Namibia: Commentators Bemoan Allocations to Critical Areas

While economic analysts conceded that yesterday's budget by finance minister Iipumbu Shiimi is aimed at reinvigorating a domestic economy ravaged by Covid-19, they emphasised the necessity to look beyond the financial and social effects of the pandemic and stressed the need to put more money into productive areas. This is despite the fact that the prevalence of Covid-19 has brought about considerable uncertainty on the domestic economic outlook and has induced a significant downturn on economic activities and public revenue, with elevated public debt as a consequence.

"Even before Covid-19, we were already in a very tight space.

This means that minister Shiimi had very little to work with to begin with," commented Tega Shiimi ya Shiimi, Managing Director of Sanlam Investments Namibia. Responding to questions by New Era, Ya Shiimi said: "You can never save yourself out of a recession. We need to redeploy productive assets back into the economy to effectively restart the economic engine."

He further noted that the finance minister is faced with the daunting task of finding a way to "smartly restart" the economy while dealing with the stark realisation that Namibia should become self-sufficient in terms of food security and should drastically reduce its dependence on South Africa, including SACU revenue.

Meanwhile, Managing Director of Twilight Capital, Mally Likukela, commented that the finance minister presented a "fully-loaded budget that speaks to the needs of the day".

However, Likukela expressed concern about continued fiscal consolidation.

"We need to focus on a budget that deals with Namibia's short and long-term needs. What happens after Covid-19?" Likukela questioned.

On the political front, Popular Democratic Movement's treasurer general Nico Smit said the budget is very much more of a cut and copy of last year when looking at expenditure.

"I think Covid-19 is being used as an excuse in this year budget and I think we will pay severely for that. When you look at the allocation of money, what are the most important needs in this country? Is it money to service land, especially urban land? I can't see any big amount being made available to the Ministry of Urban and Rural Development," he said.

Smit also bemoaned the allocation to the education ministry, saying that the N$17.5 billion (for both basic and higher education) allocated was too little considering the need to upgrade infrastructure at almost 200 schools.

"You look at schools now, many do not have running water, no toilets for 30 years, what has this government being doing, what are they doing with the money? Look at the money allocated to safety and security, billions, this is too much money, we are not in a war zone, why do we need that much for safety and security," Smit lamented.

Also commenting, National Unity Democratic Organisation (Nudo) secretary general, Josef Kauandenge, said it is regrettable that the developmental budget has been decreased from a projected amount of N$8.1 billion to the current N$6.4 billion in the current budget as tabled.

"This is regrettable in the sense that that a portion of the development budget is in dire needed to address the issue of proper sanitation to our people, building of essential buildings like schools and clinics and the expansion of our road networks," he said.

"I'm disappointed that an amount of N$28.6 billion is appropriated for personnel costs and salaries for the public wage bill. This should be an issue that must be addressed critically as almost 56% of the total budget still goes to salaries, perks and medical aids in the public sector."

'Questionable'

Also weighing in on the budget, Landless People's Movement's (LPM's) chief-change-campaigner, Bernadus Swartbooi, said his initially assessment is that government has never really sat down to apply its mind to issues that are affecting Namibians.

"Look at the amount that is allocated to defence, about N$6 billion. I just spoke to Honourable Shiimi now and he said defence salaries are standing at N$4.5 billion - I would have proposed to reduce that so that other monies can go to agriculture and land," said Swartbooi.

He also lamented the N$1.3 billion allocated to the land reform and agricultural ministry, saying this was too little for such an important ministry. "Shiimi and Erica Shafudah (finance executive director) have failed together with their entire team to look at the factors that matter," said Swartbooi. "How do you want push a country from a middle-income country to a higher-level income country by keeping industrialisation at N$174 million (referring money allocated to the ministry of trade and industrialisation). What can somebody do with N$170 million after paying salaries? There is nothing more you can do."

Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) president, Mike Kavekotora, said the budget was interesting as it is speaking more to the coronavirus pandemic. "This is a more reactive budget in a sense that it is reacting to the current scenario. At the end of the day, coronavirus will have to come and go and this country will have to remain and its people have to flourish and that is what the budget is not speaking to," said Kavekotora.

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