1 March 2013

Namibia: Walk the Talk, and Others Will Follow


LATELY, Prime Minister Hage Geingob has made noteworthy statements in support of a corruption-free, transparent and effective Namibian government. If that is an indication of what the government under him will be like if and when he takes over from President Hifikepunye Pohamba, the least we can do as citizens is to back him in his efforts.

Speaking at a retreat with permanent secretaries, Geingob talked extensively about trust and perceptions that people may have of the government. He said good governance is directly proportional to "inclusivity, accountability, transparency and effectiveness". He warned against civil servants working only to enrich themselves, friends and relatives. One newspaper quotes him as saying: "If we make a commitment to adhere to these norms of inclusivity, accountability, transparency and effectiveness, trust will develop towards the political system and thus make our task of building a better Namibia for all easily achievable."

To all that may we add, if Geingob and his comrades in government do as they say, Namibia may yet experience groundbreaking improvements to take us out of this state of stagnation and inertia.

The prime minister told his chief administrators to cut out conflicts of interest that see many civil servants engage in business that competes with their public duties. He ought to go further in outlawing the current state where government employees sit as arbiters and role players in businesses. Merely declaring one's interest has clearly not worked since independence and this broken aspect needs fixing. It is in this area that Geingob may himself appreciate the power of perceptions, as questions around his getting US$300 000 for facilitating some yet unclear deal between Areva/UraMin and the Namibian government still linger.

He must be disappointed that soon after the statement he made last week on accountability, good governance and transparency, the Ministry of Finance this week appears unwilling to provide basic information on the national budget instead of opening up and giving the taxpayers the details on how their money will be spent. Governance cannot depend on the moods of those occupying public offices.

For the past couple of decades the government has tended to conceal information and take a hostile approach towards members of the public and journalists who bother asking uncomfortable questions. Many hide behind bureaucratic structures such as that information can only be released by an "accounting officer" (meaning a permanent secretary). If we understand Geingob correctly, things will no longer be the same. We welcome that.

"Turn a new leaf, to comply fully with these requirements, so that our people out there can stop their perceptions of corruption by our public offices," Geingob was reported to have said. We add: walk that talk.

No Hygiene, No Development

HOW can it be that a primary school will go for eight years (and counting) with broken toilets and facilities in a disused state. Readers must have cringed seeing pictures in this newspaper of children in school uniforms lining up to relive themselves in the open on the school premises of the Frans Frederick Primary School at Fransfontein in the Kunene Region.

The school has 400 pupils. One wonders how teachers there try to impart knowledge and skills about hygiene and its importance in national development. Without healthy children, parents are unsettled, which amounts to them becoming unproductive citizens. A developing country can ill-afford such a situation.

The authorities must not wait for a newspaper report before fixing toilets and improving hygiene in any community, whether it is in the urban or rural areas. Hygiene is as important to development as having an educated people.

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