Government pumped out over N$33 billion between 2010 and 2016 towards strengthening and maintaining national security in the country. The budgetary allocations to the Ministry of Defence continue to set tongues wagging annually when the national budget is tabled in Parliament and this year is not expected to be any different.
Many feel the resources allocated to the defence sector could be channelled towards other social needs to improve the lives of all Namibians, especially considering the fact that Namibia – and the Southern African Development Community region at large – is enjoying peace and stability.
The Patriot’s journalist, Edward Mumbuu, last week spoke to defence minister, Penda Ya Ndakolo, and among the various topics discussed was the cost factor of his ministry.
Ya Ndakolo explained that “the preparation for the defence of the country is an expensive exercise and so is the maintenance of armed forces all over the world”.
How do you see your role as the defence minister?
Ministers are appointed by the President in terms of the Namibian Constitution and as such I am appointed by the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Namibian Defence Force to be the Minister of Defence. My role is stipulated in the Defence Act, 2002 (Act No.1 of 2002), which states: “The Minister of Defence may do or cause to be done all things which are necessary for the efficient defence and protection of Namibia or any party thereof”.
Basically, my role as Minister of Defence is to make sure that Government policies and programmes on the defence sector are carried out in the most efficient and effective manner. Our collective role, as a Ministry and the Namibian Defence Force, is to defend and protect Namibia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
What are the plans for the Ministry in 2017?
In 2017, the Ministry of Defence and the Namibian Defence Force will focus on the following priority areas:
Human resources development to ensure that we maintain our students who are already attending courses both in Namibia and outside the country;
Welfare of staff members, this should include the rehabilitation of the accommodation facilities of our troops, among others;
Equipping of the Defence Force by using available funds;
Proper and cost-effective preparations of training exercises;
Finalisation of the Defence Review, which will help us to streamline our structures, functions and operations;
Implementation of the Performance Agreement System, including the submission of quarterly reports timely and as required; and
Honouring of bilateral and international obligations on defence.
To achieve these priorities, we would have to work as a team and continue to maintain high levels of performance, discipline and professionalism.
The public constantly accuses the Ministry of being secretive. What is your view on that perception?
By nature, defence ministries and armed forces all over the world are predisposed towards some degree of secrecy given the nature of their roles and functions. A defence Ministry and by implication a defence force of any country is there to prepare for the defence of the country against would-be aggressors, which could mean fighting a war in defence of the country.
As a result, preparation plans for the defence of the country cannot be shared with everyone all the time because by doing so you might be exposing your strengths and weakness to potential enemies.
For this reason, there is need to maintain some degree of secrecy when it comes to issues relating to the defence of the country. However, this does not mean the Ministry and the Namibian Defence Force should fail to account and be transparent to the Namibian people, the tax payers who provide funding for the defence programmes and operations.
So, we are not surprised by public perception that the Ministry is being secretive because not every member of the public has a good understanding regarding the role and responsibilities of the Ministry of Defence and the Namibian Defence Force. On the other hand, we appreciate those members of the public who value our existence and understand our responsibilities.
The Defence procurement procedures continue to be under wraps. How does the public hold the Ministry accountable if they do not have access to the Ministry’s books?
This question is related to the previous one. When the nature of your work requires you not to reveal all what you are doing in public, equally you would not be in a position to expose all the time what you are procuring. By this, I mean that procurement systems may be followed but normally what the Ministry and Defence Force are acquiring would only be known when and where necessary.
It is not true that the defence procurement procedures are under wraps or that the public does not access to the Ministry’s books. In reality, there are established procurement procedures for the procurement for the defence assets, equipment and materials. Non-sensitive defence items are procured through the normal public tender procedures while sensitive items are procured through Government established procedure and systems, including their approval by the Cabinet Committee on Defence, Security and International Relation (CCDSIR).
I can assure the Namibian public that there is nothing procured by the Ministry and Namibian Defence Force without following the established Government procurement procedures.
For accountability purposes, the Ministry reports to Cabinet and annually to Parliament regarding its performance and the utilisation of the money allocated to it through the National Budget. So far, we have not been reprimanded by either Cabinet or Parliament for failing to account. However, if some members of the public have specific issues to raise concerning our performance and accountability, we are prepared to listen to them and improve where we have to.
