• August 4th, 2020

Commendable cuts in government spending

Even if it may have been effected belatedly, President Hage Geingob’s directive to put a ceiling on monthly fuel usage for top government officials, as well as withdrawing off-road vehicles assigned to political office bearers, will be long remembered as one of the most strategic moves in an attempt to rein in government spending which many believe have been way out of control for a foreseeable future.

President Geingob’s resolve to also trim the size of the Cabinet earlier in the year and to terminate the 14 positions of special advisors assigned to regional governors, as well as a ban on purchasing new vehicles for ministers and other top government officials are all welcome moves. However, as political analyst Ndumbah Kamwanyah rightly observed, these measures should in no way be seen as a sign of goodwill on the part of the President since they are long overdue. Naturally, when a president is elected, it’s already a sign of endorsement from the people that “we want you to lead.”  All the President needs to do under the circumstances is to perform. Therefore, the issue that the President has done this and that out of goodwill does not arise.

Provision of luxury cars and other privileges to government officials is a customary practice all over the world. However, Namibia should assess its unique position in economic terms and align its spending according to priorities on the ground. The uncontrollable government expenditure, including unaccounted for fuel usage, over a number of years has rendered delivery of Namibian government services largely ineffective. As a case in point, the Namibian police have been faced with perennial challenges of responding effectively to crime scenes, and in curbing crime due to lack of vehicles in many instances. The Minister of Home Affairs, Immigration, Safety and Security, Frans Kapofi even acknowledged at the start of the second phase of the nationwide lockdown that the Namibian police require funding to repair a number of their damaged vehicle fleet to enable them to effectively enforce the new lockdown regulations. Currently, many damaged police vehicles are heaped up in garages throughout the country unable to be repaired due to lack of funds. Equally, many government vehicles that may have been damaged or involved in some kind of accident are parked in government garages all over the country as they cannot be repaired due to financial difficulties. In terms of health care delivery, there have been insurmountable challenges of lack or shortage of medicine, materials and vital medical supplies in major public health facilities, coupled with shortage of nursing staff, throughout the country. One health facility that is facing a near collapse is Katutura state hospital that was opened in 1973 as a referral public health facility.

After serving the public well for over 40 years, Katutura hospital today is a far cry from what it was following it is commissioning in 1973. Because we can now afford treatment at up-market health facilities such as Lady Pohamba, Mediclinic and Rhino Park does mean people do not go to Katutura hospital for treatment. As a referral center, Katutura hospital admits people from all the regions and refers some patients to Windhoek Central Hospital for specialised health care services. Apart from the chronic shortage of medicines, equipment and essential medical supplies, the facility is generally overcrowded as it is accommodating more patients than originally intended. Katutura hospital provided health care and in-service training to many prominent Namibians who today are probably receiving medical treatment at private health facilities such as Lady Pohamba, Mediclinic or Roman Catholic hospital. Just because the executive director, the minister or the President does not receive medical treatment at Katutura hospital does not mean the health facility should not be on the list of priorities to receive funding. Moreover, it is commonly understood that public health clinics in Windhoek and most other places face severe shortage of nurses and medicines, making very long queues of patients waiting to be served a common feature at all these facilities. Another very important sector in which government service delivery has not been very effective is the education sector.

Quite clearly, many government schools today continue to face shortage of school text books and other learning materials and equipment, insufficient classroom space, dilapidated and makeshift hostel accommodation, and a lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities especially in rural areas, sub-standard vocational training and low quality education primarily because of unqualified teachers. All these difficulties in government schools are attributed to lack resources and funding. There are many other sectors in government facing similar challenges and problems. Government did not have to wait until the onset of Covid-19 pandemic to realize that there are significant challenges the country is faced with before it can act. The problem here is the general leisurely approach usually taken by government officials to respond to issues that are critical in nature.

How does this happen? Once a minister is appointed the first issues to be sorted are the office equipment, especially acquisition of new furniture (tables and chairs) and other related office necessities. This happens many times despite the fact that the office to be occupied by the new minister is already fully equipped. Other issues include securing a new house or a new official government vehicle. Some ministers are on record to have publicly stated that they cannot use vehicles that were assigned to their predecessors. Once all these are secured, then the day starts with coffee / tea and newspapers. Reports that may have been compiled during the term of the previous minister, or issues still pending obviously must first wait! Next, the minister is on telephone with the wife, brother or friend telling them how he excited (or not) he is with his new job, whether he finds the executive director and other senior management cadres easy to work with, and so on. Then the whole day, or even the entire week, is gone. Meanwhile, the misery of people at informal settlements fighting ongoing water and electricity cuts, street vendors fighting the municipality for spaces to sell their items, taxi drivers fighting the City Police over harsh and stringent bi-laws, regulations are continuing. One thing that Covid-19 has exposed, since the implementation of the lockdown in March, is the general humane-nature of people. Many volunteers have come to the fore and donated the needed items to the most vulnerable groups, including provision of free face masks. Even the government had to cough up N$8.1 billion to help sectors most hard hit by the effects of the lockdown. All these had to happen because of the scare and uncertainty of Covid-19. The message should then sound loud and clearly to the president, ministers and all those in power positions that things can no longer be business as usual. If the government is able to pledge N$8.1 billion in this troubled economic times, then surely the opportunity exist to start addressing the most critical problems the country is faced with.

Staff Reporter
2020-05-22 10:17:07 | 2 months ago

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