8 November 2012

Namibia: Prime Minister Weighs in On Cost of Living Debate

Windhoek — Prime Minister Nahas Angula has dismissed the notion that political office-bearers have it easier than ordinary civil servants. He also said it is not true that political office-bearers have been improving their own conditions of service. He nevertheless admits that there is genuine pressure among the lowly paid workers because of inflation, which has culminated in the industrial strikes that have erupted across the country.

Expelled secretary general of the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), Evilastus Kaaronda, earlier said government is prepared to fast-track salary adjustments for politicians, but drags its feet when it comes to adjusting the salaries of civil servants.

The outspoken former union boss claims government often says it has no money when it is approached to increase the salaries of civil servants, while on the other hand there is always money available for salary increments and a raft of princely perks for politicians. Kaaronda reiterated his views in an interview with New Era on Tuesday.

"Ministers have endless allowances, even furniture allowances that the taxpayer pays for. Political office-bearers thrive at the expense of ordinary Namibians," he charged.

Furthermore, the expelled unionist said some Cabinet ministers do not pay for daily living expenses such as petrol in comparison to ordinary Namibians who endure hardships. Kaaronda said the political elites do not need to take a taxi to get to work, unlike many ordinary Namibians some of whom take home a paltry salary of only N$3 500 per month. "Civil servants spend approximately N$300 per month on taxi fares; they use more than half of their salaries for basic needs and are left living a life of poverty," he said, adding that in most cases they face a daily battle to make ends meet.

But Angula, who spoke to New Era on Tuesday, countered that those statements "are not completely true".

"Yes, government established the Public Office Bearer's Commission some years ago. This commission has been reviewing the conditions of service for political office-bearers. A report has been issued recommending that benefits be improved and issued to the President. He [the President] has been considering the recommendations but no decision has been made on that report," he said to clear the air.

Angula reiterated that it is not true that political office-bearers have been improving their own conditions of service, saying while the report recommending certain increases is available, its recommendations have not been implemented yet, contrary to the impression created by some. On daily living expenses such as petrol, Angula said political office-bearers like him have a transport benefit. "When I come to work every morning, I travel with petrol that is not mine. It is part of my conditions of service as the Prime Minister. But on weekends when I decide to travel to my farm, I buy my own fuel and put it in my own car because that is a private undertaking," explained Angula.

"There might be some political office-bearers who use public transport for private business, but I have no evidence to that effect. I make a difference between my private business and public business," stressed the Prime Minister who is known for being modest and down to earth.

On the genuine pressure among the lowly paid workers because of inflation, he said government is sympathetic to the plight of the lowest paid workers and that it tried to alleviate this pressure by deciding that anyone earning a yearly salary below N$40 000 should not pay personal income tax.

In spite of this, individuals have to pay sales and value added taxes at the shops and inflation is catching up with them. Because of this pressure, some of the workers are lured by micro-lenders to borrow money and are charged exorbitant interest rates that erode their disposable income, he admitted.

"They find themselves in a difficult situation to pay back the loans and end up working for micro-lenders every month," he said, adding that people are preparing for the festive season and everyone wants some extra cash in their pockets.

On the situation of the middle and upper level salaried groups, Angula admitted that people want to have assets and roofs over their heads when they retire. "For them the question of housing and transport is key to the improvement of salaries or conditions of service," added the Prime Minister.

He also emphasised that Namibians can only build a better country if they work within the law. "If we ignore our own laws, we create a condition of anarchy and chaos. Whatever grievances we have, let us solve those grievances in respect of our own laws. I hope that the negotiation teams will conclude their negotiations in the shortest time possible," said Angula.

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