Namibia: Let's Emulate Geingob - SA MP

Journalists question President Geingob and other Namibian officials during a media briefing on COVID-19 in Windhoek (screen shot).

The Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentarian, Leon Schreiber, has called on the South African government to emulate President Hage Geingob's decision to ban the procurement of new vehicles for government ministers and public office bearers until 2025.

The DA is the South African official opposition party.

"I would like to kindly draw your attention to news reports that our neighbouring country, Namibia, has banned the purchase of new vehicles for government officials for a period of five years up to 2025," Schreiber said in a letter dated 15 May, addressed to South African minister of public service and administration Senzo Mchunu.

"Namibian President Hage Geingob reportedly said the decision would save US$10.7 million (about N$192 million), to be redirected to urgent priorities, especially at a time when the country is dealing with the health and economic implications of Covid-19.

If the department is considering this step as yet, I would like to submit that it starts working on a specific proposal [to] ban this type of spending on superfluous perks as an urgent cost-saving mechanism, and the funding should be redirected to save livelihoods from coronavirus lockdown crisis."

At home, Geingob has been praised for the decision, with commentators saying it is a step in the right direction. Local political commentator Nico Horn said in terms of real savings on the government budget, it may not be significant.

"But it is important if we look at the bigger picture. Economists have warned about the salaries paid by parastatals and government managers. Beginning with the Cabinet, the President can move to senior civil servants and managing directors and other officials at parastatals," he said. According to him, the private sector is also cutting salaries and reducing staff, and they are doing it on a much bigger scale just to survive.

"Laying off public servants is possibly the last thing government wants to consider now. But even that may eventually be inevitable," he said.

"But we must bear in mind that Namibia was already in a recession before the lockout. Economists have warned us that it will take years rather than months for the economy to be stable again. When jobs turnover and salaries are cut in the private sector, tax money is lost too."

Political analyst Ndumbah Kamwanyah said government should not be spending as if it is business as usual. "Government cannot spend business as usual because the impact of the [Covid-19] lockdown on the economy is going to be felt soon or later. This means a lot of unnecessary, luxurious and unwanted expenditures must be trimmed," he said. "So, to say the pathogen is teaching our government to adjust how it spends and behave in a frugal manner... a welcome move people have been crying for." Presidential spokesperson Alfredo Hengari in a statement recently said saving of up to N$200 million would be realised following a decision to stop the acquisition of new vehicles for ministers and public office bearers. He explained the presidential directive is among a raft of measures to ensure deepening of effective governance, the government reform agenda and reducing expenditure during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Shortly after becoming President in 2015, President Geingob undertook a major government reform agenda to deal with declining government revenue as a consequence of an unprecedented global economic downturn, falling commodity prices and exchange rate fluctuations," Hengari said.

He said the recurrent drought over the past five years have severely affected the fiscal position of government. The Presidency said by constantly directing government offices, ministries and agencies to do more with less, major savings across the government system have been achieved over the past five years, including the travel and subsistence allowance, which he said the current administration cut by 62%.

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