Raising the Ethics Bar: Namibia’s President Voluntarily Discloses His Income and Assets

Namibia is not the first country that comes to mind when looking for international trend setters.  Roughly the size of Turkey but with a population of only 2.1 million, it has been an independent state for just 25 years.  Yet thanks to a recent initiative by its newly installed President, Hage Geingob, the country could become a leader in the worldwide struggle to combat corruption.  On May 21 the President voluntarily disclosed his income and assets and those of his spouse.  The disclosure is an effort to prod Namibia’s public servants to follow his example, but if President Geingob’s precedent setting move prompts other heads of state, in Africa and elsewhere, to voluntarily disclose details of their personal finances, the country may long be remembered for its contribution to the international movement to curb corruption.

As important as the disclosure are the actions the President took in connection with it, actions other heads of state seeking to emulate him should take as well. 

First, he had PricewaterhouseCoopers Tax and Advisory Services audit his finances to assure Namibians of the disclosure’s accuracy; second, its release was accompanied by a lengthy statement explaining how in his 50 plus years as a fighter and advocate for Namibia’s liberation, a World Bank and UN employee, and more recently an elected political leader, he amassed the US$4 million net worth he reported.  That detailed explanation should lay to rest concerns that the President used his time in office to profit unlawfully.  (It may also reassure Namibians of his qualifications to manage the nation’s finances, showing him to be a savvy investor in the Washington, D.C., real estate market and a frugal spender.)

The disclosure is the opening salvo in the drive the President announced in his April State of the Nation address to require Namibian public servants to report annually their income and assets.  The President explained that in the past some Namibian public servants had used their position to enrich themselves unlawfully — often through engaging in blatant conflicts of interest.  As he pointed out in his address, income and asset disclosure is an important tool for policing such conflicts, but at present in Namibia only legislators are obliged to report their finances, and compliance is spotty at best. The President pledged to require executive branch officials to disclose theirs, and he urged legislative leaders to ensure parliamentarians comply with their obligation to disclose.

The President’s disclosure of his finances, audited by a reputable international firm and accompanied by a detailed explanation, establishes a high ethical tone for his government.  It also sets a high bar for other heads of state wanting to improve the ethical climate in their countries.  His example could well encourage them meet the standard he is setting (perhaps with a nudge from civil society, opposition parties, and the media).  If other heads of state do follow his lead, his actions will echo far beyond Namibia’s borders, and those seeking a corruption-free world will owe him a significant debt of gratitude.

5 thoughts on “Raising the Ethics Bar: Namibia’s President Voluntarily Discloses His Income and Assets

  1. Thanks Rick, we have to give credit where credit is due. Your contribution helps us to build momentum in coercing other government lesders to do the same.

  2. There is much that is commendable about the President and First Lady’s decision to voluntarily declare their assets. Indeed, the amount of detail released was more than many anti-corruption campaigners in Namibia had expected – having been fobbed off for years by a series of excuses as to why meaningful public declarations could not and would not happen. However, it has to be remembered that the President – together with his cabinet – has the executive power to introduce mandatory asset disclosure regimes for cabinet members, MPs and senior government officials. It’s not enough to hope that others ‘public officials’ will follow suit voluntarily. At present, our new parliament, through the Speaker, is talking up its intention to make MPs declare their assets in the near future. However, MPs in Namibia’s National Assembly have not declared their assets since 2009 even though it is supposed to be an annual commitment. The system, which is weak and easily flouted, has not changed and therefore there is some scepticism about what will happen (or not) in the National Assembly. If President Geingob’s action is followed up by concerted and systematic action to entrench public asset disclosure as a key instrument for tackling corruption in Namibia, then this will be seen as a ground-breaking move. If there is little or no follow-up it may eventually viewed as more of a publicity stunt.

    • Thanks for providing valuable context about the Namibian situation with asset disclosure. The experience of Namibia’s neighbors shows just how hard it can be, even once a law is passed, to get compliance. In Ghana and South Africa years after enactment of legislation many civil servants were not (and may still not) be filing. I am told a disclosure law has been on the book in Angola for many years with zero compliance.

      Let’s hope the President’s voluntary disclosure helps with compliance. I would think if someone from the agency enforcing the disclosure requirement runs into resistance from senior officials tardy in making the required disclosure, the agent would have find it easier to make the case for compliance given the President’s example — and less likely to be cowed by the blather officials sometimes spew out as an excuse for not filing

      My hope is that other heads of state, in Africa and elsewhere, will be prompted (shamed?) into following President Geingob’s lead. Perhaps the one just to the north?

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