into the allegations against Minister of Higher Education, Technology, and Innovation, Dr Itah Kandji-Murangi.

Allegations of corrupt practices were reported in various print media that the Minister was unduly paid subsistence and travel allowances to attend official events which were allegedly fully sponsored by the organizers.

The ACC’s Director General Paulus Noa, in his report, stated that Van Kent’s practice is not only ethically wrong but also creates a fertile ground for corruption.

“Corruption manifests itself in various ways. The perception, real or unreal, would be that those institutions that agree to pay the travel costs of the Minister are favoured for the lion’s share of funding from the line Ministry and those institutions that decline the requests are victimised,“ Noa said.

A similar warning was extended to other accounting officers who might have also engaged in similar unethical practices, and should the practice continue unabated, Noa warned that ACC will not hesitate to invoke relevant provisions under Chapter 4 (corrupt practices) of the Anti-Corruption Act, 2003 (Act No. 8 of 2003), as amended.

The anti-graft boss pointed out that Van Kent, in his capacity as the accounting officer of the Ministry, has the responsibility to ensure efficient management of the budget of the Ministry.

He stated that the ED improperly adopted a habit of committing the Ministry to Subsistence and Travel (S&T) financial debts through requests to public enterprises linked to his Ministry to pay for the travel costs of the Minister.

Noa added that after these payments are done, the Ministry is indebted and thus, he is obligated to transfer money from other sub-divisions to reimburse the institutions.

Such practice he said, is prone to corruption. He further noted that it must be clearly understood by accounting officers that approval by the President to a Minister to undertake an official trip is not a blank check that the Minister must travel at all costs.

However, the approval is subject to the availability of funds in the Ministry’s budget. Public enterprises are also strongly warned against allowing themselves to be turned into cash cows for S and T’s allowances by executive directors and political principals since corruption is said to thrive whenever the ground is laid for institutions to promote it.

To dispel uncertainty in the minds of accounting officers, it is recommended that letters of approval granted to ministers from the Office of Presidency must clearly spell out that approval to undertake an official trip is granted subject to a condition that the responsible Ministry has S and T funds in its budget to finance the travel costs.

It was observed during investigations that some accounting officers may feel compelled to scramble for funds at all costs because the approval for the minister to travel comes from the highest Office.

Both the Minister and PA were also directed to refund the money owed to the Ministry on or before 30 April 2024 if not refunded yet. It is reported that Murangi owes the ministry N$46 121 and the PA N$23 469.

Meanwhile, the Anti-Corruption Commission conducted investigations and summoned various potential witnesses to appear before the Commission’s Investigating Officers to provide affidavits and supporting documents in their possession. Minister Kandji-Murangi and her Personal Assistant Lungenesia Uaseupuani also provided statements under oath on the matter.

According to the ACC findings, evidence confirmed that the Minister and her PA undertook foreign trips to the destinations mentioned in the media.

However, there is no evidence confirming that the Minister claimed subsistence and travel allowances from the Ministry while knowing that the official events were fully sponsored.

ACC’s investigation purpose was to find out whether the Minister and her personal assistant (PA) owed any money to the Ministry.

Noa revealed that ACC has obtained evidence proving that the Minister had refunded the money paid to her and her PA by the Namibia National Commission NATCOM for one-night hotel accommodation while waiting for the sponsor to pay their daily subsistence allowance.

A refund was also made for the local trip the Minister undertook to Khorixas which was as well paid for by NATCOM.

ACC also clarified that the amount of money owed to the Ministry by the Minister and her PA was not because of fraudulent claims they made while the official trips were sponsored, but accumulated amount from different trips after travel claims were calculated and reconciled against the days and hours spent on the trips.

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