Government has spent over N$34 billion on the defense sector since 2010, despite the country being at being peace and close to 1 million citizens suffering from undernourishment. The 2015 State of Food Insecurity Report released last year by the United Nations (UN) states that at least 966 000 of the 2.3 million Namibians were undernourished in 2014, compared to 621 000 in 2002. But Government, like it has done so many times, maintains that the spending is a necessity to safeguard the hard-won freedom. Defense minister Penda ya Ndakolo last week in the National Assembly castigated opposition lawmakers whom he accused of “politicising the country’s security” by criticizing spending on defense to gain political mileage.
Ya Ndakolo said: “We may have peace at the moment but you never know when that peace will not be there anymore. We must be prepared.” “We are here to defend the country as a security sector. As politicians when it comes to security we must be together, do not seek votes at the expense of our security,” said the defense minister. SADC in general has been accused of failing to take care of the peace dividend in the region, experts say the money channeled to the army can be used to tackle developmental issues while peace is prevailing in the region which is undoubtedly the most peaceful on the continent. The defense ministry has been one of the three ministries – together with education and health – that have been receiving the biggest chunk of the national budget in the last six years.
Despite stern criticism and calls for a slashed defense budget, mainly because of the prevailing peaceful environment in the country, Government has reiterated that peace in the country can disappear within a blink of an eye, hence it needs to be on guard and well-equipped at all times. Customary to budget discussions in Parliament every year, this year again opposition lawmakers took issue with the N$6.6 billion allocated to the Ministry of Defense. Treasury reduced the spending on the defense sector by N$629 million from N$7.2 billion during the past financial year to N$6.6 billion for the 2016/17 financial year. Opposition politicians have called for a leaner, sleek and more modern defense apparatus but those charged to run the military apparatus of the country want nothing to hear about that.
In Namibia’s case however, funds allocated to the defense sector are mainly used for operational matters. In the Government’s Accountability Report for the 2014/15 financial year, N$5.8 billion of the budgeted money was used for operations such as salaries and the acquisition of goods and services. Only N$604 million was used for the development budget. The defense ministry is also the biggest employer in the public sector with a staff compliment of 26 923 in 2014, so it comes as no surprise that over N$3.7 billion of the operational budget was spent on personnel related expenditures. Namibia‘s spending spree on its defense sector should not be looked at in isolation however.
Statistics provided by the Swedish -based SIPRI Military Expenditure database which includes data for 171 countries between 2010 and 2014 expenditure on the defense sector in Africa, said spending increased from US$34.6 billion (N$540 billion) in 2010 to US$46.5 billion(N$724 billion) in 2014. The increased spending on the defense sector on the continent comes at a time when armed conflicts have subsided, but still instead of channeling money to development programs aimed at pulling millions of poverty-stricken Africans out of the trenches of poverty, more money is channeled to the defense sector. The Official opposition, DTA of Namibia, is known for constantly criticizing allocations made to the defense ministry. It was no different this year as, DTA Member of Parliament Vipuakuje Muharukua earlier this month said Namibia needs a readily available dual-function army to serve in all emergencies will save the Namibian people and Government huge amounts of money.
“Namibia periodically continues to experience droughts and floods, and yet we do not make use of our service men and women to offer humanitarian services to the populace during such periods,” said Muharukua. Trimming the defense, according to Muharukua, will create a dual- functional army. Ya Ndakolo who accused parties that question the defense allocation of trying to score political points further defended spending on the sector saying: “It is up to us, defense is not there for the Government of the day but even for the future governments. Therefore, we must defend the territorial integrity of our republic and our people’s interests.” “Regardless of your political affiliation, the work done by our defense sector benefits all of us,” said the defense minister.. Secretive defense spending on the continent has raised eye browse in recent years, seeing that the finer details of goods procured are hardly made public because such must be kept under wraps for apparent security purposes.
Corruption in Africa’s military defense spending
Transparency International’s 2015 index which measures the risk of corruption in national defense and security establishments worldwide, gave most African countries surveyed (47 out of 54) a failing or near-failing score when it comes to preventing graft in their defense sectors. Namibia is, however, one of the countries credited for having a transparent defense sector.“The only countries that provide any useful defense spending information are Benin, South Africa, Tunisia, Ghana, Tanzania, Liberia, and Namibia. In those countries, the Ministry of Defense’s (MOD) budget provides information on spending for training, construction, personnel,acquisitions, salaries, and maintenance, though the level of detail varies,” states the report.
Secretive defense apparatuses across the continent have left the continent vulnerable to arms sold on the black market to terror groups, according to military experts. The report further indicates that in many countries, oversight functions such as anti-corruption bodies, audit functions, and parliamentary committees are growing in authority, representing positive institutional potential to hold executives to account. “But in many cases, defense matters are considered highly sensitive and evade vital scrutiny.
This secrecy is often unjustified, and can be used to mask corruption, misuse, and incompetence,” according to the military report. The report also notes that parliamentary defense committees are weak across the region, with little evidence that they are exerting meaningful influence on defense decision-making. And in many states defense purchases are simply exempted from procurement legislation. Here in Namibia, a 2014 auditor general report indicates that tender exemptions amounting to N$ 404.2 million for the procurement of goods and services during that year were approved. N$58.7 million of that money was unspent, meaning during that year the ministry procured goods and services worth N$346 million without following the normal tender procedures.