News and Information
Hidipo stands his ground
|November 24, 2004
| PETROS KUTEEUE
"PEOPLE came and made wild allegations here to make me look dishonest, bad and corrupt ... they thought this was a continuation of the witchhunt," former Minister of Foreign Affairs Hidipo Hamutenya yesterday told the Presidential Inquiry in the DBC and Amcom.
His remarks thrust to the fore the political undercurrents surrounding the public hearings, whose findings President Sam Nujoma has already vowed to make public, the first time this will be done in the case of a Government inquiry.
Supporters of Hamutenya view the probe as a witchhunt following the acrimonious nomination race in Swapo to choose the party's candidate for State President.
As expected Hamutenya's long-awaited appearance before the hearing generated huge interest from members of the public who packed the hall.
"There have been several commissions of inquiry in this country but not a single line minister was summoned ... there is an impression out there that this a Hidipo Hamutenya trial," he added.
"People came here thinking they will throw swipes at me so that they can look good."
Commission Chairperson Peter Unengu intervened:"When did you get the impression that this is a witchhunt commission?"
"It's not my impression, the people out there keep asking about my hearings, and this impression came at the time of the witchhunt which everybody knows," the former minister responded, in a calm and collected manner.
Unengu was at pains to try and convince the ex-minister that the inquiry was not targeting him, and that perceptions to that effect were not only damaging to Hamutenya but to the commission as well.
"Everybody coming here, including yourself, is not accused of anything. No one's image will be tarnished," the Chairperson said.
The Commission spent the morning session grilling Hamutenya on his involvement in the now defunct Development Brigade Corporation, particularly the appointment of its former General Manager Simon Shikangalah.
The currently highly forgetful Shikangalah had earlier testified before the Commission that he was given the job by Hamutenya and that the ex-minister instructed him to enter into some mineral agreements on behalf of NDC which later failed.
When these allegations were put to Hamutenya, he vehemently denied them.
In fact, he informed the Commission, Shikangalah was appointed by Cabinet.
"Mr Chairman something is strange here, I still want to know what you want from me. Shikangalah is a self-confessed sufferer of amnesia, to bring him here to testify, what do you expect to get from that," he asked.
"What is interesting is for you to produce evidence of letters where I instructed Shikangalah, I don't know where this is going to end if you are following what everybody said because people have a lot to say."
Hamutenya also bemoaned that the steering committee which drove the DBC was comprised of four ministers, "but the other ministers are now insignificant and everything is painted here that Hamutenya was doing everything alone."
Other members of the committee were current Minister of Foreign Affairs Marco Hausiku, Philemon Malima of Environment and Tourism and former Lands Minister Kapelwa Kabajani.
He asserted that it was not proper to expect the DBC to have operated on strict business principles because its formation was in response to a "potentially explosive" situation of jobless ex-combatants demanding jobs from Government because they fought in the liberation struggle.
"These people [ex-fighters] were very aggressive. We had to act quickly because the security of the country was at stake. They even held some of us ministers hostage," he said.
"When we were being held hostage by these people, we were bailing out Government but today we are being vilified."
Therefore, he stressed, it was not fair to claim that the N$120 million that Government spent on bailing out the DBC over the years was a waste because it had bought the peace and stability the country was currently enjoying.
Unengu indicated that the Commission was not questioning the rationale for using the money, but whether it was used appropriately.
Hamutenya retorted: "I think the question should be whether as a nation we know how to spend money efficiently.
What about the millions [of dollars] spent on Air Namibia, the millions lost at the Social Security Commission and the N$3 million at the Ministry of Defence which was supposed to buy weapons, but the weapons never came and the money is gone."
When the focus of the hearing shifted to Amcom, the proceedings continued in a similar pattern with the ex-minister maintaining that he had done everything with authorisation of Cabinet.
The Commissioners briefly locked horns with Hamutenya over the definition of "previously disadvantaged Namibians" when they dealt with the alienation of Amcom businesses.
Cabinet had directed that the first option during the sale of those businesses should be given to "previously disadvantaged communities" and former Amcom workers.
Hence the Commissioners wanted to know the definition of "previously disadvantaged" from Hamutenya.
They felt that some of the beneficiaries of the exercise were actually rich people who should not have been considered.
Hamutenya described the concept of "previously disadvantaged" in Namibia as reference to blacks and coloureds, but the Commission was seemingly not satisfied with that definition.
"When we empowered previously disadvantaged people in the fishing sector, we gave quotas to rich blacks and coloureds, so we cannot now try to be narrow-minded with the definition when we deal with this specific (Amcom) matter," he retorted.
"The Agribank affirmative action loans, me and you Mr Shinguadja (commissioner Bro-Matthew) will qualify as formerly disadvantaged."
The former minister further denied any involvement in Amcom's ill-fated pipe-making project, which saw the parastatal "cheated" of N$8 million by a would-be Italian business partner.
"Thank you for your testimony Mr Hamutenya. In the same vein this is the end of the public hearings," Unengu said, concluding the proceedings.
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