POPULAR Democratic Movement treasurer general Nico Smit has called on the government to cut the perks of civil servants and politicians.
His call came after Ministry of Finance spokesperson Tonateni Shidhudhu on Monday this week disclosed that the government has saved more than N$100 million in the travel costs of high-ranking government officials, including president Hage Geingob.
He said a total of N$222 million had been reserved for travel expenses by government officials. Of that amount, only N$15,8 million has been spent so far.
During the same period in 2019, the government had spent N$116 million of its travel budget of N$263 million.
The president and other government officials have been unable to travel abroad due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Smit says it is unfortunate that something like Covid-19 had to happen for the government to realise there is a lot of unnecessary wastage of public funds.
He says his party had repeatedly called on the government to significantly cut the perks of civil servants and politicians to reduce wastage, but their calls fell on deaf ears.
"While we welcome the fact that taxpayers have now been relieved of the burden of having to pay over N$100 million in travel and subsistence allowances for civil servants . . . we believe the government can save much more money by cutting down on other unnecessary expenditure within the public service," he says.
Smit says Covid-19 has also taught Namibia that with advanced technological platforms such as Zoom and Skype, the government can save hundreds of millions of dollars on subsistence and travel (S&T) allowances and fuel by having meetings on these platforms.
He says it is ridiculous that 10 civil servants have to travel long distances to have a meeting and receive S&Ts, while they can easily meet on these convenient and cheap platforms.
Political analyst Henning Melber also urges politicians and senior government officials to host some of their meetings online, even after the Covid-19 pandemic, to save costs.
"The temptation to travel for some extra income needs to be curbed. It would be good if practices developed due to the Covid-19 constraints will serve as guidelines for future business trips when the restrictions are lifted.
"The government should make use of the opportunity and revise travel guidelines and criteria," he says.
Melber says less travelling would not only reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but would also significantly contribute to saving on travel expenses and per diems.
Political pundit Ndumba Kamwanyah says the government can adopt some effective cost-saving measures from the country's Covid-19 experience.
He says non-travelling arrangements, online meetings, and many people working remotely help cut S&Ts, and electricity and water bills.
Namibia Economic Freedom Fighters (NEFF) parliamentarian Kalimbo Iipumbu says meetings should continue as per Covid-19 regulations.
"However, we wonder if this money was saved as they are saying. There is no transparency in this process and, in fact, money that was saved is total lies, as they have contracted their friends to install online software for them," he says.
Iipumbu says Covid-19 is real, but claims "the elites are hiding and stealing money through it".
"Instead of saving for the future, they are busy making themselves rich," he says.
The Namibian reported last year that Geingob travelled to 16 countries in 2018, and qualified for an estimated N$850 000 in travel allowances.
The president earns around N$1,7 million per year, which is not taxed.