7 March 2018

Namibia: Presidential Directive Grounds Beijing Trip

Windhoek — A bloated and seemingly inadequately motivated all-expenses paid capacity-building trip - that would have seen 25 government officials travel to China for two weeks - was not approved by the Secretary to Cabinet Dr George Simataa, to comply with a presidential directive to rein in unnecessary spending on all foreign trips.

Early last month President Hage Geingob extended the ban on all foreign travel by government officials, saying these delegations should be reduced to size in order to minimise costs on the fiscus and that all statutory travel should be "properly motivated" and only approved on "potential value gain".

On this basis, a two-week trip involving officials from the National Planning Commission (NPC) and from various government ministries and agencies, including State House, was not approved by Simataa.

The officials would have left on Sunday and each of them would still have cost government N$7,000, calculated at Rate 3, meaning taxpayers would have forked out at least N$175,000, according to a government source. The new measures include limiting foreign travels by two trips a year for civil servants, reining in the abuse of state vehicles, rooting out ghost workers, and cracking down on wastage by using emails instead of paper.

Simataa, through his personal assistant Neville Andre, confirmed the trip was rejected because the delegation was too big and due to its relative high cost to government that wants to reduce wasteful spending in the public sector, where some officials are known to have turned some trips into a sort of cash-cow.

"The acting permanent secretary (of NPC) wrote to secretary to cabinet requesting for 25 people to travel to China, however due to the country's economic situation and as part of President Hage Geingob's directive for government agencies to implement the cost-cutting measures within the government agencies, Dr Simataa advised only two people can travel," explained Andre on why the trip had to be shelved.

He said despite the fact the Chinese government paid for flights, accommodation and meals, there were other hidden costs the Namibian government was required to pay, hence the decision to reduce the number to only two.

"I was supposed to lead a delegation of 25 to China to attend two-week training on capacity building [but] I was verbally informed the trip has been cancelled. No reasons were given (by my superior)," said Mary Hangula, the Chief National Development Advisor and head of NPC delegation that would have travelled to China on Sunday.

She said although all logistics were in place and they were all prepared to travel on Sunday, the group was informed the trip was not approved. New Era could not ascertain whether the officials would now have to pay back the N$7000 that they received for incidentals.

The full-funded trip forms part of the bilateral agreement between Namibia and China on capacity building that has already seen hundreds of Namibian officials travel to China for training in various fields of cooperation.

"The aim of this training was for us to go learn how Chinese government deals with developmental issues that our country is struggling to address," said Hangula.

The Economic and Commercial Counsellor at the Chinese Embassy, Huabo Liu also confirmed the trip has been frozen, but could not be drawn further into the matter as he referred all inquiries to the Namibian government.

New Era had earlier reported that the officials have departed for Beijing, based on initial information that was availed at a pre-trip session last week.

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