President Hage Geingob yesterday struck an optimistic tone and assured the nation that Namibia’s economic trajectory entered a period of revival, with green shoots on the horizon, but the fact that he left parliament without answering all questions irked some opposition members. Geingob stirred up controversy when he decided to abruptly call it quits during the Sona.
The president, who had already fielded several rounds of questions from parliamentarians, stunned the audience with his unexpected announcement that his time was up.
His departure left many of the assembled lawmakers feeling deflated and frustrated. Several expressed disappointment that the president seemed more concerned with his own retirement plans than with the pressing issues facing the nation.
Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) leader McHenry Venaani said Geingob’s behaviour was a clear indication that he did not have the best interests of the country at heart.
Geingob highlighted an optimistic new investment climate, fuelled by recent oil discoveries as well as green hydrogen plans.
In his state of the nation address (SONA) that lasted for almost two hours, he told a joint sitting of parliament that in response to the challenge of unemployment, the Namibia Correctional Services has commenced the process of recruiting 300 new guards, while the Namibian Police will recruit an additional
1 000 officers in 2023, which will significantly relieve the human resources’ constraints being experienced in the police force.
He added that the Namibian Defence Force has recruited 1 470 intakes during 2022, and has made provision to recruit an additional 1 500 new soldiers for 2023.
Geingob mentioned that more than 30% of the total population receives a government grant in one form or another, which translates to approximately 620 000 individuals, not considering the multiplier effect of beneficiaries per household.
The agricultural sector is the largest employer of young Namibians, and through the multiplication of seed-related activities, temporary employment was created for 4 519 people. “This naturally presents a long-term challenge as it will not be sustainable
for so many of our people to depend on government support for their livelihoods. For this reason, the fight against poverty must be responded to by using multifaceted strategies, including engendering job-creation through new, complementary engines of growth,” he said.
He was quick to outline that government administers a number of other grants in a multi-pronged approach to arresting poverty. These include grants to orphans and vulnerable children, which will be increased from N$250 per month to N$350 this year, and grants to people with disabilities, which have increased in value from the initial N$250 to the current N$1 400 per month. To mitigate hunger, poverty and reduce transactional costs, Geingob noted the Food Bank was converted in April 2022 into a monthly cash transfer amount to phase in a conditional basic income grant with monthly payments
of N$600. Also, grants to war veterans amounted to N$871 million per annum. On providing relief to many low-income earners, he said the doubling of the minimum tax threshold from N$50 000 to N$100 000, and the
gradual reduction of the corporate tax rate from 32% to 30% are some of the responses from the government in that respect.
Namibia’s domestic economy has demonstrated resilience, registering a better-than-expected growth of 4% last year, with the expectation for further forecasted growth of 3.2% this year.
Furthermore, Geingob stated that Namibia attracted foreign direct investment (FDI) worth N$13.2 billion or 7.2% of gross domestic product (GDP) during the first nine months of 2022, primarily driven by equity injections for exploration activities following the offshore oil discoveries.
“This was the highest year-on-year growth we witnessed since 2015. These financial inflows are running at a record high, with FDI being the main contributor. Indeed, these green shoots are undeniable. It is expected that high FDI inflows are likely to continue in 2023 on the back of oil discovery appraisals, coupled with the commencement of the green hydrogen project feasibility study to the tune of N$2.5 billion,” he added.
According to him, this demonstrates growing investor confidence in Namibia. Nevertheless, he said there is still a need to foster broad-based economic growth across all sectors of the economy. Thus, Government will continue to expedite the implementation of supportive supply-side policies to lessen constraints on economic activities and facilitate the ease of doing business.
Geingob stated that efforts to develop complementary engines of growth have begun to bear fruit towards creating new avenues to diversify the primary sector-focused economy.
He added that Namibia has pioneered a billion-dollar green hydrogen valley concept in sub-Saharan Africa, attracting in the process over N$1.5 billion in grant funding during the period under review. Towards the end of this month, the government will announce 93 Namibians who will receive scholarships worth more than N$34 million to pursue their Master’s and TVET studies in areas related to the synthetic fuels industry.
Additionally, the ministries of mines and energy, and industrialisation and trade will conduct feasibility studies to explore the possibility of using low-cost renewable energy from the envisaged hydrogen industry with the objective of creating a green manufacturing hub. “We will investigate the possibility of using the industrial parks in Walvis Bay to accommodate these green industrial projects.
Using our abundant renewable energy as a means of establishing local industry will require the right mix of incentives and an attractive investment ecosystem,” said the President. He further stated that The Namibia Investment Promotion Development Board (NIPDB) is working with the home affairs ministry to formulate a targeted golden visa programme to incentivise and attract investors with skills, capital and ambitions to set up businesses and residency in Namibia.
“Our pursuit of economic recovery and inclusive growth in Namibia rests upon the implementation of robust anti-corruption measures across all institutions in the public and private sectors,” the President added.
First to rise after Geingob’s rather voluminous statement was Venaani, who asked if the President was prepared to declare youth unemployment a state of emergency to arrest the crisis. “You have failed the youth,” Venaani said, adding that it baffles him that the government was prepared to spend over N$600 million through a controversial tender to procure condoms and surgical gloves, while young Namibians languish in poverty.
He also asked Geingob whether his administration is prepared to renegotiate agreements with multinational mining conglomerates to the benefit of Namibians.
“We own nothing more than 10% of mining resources. Are you ready to renegotiate better deals?” Venaani wanted to know.
He then moved to agriculture, saying the country cannot move out of multi-dimensional poverty if government continues spending over 5% of the budget on defence, while reserving less than 4% for agriculture.
On his part, Landless People’s Movement leader Bernadus Swartbooi asked Geingob whether he supports calls for Africa to have a spot on the United Nations Security Council, and whether he supports China’s 12-point plan to resolve the war in Ukraine. The opposition leader then said the Namibia Geingob painted in his Sona is different from the situation on the ground.
Swartbooi painted a bleak picture, saying poverty statistics among Namibia’s marginalised are dire.
If government’s interventions are
working, “why does the picture on the ground tell a different picture?” he asked.
He nonetheless lauded Geingob’s green hydrogen drive, but lamented the fact that it is too centralised around the President and his inner circle, to the exclusion of other government agencies, even his own ministers.
Donned in traditional Nigerian attire, the National Unity Democratic Organisation (Nudo)’s secretary general Joseph Kauandenge was ready for Geingob.
“I believe I am in a different country from the one described by the President... the President is here to answer questions; he’s not doing us a favour,” he said, setting the tone for his contribution. He also accused Geingob of having perfected the art of promising, yet failing to deliver. Kauandenge then asked the President when his administration will set aside a day in the national calendar to commemorate the 1904-1908 genocide.
Reacting to the Sona afterwards, Venaani said “for the president to argue that he is not a member of parliament and can’t answer questions indicates that he is really in a retirement mood. He is confirming to us that he is a president of rhetoric. Our dreams and hopes as a country are postponed for green hydrogen and oil, but there is nothing that has been done,” he charged.
Rally for Democracy and Progress president Mike Kavekotora said he was disappointed in both the President and Speaker for the way the Sona ended.
“That’s the most arrogant attitude that I have ever seen, and that is why Africa is going down the drain. …because of the incompetence of the Speaker. Why did the Speaker allow questions to be posed for the second round, and allow the President to leave without answering?” asked a furious Kavekotora.