I would like to take this opportunity to respond to the editorial of the Windhoek Observer of 2 December 2016 in relation to the One Economy Foundation’s link to the Invest in Namibia Conference 2016. The editorial asserted that the “First Lady’s private One Economy Foundation hosted a Gala Dinner” on the eve of the Invest in Namibia Conference in November 2016. Essentially, the editorial seems to question how a “private effort that benefits a non-governmental trust hosts events in full or in part using State funds and the good office of the presidency.”
The above constitutes valid questions if indeed State funds, in full or in part, were used to host the event or that the One Economy Foundation was part of the Official Invest in Namibia Conference that was held in November 2016. It appears the expediency of relying on what appears to be an unreliable “State House source” caused the fatal flaw of editorializing blatant untruths. As the Windhoek Observer never contacted us to ascertain facts at the time of formulating their position, we are compelled to respond as follows:
• The One Economy Foundation (“ONE”) is established in terms of the Namibian Companies Act as a Section 21 company (Association not for gain). The Board constitutes its Chairperson (First Lady, Ms. Monica Geingos) and six independent, non- Executive Directors who collectively oversee the governance of the Foundation;
• The “gala dinner” referred to in the editorial was the One Economy Welcoming Cocktail Reception held on the evening of 7 November 2016. While there were over 800 participants who attended the Invest in Namibia Conference, the ONE cocktail was held at a separate location to the Conference, which location could only accommodate 70 standing guests. Of the 60 people who attended, half were international delegates and the other half were local ONE stakeholders. This was by no means a large or expensive “gala dinner”;
• The cocktail was billed as a Side Event to the Investors Conference and was never intended to be part of the Official program. The hosting of Side Events is common practice at international events, independently organized and financed from the main event. During her brief speech, the First Lady focused strictly on social issues such as poverty, inequality and the work One Economy Foundation and other Civil Society Organisations were doing to complement the Government’s “War on Poverty.” Like all One Economy Foundation events, it was neither partly nor fully funded by State funds as alleged.
• Due to the Board’s sensitivity of potential conflicts of interest, or the perception of such, the One Economy Foundation Board has adopted a stringent Governance Framework which we are happy to make available to the Windhoek Observer. We found it disingenuous that the editorial ends with a caution against passing judgement when its headline and content does exactly that. Especially when it blithely ignores the two source rule, a simple but vital journalistic tool to ensure a balanced story by providing two sides of the story, especially when the only source is unnamed and therefore unverifiable. As a Foundation closely linked to the First Lady, we understand and accept that a higher level of scrutiny will be applied to our operations. As we have nothing to hide, we welcome and encourage such scrutiny as it will assist us to continuously review our governance framework. Namibia’s current First Lady, like the First Ladies before her, is not the first to be the Founder of a social, non-profit project, and we certainly hope that future First Ladies will be able to contribute their energies to worthy causes without having to unduly justify or defend their role and advocacy work.
The main aim of the Foundation is to meaningfully address structural poverty and high levels of income and wealth inequality by building a bridge of opportunity that allows more Namibians to enter and/or elevate their participation in the first economy. With the Foundation’s robust governance framework, qualified pillar leaders, strategic partnerships and culture of transparency we believe we are able to achieve our goals. We welcome any discussion in relation to how we can improve both the governance and operations of our Foundation as our intention is to benefit Namibians who have the talent but lack adequate opportunities. While we are saddened by the attempt to disparage an individual at the expense of the Foundation, we remain committed to our work and look forward to working with the Windhoek Observer to ensure equitable access to economic opportunity.
On behalf of the Board of the One Economy Foundation,
Ms Uajo Akwenye
Chief Executive Officer
One Economy Foundation
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