Namibia: SONA Stand-Off ... Opposition, Geingob Square Off

Namibian President Hage Geingob delivering the annual State of the Nation 2020 address to Parliament in Windhoek.

PRESIDENT Hage Geingob's sixth state of the nation address erupted in chaos as opposition parliamentarians protested against the Fishrot scandal.

The president was forced to take a seat after opposition members objected against claims that the government saved about N$4 billion after the president stopped the N$7 billion Hosea Kutako International Airport upgrading tender.

This was inflated from N$3 billion to N$7 billion.

Opposition members, dressed in dark outfits, held up posters protesting the Fishrot scandal.

"I am not going to continue; I did not come for insults. I came to address the parliament. No!" the president said while seated amid the chaos.

Speaker of the National Assembly Peter Katjavivi tried to restore order, saying "... for God's sake, let's have order!"

Popular Democratic Movement parliamentarian Vipua Muharukua said: "We are a democratic state where the government has the right to say its say. That's why we sit in chambers to hear what the government has to say. Similarly, the government has an obligation to hear the cries of the opposition.

"Everything in this country is not correct. When the president is airing things that are going wrong in the country and he is talking about how the government is dealing with it. It is fully within the opposition's right to protest if those measures in our views are not sufficient," Muharukua said.

The president in his statement reflected on his first term touching on the gains and challenges faced by the country for the past five years.

Geingob reflected on the achievements of his famous Harambee Prosperity Plan - a plan launched to accelerate the implementation of the government's developmental plans and projects.

He said the government has done relatively well in the fight against corruption, despite exceptions.

He reiterated that notable actions taken by the government to cancel and audit certain projects, including the upgrade of the Hosea Kutako International Airport, was testimony to the government's will to fight corruption.

"All forms of corruption are destructive and regrettably continue to taint our country. Contrary to erroneous perceptions, we do not lack the political will to fight corruption," Geingob said.

The president said during his first term the government has also made significant progress in addressing various socio-economic challenges faced by Namibians, among them poverty and unemployment.

According to him, poverty declined drastically from 70% in 1994 to 18% in 2018.

Despite raising concerns over the high rate of unemployment, the president said the local economy created over 48 000 jobs between 2016 and 2018.

"We believe poverty should not be managed, but eradicated through effective tools such as economic empowerment and employment creation ... the status quo is not sustainable, and emphasis falls on stimulating job-generation and economic growth," he said.

The president said the government has done well in curbing wastage and continues to improve through the gradual reduction of the public service.

The introduction of the food bank to reduce hunger "among the extremely poor citizens" was another highlight to be commended, Geingob said.

In terms of the provision of housing and sanitation, the president acknowledged that the country is still faced with the huge task of addressing the housing backlog that was estimated at 300 000 housing units in 2018.

He said the government has managed to construct about 16 000 of the targeted 20 000 houses under the Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP).

An additional 23 194 plots were serviced he said.

"We need to accelerate our effort in the area of housing and land provision, particularly in major cities and towns," he said.

The president acknowledged that Namibia's economy has continued to experience unprecedented headwinds since 2016, coupled with the declining economic growth, low investment and a high public expenditure ratio, "compounded by the global economic downturn".

The prevalent drought that has exposed the country's food insecurity also poses serious challenges to the local economy, the president said.

The impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic was another challenge in the face of Namibia's economic recovery, Geingob said.

The new coronavirus also poses a challenge regarding the gains made in reducing poverty in the country.

HARAMBEE II

To address the ongoing economic hardships faced by ordinary citizens, the president said the government will investigate the feasibility of gradually phasing out the food bank programme to introduce a modified basic income grant.

He said he was working on finalising a Harambee Prosperity Plan II, which will provide a roadmap for the accelerated implementation of government programmes geared towards economic recovery during his second term.

The plan, according to the president, will be based on prioritised commitments from the 2019 Swapo Party manifesto's existing funded capital projects and recommendations from the high-level panel on economic growth.

It will focus on regaining fiscal stability, structural economic reforms, public sector reforms and improving productivity.

"While economic crises are cyclical and recurring, nations succeed on the basis of work ethic, the rate of execution and ability to do more with fewer resources. We must transform the performance and service culture, as well as the level of productivity within public and private sector institutions to competitively reposition our economy.

"We must actively seek opportunities for growth, innovation and transformation. More importantly, we must demonstrate strong commitment to implementing reforms," Geingob said.

The president urged the nation to work in unison to get through the challenging years ahead.

"We are at the crossroads in our history and in this year of introspection, at this hour of need and we are faced with the burning question of our time. ... Our collective decisions and actions over the following months will not only determine whether we emerge stronger from this unprecedented storm, but will define the Namibian journey," Geingob said.

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