19 December 2012

Namibia: 'Underpaid for Years'

Attorney General Albert kawana, Police Chief Sebastian Ndeitunga, Auditor General Junias kandjeke and DG NPC Tom Alweendo.

THE majority of Members of Parliament, regional councillors and heads of uniformed forces would be smiling all the way to the bank if salary increases proposed to President Hifikepunye Pohamba are approved.

The Public Office Bearers' Remuneration and Benefits Commission has "insisted" that the president urgently needs to increase pay for political office bearers because failure to do so "will only prolong the pain".

The commission yesterday made public a report that it had presented to the president about a week ago in which it details its motivations for the salary hike, saying most elected officials and political appointees have been underpaid for many years.

In the report, the commission says it is satisfied that its proposals are "defendable" and will be "affordable".

The chairperson of the commission, Judge President Petrus Damaseb, and vice chairperson Monica Kalondo made their presentation in Windhoek yesterday.

President Pohamba is aware of the report, and has the power to decide whether to approve the suggestions.

Damaseb said the recommendations were not aimed at making political office bearers rich but it had to be done because, at the moment, they are paid "unfairly relative to their responsibilities".

"Because of erosionary effect of inflation on salaries of POBs over the years, the new remuneration should be seen as a salary adjustment, and not a salary increase," he said.

The commission also proposed that some POBs' positions be declared professional, because the government is unable to attract the necessary skills.

Individuals in such positions will be appointed and paid based on their skills and expertise.

The positions identified in this category are the attorney general, director general of the National Planning Commission, defence chief, chief of police and chief of prisons, the auditor general and the secretary to Cabinet.

Det for a hefty increase is Attorney General Albert Kawana, whose annual package is recommended to increase from N$790 575 to slightly more than N$1,4 million. National Planning Commission (NPC) Director General Tom Alweendo's salary should also go up from N$817 937 to about N$1,4 million.

Defence chief Lt Gen Epaphras Denga-Ndaitwah, Nampol chief Lt Gen Sebastian Ndeitunga and Commissioner Evaristus Shikongo should all earn N$827 887 per year more, bringing their annual gross packages to nearly N$1,22 million.

Damaseb and his fellow commissioners have pre-empted criticism of their recommendations by pointing out that they are aware of the "sensitivities" and emotions that salary increases for politicians evoke - high unemployment, poverty, huge income disparities and persistent comparisons with the increases given to government employees.

"They are lagging behind. Research has shown that public office bearers, relative to their remuneration, are not well paid," said Damaseb, who added that he "insisted" that the president act on the recommendation now because "in five years, maybe you will have to do 10 times more than what we are proposing".

Damaseb said they expect a backlash from the public. However, he added: "I'm so convinced that the big part of this debate will be deflected if you and I as taxpayers will get value for money.

"There's a great deal of reluctance [to accept the recommendations] but we have insisted that 'if you don't bite the bullet now, it will be worse later'."

The commission called for a functioning performance management system, although aware that the appointment of political office bearers is not necessarily based on standardised measurements.

Damaseb said the president should set up a mechanism that would ensure that public office bearers perform, and fire them if they don't.

It is the first time that the commission is sharing its findings and recommendations in such a transparent way since independence.

The commission's decision to make the information public carried the approval of President Pohamba and is aimed at giving expression to the public's the right to know.

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