President Hage Geingob’s state of the nation address (SONA) has drawn praise from commentators and opposition leaders who hailed the government’s efforts in strengthening the social safety net. Geingob announced an increase in disability grants from a monthly N$250 to N$1 300.
He also announced the consolidation of the Food Bank into a conditional basic income grant, in the form of N$500 cash transfers, which he said will go a long way to provide necessities and boost micro-economic activities in communities. “The SONA touched on a number of socio-economic issues that affect the Namibian populace.
What came out strongly and is quite commendable is the issue of grants to children with disabilities and the solidification of the Food Bank programme into a basic income grant of N$500,” said political commentator Rui Tyitende yesterday.
Additionally, the plight of the youth, through various initiatives announced by Geingob such as a National Internship Programme, will go a long way in addressing the skills deficit faced by the majority of young people who complete tertiary education.
Mike Kavekotora, a member of parliament (MP) for the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), echoed Tyitende’s sentiments, saying Geingob has unveiled several good measures targeted at aiding society’s most disadvantaged. Political commentator Gerson Sindano said the sharp increase in disability benefits was the highlight of his speech.
“Also, the 2% internship position is a welcome move to allow students to acquire the necessary skills,” he added.
Political commentator Graham Hopwood said overall, this was a more focused SONA than in recent years - with less rhetoric and more substance. He observed that Geingob provided a good summary of the most recent government initiatives and dropped in some good news announcements, such as the raise of the disability grant for children.
“There were also a series of welcome initiatives aimed at empowering the youth, the green hydrogen scholarships, DBN SME support, and concessional loans for green business initiatives,” Hopwood noted.
What Geingob missed
Meanwhile, Sindano said throughout the speech, agriculture did not receive the utmost attention it deserves.
“The President started talking about agriculture very late in the speech, a sign that perhaps his focus is on major capital projects such as Green Hydrogen and oil drilling,” he stated.
Overall, Sindano said Geingob’s speech also did not tackle the issue of restorative justice and reparations.
“In terms of structure and substance, the address was similar to one he gave last year, in 2021. The President acknowledged the economic hardships that the Namibian people are facing, but he did not elaborate on how his administration plans to address the soaring commodity prices,“Sindano observed.
Kavekotora noted that he was disappointed with a number of issues Geingob raised in addressing the plight of the youth.
“None of those measures can really address the plight of the youth. These are just a drop in the ocean, and the president demonstrated that they don’t really care about the plight of the youth,” he continued.
He said another worrying factor is that while Geingob acknowledged the conflict in Ukraine, he failed to inform the nation what measures his government is taking to mitigate the rising fuel and food prices. Also, Kavekotora said Geingob showed anger when responding to MPs’ questions on the genocide issue by claiming that he did his part, and others must take it further. “He did not like the criticism levelled against his government.
But the truth of the matter is that his government did not handle the negotiations to the satisfaction of the affected communities, and were just manipulated by the Germans,” he stressed.
Tyitende said Geingob should have raised the issue of crime that continues to affect and inflict harm on the most vulnerable in society - women and children.
In summary, he said the SONA is replete with initiatives that will take time to have an immediate impact and improve the quality of life for the downtrodden and dejected masses.
“More bold and tangible measures would have ensured that the 1.6 million Namibians living in poverty are part and parcel of the ‘Namibian house’”, he added.
Basic income grant (BIG) proponent Herbert Jauch said he is disappointed that BIG is still not being implemented.
“The BIG did not feature in the President’s SONA nor in the Social Protection Policy, which was launched last week.
The President merely confirmed that the food bank will be converted into a cash grant, but this is not a BIG. This will only reach about 45 000, while far more Namibians are living in poverty,” he lamented.
“A BIG would have reached them all, and it would also provide a stimulus for economic recovery. It is, therefore, disappointing that a BIG is still not being implemented.”