Published on December 5th, 2008 | by admin0
A pawn in a political game
Swapo politics and a battle for the control of US funding appears to be at the heart of the opposition to the Millennium Challenge Account from the ruling party firebrands, writes Tangeni Amupadhi
The former Attorney General, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, personally approved the signing of the N$3 billion United States grant that has courted controversy. Iivula-Ithana is among a handful of Cabinet members now opposing the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) at Swapo meetings, lending weight to suspicion among senior comrades that she switched her view of the deal simply to appeal to the populist strand in the party. insight has seen a letter that Iivula-Ithana wrote to Peter Katjavivi, the Director General of the National Planning Commission, in July informing him that the MCA conforms to Namibian legal requirements and should be accepted. Several people in Swapo have confirmed that Iivula-Ithana has since turned against the MCA. She allegedly claims she was not consulted or that her advice was not headed. Iivula-Ithana told insight she will not comment publicly about the MCA because the funding agreement was being considered by parliament. Deputy Minister of Finance Tjekero Tweya has said he is suspicious of the MCA partly because the Attorney General had been “bypassed”. Tweya and other critics have questioned the competency and the allegiance of Namibia’s negotiating team which agreed a deal they regard as selling out the country to Americans. A closer look at the vociferous opposition to the MCA increasingly suggests that the multi-billion dollar donor aid programme has become a pawn in the tussle for power and influence in the party. Angry claims Namibia is one of 18 countries that requested funding from the MCA three years ago. Criticism of the MCA from within Swapo became public in October when the ruling party’s youth wing and affiliated unions accused the government of selling Namibia, especially the Etosha National Park, to the Americans. Attacks on the MCA range from the cerebral to the emotional. Several of the arguments appear to be spurious. The strongest criticism of the MCA agreement, which parliament must approve before Namibia can access the US$304 million grant, is that Namibian laws will not apply during the five-year duration of the programme. It appears, however, that the stickiest issues during negotiations were about the US’s insistence on tax exemption and open tenders that would make no preference for Namibian businesses when gaining contracts from the MCA. Works and Transport Minister Helmut Angula and the Millennium Challenge Corporation representative in Namibia lay out their defence for the MCA agreement in this issue of insight. Kazenambo Kazenambo, the Deputy Minister of Regional, Local Government and Housing, while insisting he has no quarrel with the principle of the agreement, feels conditions such as requiring the state tourism company to pay concession fees just like a private businesses will effectively nullify Namibian policies and laws. “I don’t believe in conditions in a relationship. Disregarding Namibian laws and policies go to the heart of our sovereignty,” says Kazenambo, who at one point was chosen by the Swapo youth league to present their case in a television debate. Tweya and the youth league have argued that Swapo’s criticism of the MCA went public either because Angula, who was the Director General of the NPC for much of the time that negotiations were ongoing, refused to meet with them privately or dismissed their concerns as irrelevant. Angula has said that by the time the criticism from some of his comrades started, the MCA was already approved by Cabinet. “Are they now taking revenge or what?” asked Angula. Egos and politics Bruised egos might be a strong driver for the opposition to the MCA. The attacks from Swapo youth leaders and the unions have gone beyond the American funding, with some calling Angula corrupt. Veikko Nekundi has complained that Angula ignored several requests for private discussions with the youth league. Angula says the attacks on him are motivated by inner Swapo politics. Indeed, opposition to the MCA alone does not seem to explain the spirited attacks on Angula. Most of the conditions that the US lays down in the MCA feature in other grant agreements that Namibia has signed with many countries including EU members and China. Even within Swapo’s discussions, some have called attention to the fact that the N$500 million State House was built by the North Koreans and Chinese with no complaints from within the party that Namibian companies were being sidelined. Even the accusation that the “Americans want to take Etosha” falls flat because proposals for about 10 lodges to be built in the wildlife park were initiated by the Namibian government. The 10-year duration of the concessions is not