Jealousy clouds the point

We have regularly commented on the current flawed process of Members of Parliament (MPs) disclosing a part of their assets to the public. The point of this disclosure is to identify conflicts of interest in matters before the legislature. A public listing of assets of lawmakers is irrelevant if not used specifically and only for that purpose. The point is to stop decision-makers, like the accused Esau or Shanghala, from voting on laws with outcomes that pad their pockets. We must keep our eyes on the prize and stop getting lost in how many cars or houses are owned by an MP.

With the current system, the jealousy brigade is in charge. “Why does he/she own two houses when I don’t even own one?” This kind of thing becomes salacious, gossipy carping.

We should be asking, “Why is he voting on fishing rights laws when he/she owns shares in fishing companies?”

Why is that member voting on issues around diamond mining when they are partial owners of diamond mines – is there a conflict of interest?

The asset disclosure process must only deal with these questions. It is about integrity in law-making, not jealous smears about who owns how many head of cattle.

Human beings are covetous by instinct. If our neighbour has a new car, we want one. If that guy over there has a new smartphone, we want one too. Selfishness is ever-present: “They shouldn’t own a house because I don’t own one.”

The public listing of only a portion of personal assets of Members of Parliament is an exercise in jealous comparisons and voyeurism. It shifts attention to the wrong place. There is too much emphasis on who owns what land instead of (for example) how we can reduce the size of a huge Parliament that we can no longer afford.

The current MP asset disclosure system promotes negativity in our society. The most envious amongst us do not bat an eye when a white person has more wealth than a black person. Whites live a higher quality of life than the majority of the population largely for historic reasons. Many have family trust funds, generational land ownership, language group private schools, monies legally sent abroad, shell companies and CCs for farmland to dodge land sale laws. No one worries about this glaring inequity. But, if a black family has a slice of bread more than his/her neighbours, then society at all levels starts shouting about corruption and theft.

Namibians must snap out of the inferiority complex shoved down our throats during the apartheid and colonial days of the past. Hardworking people who achieve wealth come from any culture/ethnic group. The amount of melanin in a human being has nothing to do with their propensity for corruption. The current MP disclosure laws feed into deep-rooted, race-based envy.

Full disclosure of possible conflicts of interest must happen. But just as part ‘C’ of the MPs asset disclosure form is confidential, ALL of it should be. Focus on conflicts of interest, not farms.

Give more budget allocation for trained ethics staff to the Ombudsman’s office. Let that office have a list by category of which lawmakers have financial holdings in each sector. Bills that are up for a vote should be compared to that list. Where there are overlaps, those affected should be asked to publicly declare a conflict and step aside from the debate and the vote.

That is the only thing that the asset disclosure form should be used for. It is more important to fight for better governance than to feed the gossip mill.

It has been said that “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people.” The current disclosure process creates discussions about people.

The current system is weak as MP’s assets can remain away from public eyes using section ‘C’. We wonder how many family members or shell companies front for MPs who are the real owners of farms, cattle, cars, and company shares. This kind of under-the-table (yet legal) outlet makes a mockery of the entire disclosure process.

Also, there is no aggressive enforcement of penalties for omissions from disclosure. Are these asset forms compared with income tax (and land tax) returns or with BIPA company ownership records? Why bother with a rule to promote transparency in governance, if there is no accountability or consistent follow-up?

The asset disclosure forms must be completely confidential. Each submission must be verified and cross-checked. They must be managed assiduously by oversight officials that will act on conflicts of interest in law-making. Anything less is clumsy and allows jealousy to cloud the point.

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