21 December 2012

Namibia: May 2013 Be a Purposeful Year


FOR all the boasting that Namibia is a rich country, we live like a poor family - unable to get out of the 'hand to mouth' cycle. It need not be like that because compared to many countries, Namibia really is an 'upper-middle income country' where no one should go to bed without a meal as more than 500,000 Namibians do currently.

It is not too late to change. But the truth is that the entire country is now caught up in an unsustainable bubble that needs strong-willed political and economic leaders to fundamentally change course.

A few major news stories this week must serve as a wake-up call to the reality that Namibians, no less the government, are living way beyond their means and that it might happen sooner rather than later that we join the Western nations whose governments are technically bankrupt. Already, several state-owned companies, which ought to be self-sustainable, are not doing so, and these are major role players in society like TransNamib.

Among indicators from news reports this week about just what is wrong with the status quo were the salaries of politicians and government employees [civil servants]. The main drivers for the demand or push of the pay packages of government employees have become the high and ever-rising cost of living (inflation).

Little regard is given to affordability and, most importantly, value for money i.e. performance so that everyone can rest assured tax funds are not used to prop up trendy lifestyles of people who would rather spend work time doing their private business.

Some may think interrogating this issue is much ado about nothing, but the numbers are scary. By the end of March the government would have spent about N$15.5 billion on paying its employees and politicians, a sum of about 100,000 people. Three years from now that figure will have risen close to N$20 billion. Add to the salaries the running costs merely to keep the state machinery going at current levels and the total spending will be N$32 billion by March, with half of it attributable to salaries for less than one percent of the Namibian population. Don't forget that the government sustains state-owned enterprises that should have been self sufficient.

By contrast, state revenue it is hoped will be N$35 billion by March, leaving little to build new infrastructure for our growing population of 2.1 million, consisting more than 65 percent of which are youth.

The government borrowed N$11 billion last year [N$5b this year, N$6 billion the following one and nearly N$470m in 2014/15] to have some money for development.

With the widespread waste that we have become accustomed to Namibians must be concerned that even the borrowed funds may not spur the country to development, never mind more equitable distribution of the resources.

The cold hard numbers suggest it will be a hard journey along the path we are treading despite our pretence that all is rosy in our resource-endowed country.

When Judge President Petrus Damaseb emphasised that politicians and their appointees must get a pay hike of 31 percent as a matter of "biting the bullet" now rather than later; in reality what is needed in 'biting the bullet' is a fundamental reorganisation of our government structures and systems.

Performance monitoring aside, it cannot be sustainable to have 406,000 taxpayers in a country of 2.1m and more than 100,000 of them [including parastatals and government agencies that are always dependant on state bailouts] paid from the same tax revenue pool. It makes no sense to keep economically active people dependent on taxpayers with the government pretending to be an employment agency while it is not involved in direct generation of taxable wealth.

For 2013 and beyond, the government leaders must bite the bullet by reducing the tax burden on the minority shouldering the majority if the country is to sustain itself for decades.

In addition, the government of the day must get serious about accountability. It helps no one having, for instance a minister presiding over a ministry which cannot hire and fire top staff members yet is expected to deliver. The same applies to the lip-service paid to decentralisation - let the voters decide on their ward and constituency councillors and allow the elected officials to appoint and run institutions to deliver. Only then can they account directly to the electorate in their communities.

The year 2013 should be an opportunity for the President and other elected officers to show purposeful leadership instead of placating the voters with cosmetic changes such as reshuffles of ministers and permanent secretaries as a mark of decisiveness.

We wish all our readers, supporters and advertisers the best for the festive season and for 2013.

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