A leading political commentator has urged government to consider placing a moratorium on state and official funerals, as rising deaths, mostly attributed to Covid-19, have seen the authorities overspending the allocated budget by N$5 million.
Since January this year, government has spent a total of N$6.1 million on state and official funerals conferred on 52 Namibians.
“I think a moratorium must be put in place on state funerals and subject all Covid-related deaths to the state burial under Covid-19 regulations. We are in a pandemic not under normal situation, which therefore calls for the suspension of certain activities such as state funerals,” said commentator
Only N$1 million has been allocated for state and official funerals in the current financial year. The executive director in the Office of the Prime Minister, I-Ben Nashandi, yesterday revealed since the new financial year, which started in April last year, two designated heroes’ burials have cost government N$448 591.28, while 11 state funerals have cost the taxpayers N$2.75 million between May and July 2021 alone. The government funded official funerals for N$2.86 million was spent on 39 deceased persons between July 2020 and July 2021.
“We have a special account where we put this N$1 million. There was also money in this account from last year financial year. However, this money has already been depleted.”
Nashandi said due to a surge in Covid-19 deaths, the OPM approached treasury that transferred N$1.5 million to the account. “We had money (N$5 million) reserved for independence celebrations which was scaled down because of Covid-19 so we can money for such burials. We then asked treasury to use that money meant for the independence celebration (the N$5 million). We are not going to go back to treasury to ask for money.”
Although critics have over the years warned against creating a trend of state funerals, saying it can become dangerous and highly expensive, President Hage Geingob last week also expressed shock over rising deaths due to Covid, saying even the government’s allocation for state funerals has been exhausted.
“I have never seen a situation like this before. Let us hold hands to march on and obey what you are told to obey. Even money is finished for state funerals. We are reviewing how to cut down on state funerals,” Geingob said last week.
Popular Democratic Movement leader McHenry Venaani also supports calls to scale down on funerals, saying the majority of those receiving honours are able to afford dignified burials.
“There is no need for the government to buy coffins for those who have GIPF pension. People have funeral covers. You can only do state funerals if you can afford it. Honours doesn’t mean to spend,” Venaani said. Executive Director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) Graham Hopwood said the issue is both difficult and sensitive.
“Some of the protocol and ceremonial aspects of these funerals could be rationalised to cut costs. Ultimately, the main way of reducing such costs is to bring down the Covid death rate as soon as possible through increased vaccinations and the following of other health guidelines,” said Hopwood. According to Nashandi, due to the limited number of 10 persons per public gathering in place, he noted government also cut down on the amount of food, tents and other logistics.
“We are now using savings because the heroes’ events and state funerals budget is depleted. Due to Covid-19, we have state funerals almost every week unlike in the past years.” Under the Conferment of National Honours Act, 2012, the state, hero and official funerals are conferred to
persons who have done a heroic deed for public good or have made an outstanding contribution or achievement for Namibia, and honoured as such by the President.
The President has accorded a number of state and official funerals to struggle stalwarts and traditional leaders, of whom the majority succumbed to the pandemic in the last couple of months.