22 December 2017

Namibia: 2017 Goes to Minister Schlettwein


THOSE who followed 2017 closely might agree with me that it was not just a tough and tasteless Swapo campaign year but economically it was also a pivotally bad year in many ways.

So what a better way to remember the tasteless economic situation of 2017 than to imagine the ramifications it could have, had a different person - who perhaps have different economic acumen than the incumbent - was at the helm of the finance ministry.

Therefore, finance minister Calle Schlettwein is indisputably my person of the year. If you followed the happenings of 2017 you might not find my choice of Calle Schlettwein too much of a surprise.

He competently, against tough economic and financial odds the country found itself in, guided the President and the country through the economic catastrophe that almost paralysed the country and set the country on a course that, while still shaky, is pointing towards a recovering economic future.

That makes him President Hage Geingob's best pick for the finance job. It was also not a surprise when President Geingob included him on his list of 10 for the Swapo Party central committee pick. Not only does the minister earn to be picked by the President but it is also telling about the value that he is bringing to the administration and Namibia.

In considering which person, idea or object to choose for 2017, I did not go by the standard practice of giving this title to a person, a group, an idea, or an object that has done the most to influence the happenings of the year.

Had I gone that route, obviously the Swapo congress, Team Swapo and Team Harambee would have definitely scooped the award. What influenced my choice are his careful projections of economic and public policy knowledge; his incorruptible character; his principled and measured approach to governance; and his decisiveness and intellectual rigour when dealing with issues and challenges facing his ministry or public policy.

These are qualities and soundness which largely were missing in action at many levels of our governance and administration. Instead, what we got in 2017 was more of the same. Talk, talk and more talk!

Minister Schlettwein has demonstrated a firm commitment and leadership to using the finance ministry to help foster economic growth, efficiency and uncorrupt governance. He has formulated sensible budget allocations that has seen government allocate a big chunk of its fiscal expenditure to a social cause and social safety net aimed at protecting the poor and vulnerable of our society.

His austerity measures and tax collection strategy, including the identification of regions/towns and companies that have not been paying tax, both are geared toward bringing revenue in the public coffers.

Despite several downgrades of Namibia to junk status by various international rating agencies, he actually prevented Namibia's economy from collapsing completely. We are still not out of the woods but by the look of things, it is safe to say that signs are consistently showing that Namibia's economy is growing.

These are quite impressive achievements for a minister who could not qualify on the party's ticket to the congress because he does not have a political constituency to nominate him.

A person who publicly clashed head-on with the attorney general and the corruption buster boss for the failure to account why and how over N$30 million was paid to the UK lawyers whose work was questionable should be the person of the year.

If the genocide legal fees makes him my person of the year, it also means that he has beaten out the attorney general's office and the ACC. While at that, I also thought about the roles journalists played. It was Sonja Smith of the Windhoek Observer who broke the genocide legal fee story. That, too, makes journalists the winners of 2017.

By insisting for an investigation, Schlettwein was a lone wolf among his peer who looked the other way and pretended it was normal for a country faced with many economic challenges to prioritise the payment of outsourced lawyers from the UK.

It was also Schlettwein who refused to pump N$500 million of taxpayers' money into the failed SME Bank project in order to resuscitate it. In hindsight, it was a good and principled move to allow the bank to die.

Not only has he consistently advocated but has also taken stern measures against ministries and state-owned companies that abuse their budget votes and then seek bailouts from treasury.

Lest we forget that I am also here talking about the first (if not the only to do so) minister that publicly declared his assets, following the example set by President Hage Geingob and First Lady Monica Geingos.

We have gone through a very difficult economic time, and frankly, the economy is still struggling. But by doing all these things he did in 2017 to stabilise the economy and stamp out corrupt behaviour, minister Schlettwein not only proved the potency to be in charge but also reassured the Namibian public that their money is in good hands. And that is good for Namibia.

* These are the views of Ndumba Kamwanyah and not necessary of the University of Namibia where he works.


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