Justice delayed is justice denied

By Lt Gen (rtd) Denga Ndaitwah

IT is always important but difficult to manage even our personal daily undertakings. The management of affairs encompasses goal setting in terms of what we want to accomplish and prioritising what we can afford. Both goal setting and prioritising are very difficult to determine.

It can happen in real life that one may set a goal without clear understanding of its far-reaching implications. While setting a goal is very easy, setting it without knowing its implications may result in wishful thinking. The same applies to the prioritising of events.

Prioritising is a method of arranging an action plan based on the importance and urgency of the matter. As there are financial implications, setting a goal and prioritising will also involve the affordability.

I spoke about the importance, urgency, prioritising and affordability. There are issues that are very important but not urgent. There are also issues that are important and urgent but not affordable.

Some classic examples are noteworthy: it is important that in a normal life one needs to marry. But it may not be urgent to marry tomorrow as you may not afford the cost tomorrow. In that sequence, not getting married tomorrow has not taken away the importance of marrying. Whilst marriage is important, it cannot be classified as urgent.

Another related example, it may be important and urgent to attend an executive meeting. In the process of going there you may realise your neighbour’s house where your child is playing with others is on fire. As a life-saving measure, extinguishing the fire will become the most important, urgent priority among other priorities. Simply put, the importance and urgency can always change depending on the magnitude of matters.

With that brief introduction, I shall briefly discuss two things that I strongly feel did not enjoy the importance, urgency and priority they deserved. These two aspects are the Caprivi Treason Trial and the disputed Presidential and National Assembly (NA) elections of 2009.

Caprivi Treason Trial

It was on August 2, 1999 when Caprivi region, as it was known, almost went up in flames after a group of soldiers supported by some fraction of the population took up arms with the aim to secede and dismember that region from the main land.

Thanks to the military preparedness of the Namibian Defence Force (NDF) that quelled that rebellion within a day, the skirmish culminated in the surrender and capture of some perpetrators. That is what gave birth to the Caprivi Treason Trial.

It is important to understand what treason is. There are no better words to describe and understand treason other than betrayal, subversion, disloyalty, sedition and rebellion. Based on that understanding, the action by rebels warrants to be classified as an important and urgent matter as their action fell into the category of treason.

Come August this year, the treason trial will have been on the table for 20 years. Over the course of 20 years, some prisoners died in prison while others were acquitted as they were found not guilty. Yet the trial continues with its end not in sight.

I do not need to go to law school to understand the implications of imprisoning someone for years on treason charges, and after years behind lock and key they will walk free. I shall only hypothetically assume that the 20-year delay before the treason case is decided may be blamed on the slowness of investigation, lack of evidence and a possible shortage of legal minds.

Be that as the case may be, I do not care for how long they will rot in jail after they are found guilty. My worry is the gravity of the treason case, which has taken years to be concluded. The question is, was this case classified as important, urgent and prioritised among other priorities?

This case, in my view, was supposed to be classified like a house on fire with people burning alive in there. The magnitude of the treason case is so serious that we were supposed to defer all other cases and deal with it timely and conclusively.

Disputed 2009 election results

Naturally, when people cast their vote they want to know the outcome as soon as possible. Of course, there may always be acceptable delays for one or other reason before the announcement of results, but delays must not take years before the electorate knows the outcome, particularly in the event of a dispute.

It is a well known fact that our presidential and NA election results for 2009 were disputed and became a court case. While disputing elections is a democratic right, which requires legal intervention, it was supposed to be resolved within a limited period of time prescribed by law.

In this specific case, before the court pronounced itself the president was sworn in, cabinet was appointed and the NA commenced its functions. We are all aware of the functions of both the cabinet and NA. Those bodies must always function within the four corners of the Constitution.

Among the cabinet’s functions are to ensure administration and execution of government functions. On the other hand, the NA is vested with the power to pass laws with the assent of the President.     

The political parties that disputed the presidential and NA election results brought an urgent application to court on 4 January 2010 but the case dragged on with the final ruling delivered only on 25 October 2012.

From the date the case was brought to court until the final date when the ruling was delivered is two year and nine months. God is great: the opposition did not win the case. I do not applaud because the opposition did not win the case, but because democracy survived the ordeal.

Should the verdict have been in the opposition’s favour, it is my conclusion as layperson that all that the cabinet and NA had been executing for that lengthy period of about three years could have been declared illegal and nullified.

The point to underline is that the court case was finalised when there was only one year and two months left before people of this country would cast their votes for the next presidential and NA elections again. As a democratic nation, our courts must not bring in elements of technicalities that caused the delay. The delay was just too unbelievable long.

In conclusion, the world we live in is not static. Because of its dynamism, it demands fast and agile minds that must adjust and move with the changing circumstances. The fast minds must understand the past but not get stuck in it. They must be current and futuristic.

This article brought out the elements of importance, urgency, prioritising and affordability. An attempt was made to explain that what is important may not always be urgent and what is urgent may not be necessarily be important.

In order to strike a balance between what is important and urgent, the best is to apply the techniques of prioritising and affordability. In some cases, the concept of first-in first-out does not always apply. It is the importance and urgency of the matter that determines what action should come first.

Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah is the former chief of the Namibian Defence Force, a holder of Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies, HOD and senior lecturer at IUM. These are author’s independent reflections and views.