PRESIDENT Hage Geingob yesterday said the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) will never really be fully independent from the executive branch of state due to overlapping government processes ensuring the commission’s operation.
He said this does, however, not mean the government has been or will be interfering in the operations of the commission.
Even if the ECN is allowed to be fully independent, the executive and politicians in the National Assembly would still need to approve its budget, the president said.
Geingob said this at a meeting between high-level government officials and the leadership of the ECN at State House yesterday.
He was responding to various suggestions by the commission’s outgoing chairperson, Notemba Tjipueja, to strengthen the operation of the ECN and further ensure its independence.
Her suggestions were based on recommendations contained in a report conducted by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) on Namibia’s electoral processes.
Tjipueja said the ECN is currently not fully implementing its mandate due to various contradictions with other legal instruments in the country, such as the Public Service Act, which treats the ECN as a government agency.
The current electoral law is also not in sync with various constitutional amendments, she said.
For example, the Electoral Act provides that the ECN should be able to appoint all of its staff members, but this provision is not being implemented because it would be in contradiction with the Public Service Act, Tjipueja said.
She said the ECN is therefore currently reviewing the Electoral Act to ensure it is in line with the Commission’s constitutional mandate.
Tjipueja further suggested that the Public Service Act also be amended to ensure that the ECN is no longer treated as an agency of the government.
There is also a need to look at the procurement process of the ECN to be allowed to obtain sensitive equipment without being subjected to legislation and processes which could delay this.
She said the government has been supportive of the commission through consistent budgetary support for all its activities.
Namibia is the only Southern African Development Community country of which the electoral commission receives its whole budget from the government.
The problem with the ECN’s funding, Tjipueja said, is that the commission does not manage this itself.
“This is to ensure that the body that runs the elections in the country is really seen to be independent, and that it is not influenced by other institutions or forces,” she said.
Prime minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said the status quo needed no alteration as the ECN’s independence is provided for in the Constitution.
Geingob suggested the ECN is concerned about its “appearance factor”. “Maybe you just want to look like others [other regional electoral bodies], but when you look at what you call structural functionalism, are the structures working as they were supposed to? Is there no interference?” he asked.
The president jokingly said if the ECN wants to have absolute independence from the executive, the government would also be “independent” with its resources, such as with transport during elections.
Vice president Nangolo Mbumba said the ECN’s financing should not be done in a once-off manner, because money budgeted for at the beginning of the year is not always available.
After the comments by Geingob and his executive members, Tjipueja said: “This report was commissioned by the International IDEA. Normally when you get experts to do a report, you may not necessarily agree with everything they come up with . . .”
Kuugongelwa-Amadhila later denied that the government’s representatives were agitated by the proposal to strengthen the ECN’s independence. Namibian
President Hage Geingob