Namibia’s youngest private newspaper – The Patriot – is punching above its weight, gaining traction against established brands for its knack to break investigative stories. In just over two years, the paper has grown in reputation for taking the establishment head-on. The Patriot’s majority owner is Inskip Investments (Pty) Ltd – the publishers of The Patriot on Sunday in Botswana. The paper first hit the streets on March 18, 2016.
Against the Spooks
The paper’s editor is Mathias Haufiku, who is also its leading investigations writer. He is happy with how the brand is growing and the attention is drawing, particularly at the highest echelons of power. In his entire career he did not foresee himself standing in the dock to defend his work. However things changed recently, thanks to Namibian Central Intelligence Services (NCIS) that interdicted the paper from publishing their corrupt activities based on a trove of documents the paper landed.
Paper landed the first blow when it won a High Court ruling to proceed to publish the material at its disposal. Judge Harald Geier ruled that NCIS cannot rely on a blanket cover of secrecy. “The NCIS operates in the context of a democratic state founded on the rule of law, which rule subjects all public officials and all those exercising public functions whether openly or covertly, in the interest of the state, to judicial scrunity,” Judge Geier maintained.
The paper’s lawyer is Norman Tjombe, who has brushed aside the spy body’s attempt to appeal the ruling – which came as an attempt to block paper further from continuing to publish even though it had won the case. Tjombe dismissed such move as frivolous. “Even if there was proper appeal, that would not be an obstacle for The Patriot to continue with the publication of the information. The High Court made it clear that a publication for the purpose of exposing alleged malpractice and corruption. That is perfectly legitimate reason to publish,” insisted Tjombe.
At the heart of the issue is that NCIS has been spending public funds on an association of former spies. Below is an excerpt from the story:
It has been a case of easy pickings for the association at the country’s spy agency. It has sucked huge sums out of NCIS as well as other donations in form of offices, equipment and subsidised accommodation. NCIS has also been an alleged cash cow for some of the spy agents through the farms and guesthouses owned by the spy agency in which lucrative deals and apparently sham arrangements have been struck. Former president Hifikepunye Pohamba, according to documents, has played a key role in endorsing the association which was established to take care of ex-spies.
Pohamba, The Patriot understands, bestowed upon the association the status of being a non-organic part of the NCIS. Following the bestowment of the title, NCIS director Benedict Likando said “in this regard all members of the association are now regarded as employees of NCIS”.
The members from the association enjoy an avalanche of benefits. The association has targeted to benefit from lucrative economic areas such as mining exploration, fishing quotas, construction, agriculture, tourism and construction. In 2015, the association was accorded office space equipped with furniture, stationary and communication tools at the highly-secured training facility of the NCIS. The facility’s location is known to The Patriot but cannot be revealed for security reasons.
NCIS also gave the association a laptop and a memory stick. NCIS also pledged to donate a motor vehicle to the association for the use of the association. The NCIS also fulfilled the promise it made on 7 June 2015 to donate N$100 000 to the association.
Although the spy agency vehemently denied links to the association, there is also strong evidence that one of its employees was part of a task team composed by the association to explore the viability of the already listed income generating projects and to look into possible business proposals on behalf of the association as well as to identify other projects that could generate income for the association.
Likando on 16 May 2015 at the association’s consultative meeting held at Arebbusch pledged N$1 million to the association. NCIS pledged surety and the provision of back-up capital for the association when needed. Sources have since accused the spy agency of corruption due to the fact that non-government employees (such as former NCIS members) are benefiting from resources of the State without such being lawfully enacted by the Public Service Commission or Parliament.
Likando also indicated that former NCIS members qualify for reduced rates at NCIS accommodation facilities as well as free accommodation for a set period at the NCIS guest house in Swakopmund. “The NCIS, through its Club Namib, also sells game meat at affordable rates and former members also qualify for this,” he said.
Likando also said at the time that NCIS will pay for an administrative assistant to handle the administrative matters of the association. Another pledge made by Likando is that death benefits of former members are the same as death benefits of serving NCIS members. The director also pledged to assist the association to find suitable office space in the capital. It is not known if the house [address known] NCIS purchased in 2016 for N$8.2 million has been offered to the association.
NCIS also owns at least two commercial farms in the Otjozondjupa region that were bought for over N$57 million. Title deeds obtained of one of the farms indicate that one farm was bought for N$17 million. The second farm is said to have been bought for N$40 million. This farm is managed by a retired but very highly placed agent, whose wife remains an employee of the NCIS. It is alleged that some of the association members live on the farms. In addition to its guesthouse in Swakopmund, the agency also owns a guesthouse in Ludwigsdorf which, according to sources privy to the matter, is managed by a private individual. It is not known what happens with the revenue generated from the accommodation facilities owned by the NCIS.
Grounds for appeal
NCIS and its Director General Philemon Malimu argue in appeal that the judge erred in ruling in favour of The Patriot because publication of protected information is a violation of the law. Among the seven grounds that NCIS is appealing is that the judge did not take into account the purpose of the 1982 Protection of Information Act and the Namibian Central intelligence Service Act of 1997 and did not make a judicial interpretation of those two laws on which the Government based its case.
Paper impact; friends of the press
This case has given the newspaper a national spot light and spurred on sales. Media activists and opposition politicians have hailed the paper’s bravery in challenging the status quo and are worried that Government is by appealing the outcome only working at attacking media freedom.
Leader of opposition in Parliament McHenry Venaani has addressed a press conference calling on President Hage Geingob to save the taxpayers’ money by stopping the spy agency from appealing the ruling. He said the continuation of the case was an attack on press freedom.
“We are very worried that government and the spy agency are set to waste tax payers’ money in court in an appeal that I fundamentally believe has no merit... This is a case of corruption that they are trying to cover up, and they have been very consistent on this matter that corruption is allowed to flourish in the security apparatus in this country,” said Venaani, the leader of The Popular Democratic Movement (PDM).
The Editor’s Forum of Namibia (EFN) had also welcomed the High Court Judge Harald Geier’s judgement on the matter.
“It sends a strong warning to other government officials and anyone else for that matter that they cannot willy-nilly invoke archaic legislation such as the Protection of Information Act. Act 84 of 1982 to trample on engrained constitutional rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of the media. The EFN would like to commend the Namibian judiciary for upholding freedom of the media as stated in Article 21 of Namibia’s Constitution. The EFN is confident that this trial will act as a benchmark for the rollout of the Access to Information Bill, a catalyst for Government’s continued commitment to a free media and transparent leadership,” the Forum has said.