THERE was always a danger that the Swapo Party congress would overshadow virtually all other issues and so it has proved.
The clash of personalities at the top of the ruling party proved to be an absorbing drama with a cliffhanging ending. Unfortunately, it cast almost no light on the critical issues facing Namibia or any of the policy alternatives that could be introduced.
Candidates offered only generalities as policy options. A stand-off between the 'radical' and 'moderate' wings of the party did not take place - mainly because the so-called revolutionaries were so inept at presenting even vaguely militant ideas while the 'moderates' failed to articulate anything more than a commitment to continuity.
Most congress resolutions appeared to be little more than restatements or slight embellishments of previous positions apart from an apparently knee-jerk and unresearched proposal to prevent foreigners buying urban land. Considering the congress resolutions were first debated at a special policy conference in August, the outcomes seemed undercooked and lacking in substance.
There were several positive aspects to the congress. The gathering did demonstrate that Swapo can manage internal democratic processes (a far cry from the shenanigans at the 2004 extraordinary congress) and indicated a shift away from political thinking based on ethnic loyalty.
But the congress did not appear to offer answers or guidance on some of the most troubling trends of 2012. Growing labour unrest linked to the gaping income inequality developed apace and may be aggravated by the recommendation that political office bearers receive a 31 percent increase while the public sector is being called on to show wage restraint. The problems of service delivery were encapsulated by the crumbling quality of public health services. This resulted in a commission of inquiry ordered by the president. It will take a radical departure from the existing political culture if this inquiry is to result in urgent and meaningful change. One fears that many recommendations will gather dust just like those of most previous presidential commissions.
GOALS AND TARGETS
The year did see the emergence of the fourth national development plan (NDP4) - a more focused effort than previous versions with the emphasis on logistics, tourism, manufacturing and agriculture and, importantly, the monitoring and evaluation (M & E) of the achievement of goals and targets. As admirable as NDP4 is, there is still a lingering sense that it is a National Planning Commission document rather than the guiding force for all ministries. It needs a government-wide buy in to succeed.
If we are to see increased implementation of policies and laws (as indicated in the rhetoric at the close of the congress), the M & E approach should be extended to all government programmes (in a manner that is far more rigorous than the Accountability Report published in the national budget and far more timeous than the auditor general's reports). This is especially relevant to Tipeeg (Targeted Intervention Programme for Employment and Economic Growth) which has mostly gone under the radar in a key year for its implementation. Budgeting remains a once-off event in Namibia (with all the focus going on the tabling of the Appropriation Bill) while its effective implementation should be the subject of regular report backs to parliament.
There is still no overall sense of how government goes about policy formation and implementation. Some policies - like the Black Economic Empowerment strategy (now rechristened as the New Equitable Economic Empowerment Framework) - take years to move forward while others are introduced almost overnight with no consultation or critical responses taken into account (the Employment Services Act springs to mind).
The draconian research regulations, which have the potential to damage Namibia's reputation for academic freedom, were signed into law despite being obviously unconstitutional. Either no one is checking or no one cares. Three months after this was pointed out, the regulations inexplicably remain in place.
Government does have the option of using the Law Reform and Development Commission (LRDC) to develop legal reform based on research and consultation. The LRDC did an excellent job during 2012 in proposing a series of electoral reforms following nationwide meetings. However, it remains to be seen whether government will follow through on this important initiative by introducing the six proposed new laws before the next elections.
The Namibia Statistics Agency made a promising start and raised hopes that future policy-making will be more evidence based. Already, the NSA has produced an important report on poverty and inequality and is starting to mine the census and national income and household data for information that can assist the development of targeted policies.
The ineffective functioning of Parliament remains a concern. The quality of debates is often still lacking while the committee system is not being used to scrutinise laws properly and bring to light weaknesses in their drafting
Namibia's democracy remains a work in process. Several key aspects of the checks and balances system envisaged in the Constitution are not functioning properly. Following the Supreme Court decision to reject the opposition's application on the 2009 election, the opposition parties are probably at their lowest ebb since independence. The candidacy of Hage Geingob presents a new challenge - particularly to ethnic-based parties like Nudo and the UDF. The traditional enclaves of opposition support may no longer be secure. But there are few signs of the parties being able or even interested in turning around their abject performance records before 2014. Civil society in Namibia remains diminished - hamstrung by a lack of resources and commitment - and therefore often unable to play its bell-ringing role on highlighting socio-economic issues and human rights abuses. While important attempts have been made to improve and speed up the delivery of justice in the courts - the lack of resources and skilled personnel remains a key worry that could undermine the rule of law.
Transparency International continues to place Namibia on the tipping point of a decline into being labelled a severely corrupt country. While corruption may not yet be endemic there are few signs of the political will needed to tackle it. The handling of the Neckartal Dam tender illustrated need for urgent reform of the public procurement system. The intensifying search for oil off Namibia's coast only served to emphasise that Namibia needs to adopt effective and accountable systems and regulations aimed at preventing corruption.
In another disquieting development, it became clear during the year that the elements of the political and business elite are in effect privatising large areas of communal land. This trend remained unchecked as typified by President Hifikepunye Pohamba's failure to pronounce himself on the apparent 'land grab' by the deputy minister of trade (a matter that was referred to him in April).
While some of the political questions concerning who will be the dominant personalities of the next few years were answered in 2012, very few of the urgent policy issues around tackling unemployment, inequality and poverty were sorted out. With the Swapo congress now over it is to be hoped that the president and his new Cabinet team can focus on the immense challenges facing the country. President Pohamba has two years left to create legacy while the incoming prime minister has a similar period to rack up some solid achievements ahead of his 2014 campaign. Now that their parts in the congress drama are over, the stage is set for more substantive action to remedy the country's ills.
* Graham Hopwood is the Executive Director of the Institute for Public Policy Research in Windhoek