Saturday 17 April 2021
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Luxuries for comrades

Clinic for MPs, business class flights tickets, parliament village

From VIP treatment, to business class flight tickets, to generous retirement packages, the perks that come with being a politician are extremely generous, but lawmakers still can’t get enough it would seem. Soon lawmakers will have access to a medical clinic at the National Assembly while plans for a parliament village are set to be implemented once the country’s economic situation recovers. The casual use of taxpayers’ money was under scrutiny when the Speaker of the National Assembly, Professor Peter Katjavivi answered questions raised by lawmakers on the National Assembly Budget this week. Katjavivi revealed the plans for a clinic while thousands of Namibians in rural Namibia are forced to walk long distances to access healthcare. “On the question of the Medical Clinic, we have identified a suitable room and the Ministry of Health will soon dispatch a Nurse, Equipment and an Ambulance to the National Assembly, for the purpose,” while responding the youth and sport minister Jerry Ekandjo who called on the National Assembly secretariat to put up a clinic at parliament. Ekandjo also reiterated previous calls from MPs who want MPs to be accommodated in a parliamentary village. Katjavivi responded: “Both of these questions are valid and deserve our attention. On the questions of accommodation; what is common to most parliaments is that they have a Parliamentary Village which, accommodates MPs who travel from outside the capital, Botswana and South Africa are very good examples in this regard. As for our case, this question or project was linked to the New Parliament Project but due to the difficult financial situation in the country, this project has not taken off. ” Not only do all MPs receive a base salary of N$693 769 per annum or N$58,000 per month, many are also  claiming thousands in entitlements in the form of benefits and travel allowances. The total salary bill for the current financial year of the National Assembly is expected to reach the N$100 million mark for all 104 members. Other entitlements include housing(N$119 807), medical aid, municipal(N$40 320) and car(N$94 440), telephone(N$864) allowances annually. A parliament source also indicated that MPs also claim overseas fares, transport, accommodation, meals, travel and expense advances, passport and other related overseas travel costs for themselves.

Flight tickets
Some MPs also took issue after the Standing Rules and Orders curbed spending on business class flight tickets. “Due to financial constraints, the Standing Rules and Orders Committee thought it logical to curb the spending on topping up Economy class tickets to Business Class.  However our general view is that once the financial situation stabilizes, then Members will travel Business Class as entitled,” said Katjavivi. There has been cases when MPs got invitations to travel abroad and parliament was forced to upgrade economy class tickets to business tickets. At times, MPs solicit their own trips. Katjavivi took a hard stance on the procedure saying “it is not appropriate for one to solicit an invitation and expect Parliament to foot the bill.”

Budget rubber stamping
DTA of Namibia MP Elma also wanted to know why the budget formulation process of the National Assembly does not involve lawmakers. There exists a perception that the role of parliament is merely to rubber stamp the budget.  “As most of us are aware, the tradition of Commonwealth Parliaments, of which Namibia is a bonafide Member has been that the mandate to formulate the National budget is entirely a prerogative. Budget formulation is principally an administrative task and this is why it has been a tradition so far that the Budget of the National Assembly has always been formulated by the Secretariat, with some level of consultation from Members of Parliament, especially those concerned with the duties of specific Divisions,” explained Katjavivi. He added: “However, the level of parliamentarians’ involvement is an aspect that could be revisited and the appropriate bridging committee for this task could be the Joint Parliamentary Budget Committee.” Dienda questioned why the Children’s Parliament’s reports are not tabled in parliament for Members to understand its work. Katjavivi acknowledged that there should be a report on the activities of the Youth Parliament.  The children’s parliament was last held in 2013. “The Youth Parliament is a major achievement to us in comparison to many other Parliaments that have not succeeded in having one and we have been hailed in this regard.

We shall endeavor to ensure that these activities are reported through the Gender Committee,” said Katjavivi. Despite not giving a clear date as to when the Legislative Service Commission will be established, Katjavivi said the matter will be addressed during the course of this year.  MPs also took issue with the fact that there is only one researcher serving the Parliamentary Standing Committees. Katjavivi said parliament is looking into the matter “with the greatest urgency as soon as our financial situation improves.” DTA leader McHenry Venaani urged lawmakers to actively participate in the business of the House so as to win the credibility of the public.  He added that such participation must be in the form of logical interventions.

N$24 million renovations
Swapo backbencher Agnes Kafula wanted a breakdown of how parliament plans to spend the N$24 million allocated for the upgrade and renovation of the current Parliament Building. Another MP, Rally for Democracy and Progress’ Mike Kavekotora, wanted to know why parliament must spend on renovating the current Parliament building when “we are looking forward to constructing a new Parliament building.” Katjavivi responded: “It is essential while we are still housed and operating in the current Parliament building that we maintain it in a sanitary livable condition, fit for human use.” Katjavivi said the general maintenance of the Parliament building will cost N$5 million.  The maintenance will include cleaning the roofs, perimeter security lighting and cleaning the entire sewage system. He also said N$6 million will be spent to upgrade one of the committee rooms. The upgrades will include a new floor carpet, new doors and secure locks, new executive furniture, non-leaking air conditioning, large wall-mounted monitor screens, overhead projectors, a public address system, dictaphone table microphones and amplifier/recording system, amongst others.

The remaining N$13 million will be used to purchase a “larger uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to ensure that the Chamber still has electricity even when the entire building no longer has electricity.” Overhead projectors and public address systems for the Chamber, Pink Room and Blue Room[committee rooms], window blinds will also be purchased. The other funds will go towards the maintenance of the CCTV Camera system and the internet switches including the acquisition of new servers storage cabins, said the Speaker.

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