As lawmakers prepare to report for duty next Tuesday, the pressure will be on them to see how they manoeuvre the planned mid-term budget review next month to mitigate any possible implications that could be posed by the recent Fitch saga that has raised alarm bells among the nation. The expansion of parliament, which was a result of wide-ranging constitutional changes paved the way for the seats in the National Council to be increased from 26 to 42 and in the National Assembly from 78 to 104, has resulted in taxpayers forking out about N$380 million per year to cater for the salaries of the politicians. Despite the huge salary bill for lawmakers, which is also partly blamed for the Fitch revision of Namibia’s outlook from stable to negative, the public continues to question whether lawmakers are justifying the salaries they earn.
Finance minister Calle Schlettwein announced this week during a press briefing that the mid-term budget review will take place next month to realign government’s spending plans. A number of planned capital projects are expected to be shelved to create more fiscal space while civil service recruitment will be frozen as well. Namibia’s economy is currently squeezed by the slowdown of developing economies and by its own domestic challenges, which include low commodity prices in the mining, agriculture and fishing industries as a result of a slowdown in demand from countries such as China, Brazil and Russia.
The poor economic performance of its two closest trading partners, South Africa and Angola, had also left Namibia “wedged between two large neighbouring economies… faced with sever structural challenges”. South Africa is growing at a mere 0.1 percent, while Angola had been hit by low oil price. The low growth for the South African economy is a concern and lawmakers are expected to come up with appropriate legislation to ensure that economic players in the country have the required legislation to boost economic growth. Namibia continues to struggle with a severe drought situation that is crippling water-intensive industries such as construction and beverages, as well as structural challenges including skills shortages, unemployment, inequality and poverty. Should the controversial Namibia Equitable Economic Empowerment Framework (NEEEF) make its way to parliament during the coming session, all eyes will be glued to parliament to see whether it is adopted in its current format or not. There are fears that in its current format NEEEF will have a negative impact on the country’s business climate.
In addition to the budget review, where massive spending cutting measures are expected to be adopted, lawmakers will also be expected to pass the Long-Term Insurance Amendment Bill, Short-Term Insurance Amendment Bill, Medical Aid Funds Amendment Bill, and Unit Trusts Control Amendment Bill.
During its third session lawmakers passed, among others, the Appropriation Bill, Presidential Remuneration and other Benefits Amendment Bill, Credit Agreements Amendment Bill, Business and Intellectual Property Authority Bill, Namibia Investment Promotion Bill and the Anti-Corruption Amendment Bill. All the bills dealt with were already signed by the President and gazetted as Acts of Parliament. They also dealt with the Namibian Citizenship Amendment Bill and the Liquor Amendment Bill, which were referred to the National Council for review before Assembly break on the 28 July 2016. The Citizenship Amendment Bill was, however, rejected by National Council, while the Liquor Amendment Bill is expected to return once Assembly resume. The Namibian Citizenship Amendment Bill would change the Namibian Citizenship Act to exclude children of non-Namibian parents who live in Namibia on temporary permits from being entitled to Namibian citizenship by birth. The Bill would also change the law to state that children born in Namibia to foreign parents would only be entitled to Namibian citizenship if their parents had permanent residence in the country. The Bill, which is aimed at overriding a recent Supreme Court judgment on the right to acquire Namibian citizenship by birth, will be back in the National Assembly after it was unanimously rejected by the National Council last month.