8 January 2016

Namibia: Abandon Wasteful Spending, Please


New year's resolution for 2016: The Namibian government will adopt a smart approach towards the handling of taxpayers' funds as a priority. This is not wishful thinking, but an easily attainable goal. All it requires is political will.

Last year, especially towards the close of 2015, the government just seemed to abandon any form of self-restraint when pushing spending levels to dizzying heights. The taxpayer was given no choice but to bankroll about N$7 billion to upgrade the international airport on the outskirts of the capital city, Windhoek.

Several billion dollars were earmarked for tarring roads. The cost of a non-urgent fuel storage facility mysteriously escalated from N$700 million to N$4 billion.

The fuel storage project has hiked the costs of the harbour expansion at Walvis Bay, and that port venture has already been put at about N$5 billion. And just before Christmas, the ministry of energy announced that Nampower's latest "preferred" electricity partner, Xaris, has come back into favour and was given the go-ahead to put up a power station, which by some estimates will cost more than N$5 billion and eventually consumers will pay much more than they should have if government had taken expert advice seriously.

As if that was not enough, the most conservative calculation The Namibian could get after State House's refusal to provide information, shows that President Hage Geingob pocketed N$2,4 million in less than eight months from travel allowances - nearly double the head of state's annual pay cheque.

Not to be forgotten is that parliament has ballooned due to the increase in the number of elected politicians. And the lawmakers' water and electricity subsidies paid by the taxpayers were increased from a few hundred to as much as N$4 000 per MP.

To put it simply: Namibia's ruling class has been spending as if there is no tomorrow. But we all know that some day the chickens will come home to roost. Signs were already ominous during the year when the Bank of Namibia and the Ministry of Finance quietly raised the alarm that the country was running short of cash. So concerning was the cash flow problem that we went borrowing from foreigners just to give our state a healthy look.

Yet we remain in denial if, as was confirmed this week, the government is to proceed to re-advertise the airport rebuilding contract, which will cost several billion.

What most of these mega-buck projects have in common is that they are not only wasteful of taxpayers' funds, but they are also dubious because of the people driving them. Xaris, for instance, is owned by among others, the likes of Swapo secretary general Nangolo Mbumba, who is a long-time Cabinet member (now ex-officio) and Bonny Paulino who works at the state's financial regulatory agency. Most of the projects are convened and driven by people who are both referee and player across several sectors of society.

Worst of all, these projects and expenses (an airport, a fuel storage unit, travel and allowances) will benefit the elite from conception (kickbacks, bribes and profits) to implementation - as airports serve mainly the rich. They also are being undertaken at the expense of quality education and health provision, in a country where three quarters of the people have to rely on the government because their income is too meagre to pay for anything other than food and transport.

How depressing! Can government instead provide the people of this beautiful land with something to cheer up their dejected spirits?

As we shrug off the sluggishness of holidays and 2016 kicks into productive gear, we wish our ruling elite new wisdom to think first about caring better for Namibia, especially its most vulnerable citizens.

We also hope that fellow citizens will heighten their resolve to push government into doing what is right for the majority rather than favour a selected few.

Abandoning wasteful and dubious spending habits hold the potential to make 2016 a happy and prosperous year for Namibia.


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