In my 11 years at The Namibian, Namibia’s largest daily newspaper, we have never published an investigative story that was more widely read than one earlier this year about a $10,000 bed and other furniture worth more than $100,000 that the president bought for himself.
Namibian President Hage Geingob wasn’t forced to resign or even apologize, but he is unlikely ever again to brush off our queries with the “none of your business” or “it’s my private property” reply that he gave us when we first asked him to explain the purchases. Many readers seem to now appreciate that the president may not have broken the law using tax exemptions to buy himself furniture. Yet the story made a case against unethical conduct and abuses of power.
The leader of the official opposition has made clear that his party will propose changes to the laws to curb entitlements and ensure that laws are not widely interpreted to allow the president to spend at will on foreign imports.
For me, the story (“Geingob’s Tax-Free Furniture”) stands out for the heated debate it stirred over whether our newspaper went too far in writing about the president’s private property. The president’s supporters invoked “invasion of privacy” as a defense. Critics came to our aid, pointing out that not only was the law interpreted to favor the president, but he was being hypocritical as he urges Namibians to buy Namibian products in furtherance of his “growth at home” policy.
Such lavish spending is widely perceived as preposterous in a country that is one of the poorest in the world. I believe even the president is embarrassed enough that he himself most likely will not stand in the way of proposals to limit his privileges.