We are encouraged to read that cabinet members with conflicts of interest regarding the fisheries issue on the agenda had to step out. What concerns us is that such an action is considered new. This should have been the case from the start.

A conflict of interest is “a situation in which a person is in a position to derive personal benefit from actions or decisions made in their official capacity and where your separate duties to act in the best interests of two or more clients in the same or a related matter conflict.”

Cabinet must always act ethically and legally. They must be above board, not just in perception, but reality. They should have always started each meeting with an on-the-record question about conflict of interest with any item on the agenda.

Recusal doesn’t just mean you cannot attend the meeting. It means you cannot have access to any information regarding the issue, including minutes. Those in conflict cannot comment, or give advice or discuss that issue with anyone who is a part of the board’s (or Cabinet) decision-making process. You are shut out completely.

Because much ado is being made about conflicted ministers leaving a cabinet meeting, we wonder if this has ever been done before. The status quo must be that directives are regularly decided based on inputs from people who materially benefit from the issues at hand. The entire Fishrot debacle already stands as evidence of this ‘norm’ for Namibian decision-makers.

Are Members of Parliament equally asked if they have conflicts of interest regarding bills that come before them for debate and vote?

Many ‘elite’ Namibians have their fingers in the fish quota pie. This has never been a secret. The Fishrot scandal was known in several power circles for years. It is only the rest of the country that found out late last year. The truth of how deep that rot goes depends on whether those in the dock now, expose their partners in crime in exchange for lighter punishment.

“Connected people” already have access to insider information. They already have advance notice about government contracts. And they have colleagues, comrades, relatives or fellow shareholders voting on the issue at the decision-making level. It is a perfect storm of corruption and collusion all around.

We submit that it is likely that many pockets over the decades (even before independence) have been lined with fishing money creamed off the top. It is likely that the fishing industry is not the only sector where Fishrot style shenanigans have been going on for years. There is no way for someone on the outside of that circle to gain an honestly-earned business foothold in any lucrative sector. Some would argue that the game is set up purposefully to operate this way.

If reports are correct, the sitting Fisheries Minister was also recused from that Cabinet meeting about the fisheries industry. If this is true, it is very puzzling. How can someone be appointed minister of a sector in which they have a conflict of interest such that they must leave a cabinet meeting?

What kind of decision has been taken by the Cabinet if the minister with the facts, figures, and informed recommendations was not present? Our decision-makers, for the most part, do not read documents placed before them. They make decisions largely based on what they are told, ‘hear about’, see on television or are advised. And yet, decisions that will make or break an ailing Namibia need level heads and informed minds.

The invitation for Cabinet members with conflicts of interest to step out of a meeting on the fisheries industry is a good thing. But, it can be a hollow thing if it is a once-off.