There were budget cuts in ministries, how have those cuts affected projects in your Ministry?
Yes, the measures to reduce Government spending were announced late last year by the Minister of Finance in response to the economic situation in our country, especially the slow growth of our economy. Obviously, the Ministry of Defence was not spared from the budget reduction and as a result, we have to realign our programmes and operations.
This simply means that we have to be smarter and carry on with what we have. We may need to reschedule the implementation of some of our projects and try to find better ways of carrying them out within the parameters of available resources. So, the effect is felt not only by our Ministry but also by other ministries/agencies and other Government institutions.
All ministries had to re-prioritise.Which areas were identified as priority areas to ensure that national security is not compromised?
The things that the Ministry of Defence and the Namibian Defence Force cannot ignore, no matter how the economic situation is, are, among others;
The improvements of the fighting capability of the Defence Force;
The improvement of working conditions and capacity building of the members;
The improvement of discipline and professional ethics of our members;
The modernisation of the Namibian Defence Force;
The planning of proper succession within the Namibian Defence Force.
Namibia’s defence budget has more than doubled since 2010, rising from N$2.6 billion in 2009/10 to N$6.6 billion in 2016. To the ordinary man on the street this does not make sense for a peaceful, stable country with no immediate enemies. Why was this increase necessary?
The primary mission of the Ministry of Defence and Namibian Defence Force – as enshrined in the Namibian Constitution, Chapter 15, Article 115 – is to ensure the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country by guarding against external aggression, both conventional and unconventional and preventing the violation of Namibian’s territorial integrity. Secondly, to provide assistance to civil power and local authority in domestic support operations when required, as well as to undertake SADC, AU and UN peace support missions.
It is true that the Ministry of Defence and Namibian Defence Force budget has more than doubled those years for several reasons, including the need to strengthen and improve the defence posture of the Namibian Defence Force.
Whatever the Ministry of Defence and Namibian Defence Force is doing is of defensive nature, we are not preparing to invade anybody, but we must be in a position to send a clear message to those who might intend to attack Namibia or cause disturbance that might jeopardise the security of the state.
The preparation for the defence of the country is an expensive exercise and so does the maintenance of armed forces all over the world. Modern welfare hard and software is expensive, it takes good money to acquire a warship or fighter plane and you add to that the training and maintenance of both personnel and equipment.
The members of the Namibian Defence Force have to upgrade their military knowledge and skills to be at par with the demands of modern military technology and warfare. This requires a lot of money, not to mention their accommodation and provision of general welfare.
Peace is a divided of a stable and secure environment. If we do not prepare ourselves to ensure peace and stability in our country, potential enemies could spoil the peaceful environment that we are enjoying now. So, we should not take it for granted that because today we are a peaceful country there are no hostile elements and forces out there that could destabilise Namibia.
Today’s geo-political situation is unpredictable and evolving at a greater speed, we have seen friends who have turned enemies unexpectedly. Therefore, though Namibia has been enjoying internal stability and has trusted neighbours, one never knows where a threat could come from. There are imminent security threats all over the world, including, terrorism and the constant fight for resources and territories for domination.
In short, Namibia does not have to wait for a hostile situation to develop in order to start preparing for its defence and protection. That has to be done right now.
There will be no NDF intake this year, how does this affect the Ministry?
As mentioned earlier, the current situation does not only affect the Ministry of Defence and the Namibian Defence Force, but also other government institutions. The cost-containment measures the Minister of Finance announced earlier, including the freezing of vacancies in the public sector, appliy to all government ministries. However, we should remember that such measures were announced during the 2016/2017 budget year. The situation could be different in 2017/2018.
The final decision as to whether there will be an NDF intake or not will only be certain when the 2017/2018 budget is approved and it also depends on how government, especially Cabinet, wants to deal with it.
Obviously, failure to recruit new members for the Namibian Defence Force has its effect on the force because we need new members to replace those who are leaving the Force due to various reasons, including retirement.
