columnBy Gwen Lister
HAVE we gone entirely mad? Namzim Newspapers, a joint venture between Namibia and Zimbabwe, which publishes The Southern Times, is clearly bankrupt yet has been asked to increase the fees of its board of directors to a total of nearly N$1 million a year.
Words fail me, and I agree absolutely with the RDP MP Anton von Wietersheim demanding an explanation from the minister of information and broadcasting. But I doubt that a coherent one is possible. There's something seriously wrong with a government that does not realise its priorities are skewed when it faces the reality check that it doesn't have enough in state coffers to pay old-age pensions yet continues to keep worthless loss-making operations like this afloat.
LEAVE aside the fact that this is supposed to be a 'joint' venture (which has everything to do with politics and nothing to do with good business or good governance) and there seems to be little to no evidence that Zimbabwe is bringing its part at all, our already beleaguered Namibian taxpayers have to foot the entire bill for Swapo's largely misplaced yet undying devotion to Robert Mugabe. Another 'reward' for the struggle years perhaps, as we've done for other allies of the past? Yet since 2005 we've kept this failing project afloat, and now we're being asked to give the very board members who have the fiduciary responsibility to make something of the initiative, hefty increases for having failed to do so.
I thought we had years ago funded expensive commissions to look into remuneration of parastatal CEOs and their boards, and that recommendations had been made to keep these within manageable limits? I thought that boards were to be responsible for the good governance of such quasi or state-owned entities. Yet we continue to reward failure and more seriously, dereliction of duty. It is a travesty. It is also no wonder that the gap between rich and poor continues to widen when people at the top of the ladder are earning not one good salary, but sometimes two and more per month.
We take it the chairperson of the Namzim board and most of the members are otherwise gainfully employed. On top of this, they now want to be paid increases of 30-38 percent which would put earnings at N$136 000 per annum for the chair; N$132 000 for his deputy; and N$120 000 for ordinary members. For doing precisely what, one may ask, if the entire operation is bankrupt, and worse than that, in contravention of the laws and at risk of criminal prosecution by having failed to pay over PAYE to the tune of over N$1 million? Merely for sitting a few times a year to simply nod their heads as money goes down the drain? This is the job we pay them for?
I don't want to sound like an anarchist, because that is not my intention, but it is time that Namibians realise they have a say and should demand government accountability as to what happens to their hard-earned tax dollars. People should not wait until the next elections. They don't only have the right to vote for those they want in government, but they have the right to demand answers and accountability in between. It is not government's prerogative to mismanage state resources without consequence or question.
And since this 'venture' resorts under the minister of information and communication technology, he must answer. And government must come clean and be honest, and not think the people of this country are all gullible fools and like to stay that way. People have been fed the promises of 'turnaround' strategies long enough. Now the buck must stop somewhere and heads should roll.
Government needs to remember there is a differentiation that needs to be made regarding history struggle rewards. Swapo fought the struggle and feels this obligation to countries like Zimbabwe. Our government is a separate entity, and while it is a Swapo government, it is accountable to the people of this country, and not those of others. (Most) hardworking Namibians pay their taxes, in the form of VAT or PAYE, for the 'services' the government provides. Whether it is to look after them in their old age by paying pensions or by providing schools and hospitals. This is why we pay tax, namely for the better provision of services, and not to keep bankrupt entities afloat for the sake of old political comrades.
If government refuses to allow these 'ventures' to die a natural death or go bankrupt, then I should think that taxpayers will have good arguments to refuse to bankroll government's excesses any longer. It's one way to get them to stop the madness.