difficult to understand if one appreciates that businesses need predictability and stability, which is why mining and fishing concessions are often longer term. Thus, senior Swapo leaders believe Angula has come under fire because of his closeness to President Hifikepunye Pohamba. All about control Pohamba came to power at the insistence of former President Sam Nujoma. It is an open secret that Pohamba himself had no appetite for the presidency. Before Nujoma retired he ensured that both Swapo and top government structures were filled with his loyalists. The dominance of Nujomaists has thus ensured that Pohamba remains beholden to the Swapo patriach. “Nujoma is still the kingmaker,” says a senior Cabinet minister. “You can see that in all Swapo structures, parliament and Cabinet that most of us are more loyal to Nujoma than the state president.” Many in the know say Pohamba has been unable to establish a new centre of power around himself. If anything, he has remained beholden to Nujoma. Some close to Angula say the works minister might be a casualty of the power-play aimed at ensuring Pohamba does not set up a kitchen cabinet of trusted advisors who are solely loyal to him, especially ahead of elections next year. Other Swapo leaders who have tried to assert their independence from Nujoma have seen their influence in the party slip. In attempt to underline to Pohamba who was really in charge, a demonstration was contemplated by figures in the Swapo Youth League and trade unions to show a lack of confidence in him. It never materialised as some feared matters might spiral out of control. “In a sense there is a power vacuum that people exploit,” said a Swapo youth leader who conceded that they would not have opposed the MCA so openly had Nujoma been president. “President Pohamba gives us that room to debate issues, but sometimes it can lead to chaos like now.” Another Swapo youth leader bluntly told a press conference called by the National Planning Commission to explain the MCA deal that as a businessman he was concerned that the US requirements for international tender rules could deny him, a black Namibian, an opportunity to do business from the funds. Smokescreen Beyond a few minor concerns, Angula and several of his senior Cabinet colleagues, who spoke on condition that they are not named, believe the MCA controversy is a smokescreen for inner-party political battles. The critics deny this assertion. Yet anyone studying the MCA document, then comparing it with other funding agreements that the government has already signed, will be hard-pressed to understand why Swapo’s firebrands seem willing to throw away the N$3 billion grant. Tweya accuses Namibian negotiators of “withholding some relevant information” about the MCA. “This proves a point that the Namibians who have dealt with this issue have not been dealing in good faith. When we asked questions they said ‘these people just joined Swapo in 1990.’ They don’t listen to the issues but look at who says it,” says Tweya. If the people Helmut Angula calls “revolutionary critics” are right about the MCA, then Namibia has exposed a US imperialist plot, some four years after 17 other countries around the world accepted the funding and similar conditions. But if the deal’s detractors have got their facts wrong, the criticisms could be viewed as mischief-making aimed at gaining power in Swapo at the expense of the long-term interests of the country. The MCA – What’s in it for Namibia? The Millennium Challenge Account that Namibia signed in July is a five-year grant aimed at funding projects in three categories: agriculture, education and tourism. Education will get US$145million (N$1.5billion) divided as follows: . US$77 million will pay for 47 schools, training programmes for administrators and teachers . US$29 million for vocational and skills training . US$15 million for English, mathematics and science textbooks provision and management . US$21 million for regional study and resources centres . US$2 million for expanding and improving access to tertiary education financing . US$1million for Ministry of Education’s HIV management unit Tourism gets N$67million: . US$41 million to improve management and infrastructure of the Etosha National Park, including a management centre and housing for staff . US$8 million to market Namibian tourism focusing on conservancies of communal areas around Etosha .US$18 million for eco-tourism development in 31 conservancies Agriculture draws US$47million: . US$21 million for access to land and its management especially in communal areas . US$19 million to build five veterinary centres and rehabilitate two quarantine camps in the Caprivi region . US$7 million to increase production and processing of natural products The administration of the MCA gets US$39 million, which will pay for management, auditing, purchasing and environmental control. Nearly US$7 million will be used for monitoring and evaluation.