In other countries, the army is tasked to guard the President because it is the most supreme security body in the country. Why is the arrangement different in Namibia?
Each country has its unique situation and decisions as to who should guard the President or not are taken based on that specific situation. I believe Namibia has adopted the current arrangement informed by its situation.
The matter is not really about which security bodyguards the President. What is important is that the President enjoys security and safety not only as the President of our Republic, but also as a citizen like any other Namibian citizens and inhabitants for whom security and safety has to be provided by concerned government security agencies, obviously including the Namibian Defence Force.
The Namibian Defence Force might not be seen to be directly involved in the protection of the President, but by ensuring territorial integrity of Namibia and the protection of our people, it plays an important role in the defence of the country and all inhabitants of Namibia, including the President.
Why do we continue to procure new equipment for the army, despite there being no threats to our sovereignty? Do you not think this money can be used for other development needs?
First of all, I should remind the Namibian people that no development can take place under instability. For a country to have space for development, it has to ensure its security. The most developed countries in the world have the strongest armies, why?
Again, the notion of no threat should not blind us or lead us to take the peace that our country is enjoying for granted. You can only have peace if you are prepared to seek and maintain peace and that means preparing yourselves politically, diplomatically and if everything else fails, militarily. Hence, Namibia sees the need to have a defence force and that defence force, obviously, has to be well-trained and well-equipped to respond effectively to the defence needs of our motherland. To say the money could be used for other development needs is like comparing an egg to a chicken. What does Namibia want to have development without security? Will that be sustainable? Or security without development? So, it is a balancing act. Namibia, as so many other countries, has to find a way of balancing the way it allocates resources [according] to the different demands and needs facing the country. The Ministry of Defence recognises that there are so many competing national needs for which resources have to be allocated. However, we believe that it should not be done by neglecting our security and proper resourcing of our defence force.
Are there any security threats to Namibia at this point in time?
Namibia is not an island. We are part of the greater world and thus what affects the rest of the world affects Namibia. Clearly, there are security threats, not only facing Namibia as a country but other countries as well. Among the most prominent threats are terrorism, arms, drug and human trafficking, secessionism, piracy, social ills that cause instability (such as unemployment and tribalism), border disputes and competition for natural resources, including water.
So, we should not live in an ideal world (sic), there are real security threats out there and all countries, as individuals or as a collective, should prepare to defend and protect their national as well as international interests.
There is no mention of defence in the Harambee Prosperity Plan. Does this mean the ministry is not important or does it simply mean all systems are in place?
Maybe defence was not specifically mentioned but we are part and parcel of government plans. The pillars of Harambee Prosperity Plan that are related to either human or physical security encompass the defence objectives of the country. Therefore, there is no doubt that the Ministry of Defence, and the Namibian Defence Force for that matter, are important government security establishments. To highlight how important the Ministry of Defence and the Namibian Defence Force are to the country, His Excellency President Dr. Hage G. Geigob, President of the Republic of Namibia and Commander-in-Chief of the Namibian Defence Force, has paid more visits to the Ministry of Defence and the Namibian Defence Force than to any other ministry since assuming presidency.
How involved is the defence ministry in the anti-poaching war?
Fully, As part of our role to support civil power and civil authorities in the internal operations and in crises, including poaching. Namibia has the responsibility to protect and defend its fauna and flora and for us, as Ministry of Defence and Namibian Defence Force, it is an honour to be involved in these anti-poaching operations.
There have been calls for the defence ministry to scale down and transform into a leaner and modern army. What is the ministry’s stance on this suggestion?
In fact, it has always been the aim of the Ministry of Defence and Namibian Defence Force to develop a lean but robust and agile defence force. Namibia cannot afford to have a larger defence force given its small population and the question of sustainability in terms of resources.
Then again, taking into consideration that we have to defend a large territory, our defence force has to be well-trained, well-equipped and mobile, capable of responding swiftly to any situation in any part of the country. For that, we need well-trained soldiers and modern military equipment. All that costs money. Therefore, even if we want to scale down in terms of personnel numbers, the cost of training and equipping the Defence Force is likely to remain high.