The latest ruckus around land issues and growing public outrage around the general state of public sector governance are symptomatic of a public awakening
The information deficits on the political landscape are becoming increasingly glaring and large sections of the public seem to recognise that this poses a considerable threat to democratic decision-making and ultimately the practice of participatory democracy in Namibia.
Lately, we’ve seen the demonstrations for land are up again, this time around access to farm land, couched in terms of the restitution of ancestral lands. The land activists have also called for the cessation of the state’s land resettlement scheme activities, arguing that the programme has been compromised by elements within the state and ruling party which has made the scheme counterproductive and untenable.
All this follows in the wake of the end 2016 tabling of the Land Bill in parliament by land reform minister Utoni Nujoma, an event which was quickly met by a rising tide of unhappiness at the nature in which the Bill had been drafted and handled – primarily concerning was the fact that the proposed law suffered substantially from a lack of consultation with relevant stakeholders, especially affected communities. Compounding matters has been the government’s reluctance to account for the land resettlement process and beneficiaries to date.
That said, the Land Bill is just one of a number of law proposals which have now been questioned over a lack of consultative inputs. Increasingly it seems that ordinary Namibians, social activists, politicians and civil society in general recognise that law making that does not incorporate the views of all relevant stakeholders and voices cannot be considered a democratic process. At the heart of the matter is the fact that people are denied access to information on processes that affect them and in which they feel they need to have a say.
The Geingob administration, it has to be said, has made a great deal of its intent to foster a more open and accountable government, explicitly referencing transparency and accountability in its Harambee Prosperity Plan. Against this backdrop, it has to be asked, why does the state continue to act so non-transparent and unaccountable in such high profile governance processes as law drafting? Why don’t authorities get the message that the best laws will probably come out of processes that are open to all inputs, even if most inputs are not usable and ultimately set aside, but still relevant for the views expressed?
Instead, government continues to adopt a rushed method of law making, in which there is the pretense of consultation, and which in the end delivers a flawed law that has to be amended almost immediately. The examples of such outcomes are many and fairly easily pointed to.
And what has the consequence been of the latest installment of this sort of law drafting conduct? Public outrage, political embarrassment, inflamed divisiveness and ethnic discord.
But this is just one instance of the public arguably having drawn a line in the sand. Consider the growing public demands for the government to account for its use and allocation of public resources in a time of severe economic and fiscal constraints, that effect all of society. Politicians continually now find themselves in the sharp glare of public scrutiny and censure over their executive decision making conduct. And it doesn’t appear to sit well with them. However, as it has become increasingly clear in recent times that there is a lot of waste and mismanagement of resources in the public sector, the levels of public indignation appear to also be on the rise. This shows that as people are more exposed to the information they should have, they become more active and engaged, and more assertive in their demands for more information.
As is evident, on many fronts government is now being questioned over its governance conduct and the voices doing such questioning are becoming increasingly strident and voluminous. And this is as it should be in a democracy.
And yet what does the official and political response come across as: A nervous cautioning that ‘excessive’ public criticism of state and party is a threat to national peace and stability. Which is a rather lame claim.
It is actually clear that the greater threat to peace and stability is the continuing conduct of state authorities to deny people access to relevant information, such as during legal drafting and decision-making processes that affect their lives and livelihoods, and this will only become more evident as government authorities continue to think that outdated unaccountable processes will deliver optimal governance results.
With public sentiment and emotions being what they are at the moment on the political landscape, for state authorities to continue doing things the way they have been in the past, will only unleash higher levels of public dissatisfaction and discontent.
Thus, officials at all levels in government need to start realising that access to information and greater transparency of decision-making processes are only going to become more salient in significance in the public’s estimation, especially as communication technologies become more ubiquitous and more news is spread ever faster.