October 5, 2006

War veterans get own ministry

President Hifikepunye Pohamba has established a new Cabinet Ministry for war veterans, which is to be run by Dr Ngarikutuke Tjiriange, former Minister without Portfolio. Tjiriange is also Secretary General of the ruling Swapo Party. The minister without portfolio post, which had been in place since 1998 with Pohamba as its first Minister, was abolished with immediate effect. In creating the new ministry, Government appears to have responded to recent demands made by a group of war veterans who want Cabinet to pay them compensation for the liberation struggle years and address their needs. "Our Government regards all those patriotic Namibians who took part in the struggle for national liberation of Namibia, regardless of whether such citizens were in exile or not, as ex-combatants," President Pohamba emphasised. "Since they have different needs and fall into various categories, further studies carried out by Government have shown that the time has come to create a central focal point where the needs of all war veterans could be addressed in a holistic manner. Against this background, I have decided after consulting my colleagues to create such a central focal point ... a new Ministry to be known as the Ministry of Veterans' Affairs," President Pohamba stated. The necessary ministerial staff would be drawn from existing ministries, offices and agencies to cut costs, he added.
Newly appointed Veterans' Affairs Minister Tjiriange delivered a ministerial statement in which he stressed that Government had tried various ways and means to address the issue of war veterans, like the Development Brigade, which collapsed after a few years, and the Structural Integration Programme for Ex-Combatants (SIPE), through which many former Plan fighters benefited. "Some fighters were also given cattle to start farming activities; some were absorbed in existing Government institutions." Tjiriange reminded that the Special Field Force in the Police was specially created to accommodate former fighters, but said Government realised that more still needed to be done. He would first need to organise the new Ministry and structure it, he said.
However, a human rights lawyer held that the existing Ministries should rather focus more on pressing social and economic problems, including those of the welfare of ex-Plan fighters. Norman Tjombe of the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) said by creating a special Ministry for veterans, Government seemed to be running away from its obligation to deal with the welfare of other people who were detained and tortured in exile. "These people are now also in a terrible socio-economic situation because of the war for Namibia's Independence," he said when approached for comment. "There are a number of people who never left the country, but were in one way or the other severely affected by the war, and their welfare should be handled with the urgency it requires. "It will be appropriate, in line with the Government's policy of reconciliation, that the new Ministry also assist the plight of war veterans who fought with the apartheid regime, such as the ex-SWATF members," Tjombe added. "By focusing on one group, there is a real risk of a perception that others in need will be excluded," he warned. (The Namibian, Windhoek)

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