20 April 2018

Namibia: The Military - Namibia's Spending Sock Monster?

opinion

Elsewhere in the world, especially in major economies, the military is widely known as the biggest job-creation programme a government could run.

Not in Namibia. Ours rather has a public perception (real or perceived) of being corrupt. This is despite the open knowledge that since independence spending by the military in this country has been ballooning nearly each financial year.

In the 2006/7 financial year, the Ministry of Defence's budget was only in the region of N$2,8 billion. But by 2015/16, it jumped to N$7 billion. In 2017/18 and 2018/19 it is slightly low but still high at N$6,4 billion and N$5,959 billion, respectively.

The only ministries that out-rival the defence ministry are education, arts and culture; finance, and health and social services. All the other ministries, including the one responsible for poverty eradication, are no match to the defence ministry when it comes to government budget allocations.

Of course, there are reasons why government, acting on behalf of you and me, every year ensures that the military is sufficiently funded. One is to defend the nation. But also the recognition that military is a key institution in our economy. Its roles and functions expand beyond defending the motherland.

Disappointingly though is how our military spends its budget allocation and where the money goes. The ministry's return on investment for the country is a slippery slope.

The Namibian military's spending habit can easily be compared to the analogy of the legendary sock monster in laundry machines. The sock monster is vociferously known for sucking socks by mysteriously making one sock disappear, and only to leave behind the other one for the owner.

Perhaps, not quite proportional to the sock monster, but it is very close. The military is sucking our public money without a viable return on investment, therefore turning the massive budget the Ministry of Defence has been receiving for 28 years of our independence into total opportunity cost.

An opportunity cost is a value of the choice of the best alternative forfeited by taking or choosing a different alternative that's poor or mediocre.

Each financial year we are told that a large chunk of the ministry's budget is dedicated to military infrastructure development, personnel, training and research on military equipment. Others are classified as 'lost profit' or 'not-for profit' spending.

The art of vagueness is what again? What exactly does 'lost profit' and 'not-for profit' entail? What exactly does research mean in military terms? And what military infrastructure and research output had been produced so far? Show the evidence, big spender!

Usually, the reason advanced is the 17th century military principle that the military cannot reveal everything for the sake of the country's security, therefore their spending must be shrouded in big secrecy.

Fine, I appreciate that someone is out there thinking of my country's security. For that I am ready to trade off some butter in order to have our military produce better guns, military planes and well-prepared soldiers.

But there is a need for some accountability, transparency and strategic spending. These are the defining characteristics of a 21st century army.

That the military receives the biggest chunk of our national budget is not what I am problematising here. How and what the budget is spent on is the main problematika.

This is not a pro-argument for more military spending. But merely to state that the economics of the military in providing jobs to soldiers and civilians alike; stimulating technical and technological innovations in mass transportation, communication systems, renewable energy; ICT, manufacturing and many other strategic areas on large scale.

That is to suggest that the billions poured into the military's coffer could impact a country's economy positively if strategically spent. Military is not only about warfare but plays a critical role in other sectors of the economy.

For example, not only does it employ soldiers but also thousands of civilians, it contracts out services, it invents new technology, contributes to research and development of the country and produces future leaders. Doing all those could be sources of job creation for our country.

What the military top brass should know is that you cannot create jobs if you are largely buying your equipment and materials from outside the country or largely using contractors outside the country.

The military cannot innovate, if its research capacity is zero or you do not scout and mould young talents in your own military to be in charge of the research/innovation and development programmes.

Equally, the military cannot impact the economy positively if large parts of its budget are dedicated to entertainment for the generals; its businesses are run in an unaccountable and non-transparent manner or spent on things that are not key priorities to the military and strategic interest of the country.

The military is a noble profession and represents the better nature of our society. Therefore it should act and behave in exemplary conduct in conducting its affairs, including budget spending.

*Ndumba Kamwanyah is deputy director at the University of Namibia's centre for development and teaching and learning improvement. Follow me on Twitter: @ndumbakamwnyah

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