Wednesday 14 April 2021
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Spending Ethics in an Economic Crisis

It is now a common fact that our economy for the first time since independence is facing its hardest economic testing time. However, does the spending of our government reflect the economic reality faced by many ordinary Namibians?
As the public we’ve come to believe that the allocation and spending of state money is the prerogative of the government. This ignorance has enabled those in government to appoint themselves as the entitled custodians to spend these funds as they see it fit. As a result, we have come to witness the birth to a culture of wasteful spending of public funds on depreciating luxury goods and non-priority projects.
This spending culture has become part of our fibre that we have failed to consider that spending choices are inescapably moral in character. Because of this lack of moral consideration, we sit back to watch wastage of resources on activities that continue to drain state funds. For example, why does our government have a fleet of luxury vehicles? Should an economic crisis and the desire to cut down unnecessary spending not motivate us to cut on wants and maximise on needs?
We hear that we are in an economic crisis and we will see an increase in the cutting of expenditures, except we continue to see the growing spending on politicians and their activities. Instead of critical reflection and reflective action on what should be prioritised we continue to witness reckless spending and opulent living by those in political seats. It does little good to speak about austerity measures unless we are also provided with evidence of significant cuts and doing away with liabilities.
We have heard that the cutting of certain programmes, especially the tenders, but this is insignificant to save the economic mess. Unless there is a drastic killing of a certain way of life, the attempt of cost savings won’t change much; first, tax revenues are very low and we continue to have a national deficit, in fact we live on it; secondly, we have a growing national debt and we can’t afford paying it back as initially estimated.
I’m sure there are certain ministries, institutions and activities a number of Namibians will be willing to see terminated to safe costs. How about starting with the president’s advisory team? How about Trans Namib, Air Namibia, Telecom, and the ministry of poverty eradication? Or what about merging NCHE, NQA and NTA and have one budget and accrediting body? How about ceasing unnecessary state funerals or spending millions on public holidays? How about doing away with bullet-proofed Mercedes Benzes for ministers and let them use their own transport to and from work, they can be picked by a government bus? How about reducing government vehicles to standard operational cars instead of Fortuners, Land Cruisers, Volvos, BMWs etc? How about auctioning the hundreds of state properties that are underused and falling apart?
It is unethical for government to tell us that we all need to brace ourselves because the economy is on rough patches, while those governing continue to be treated as if the economy hasn’t changed. We need to see a radical change in our spending priorities and not just instigate cuts simply because government has the authority to do so. It is also not appropriate to only aim at saving money, without fixing the hole in the money bag, managed by public officials accustomed to eating.
What we need is an ethics commission that will evaluate the standards of government spending not only in this time of economic hardship but as a body that will raise the questions on spending that does not contribute to national growth. The Anti-Corruption Commission, which should have served as an ethical watchman has been converted into a political tool, barking but not biting. We appreciate Dr. Geingob’s intervention through the minister of finance; however, we need to see a robust change of lifestyle and not just the curtailing of funding certain projects.
I’m particularly referring to public spending on behalf of the state, because this is where our problem of the current national bankruptcy originated. We are faced with a global economic crisis, sure, but we have basically been able to steer around this crisis for nearly ten years, until recently. All because of poor spending judgment and waste of state resources on non-priority activities that do not produce anything in return. The 2017/2018 national budget dug a huge whole into the education budget, which resulted in the struggle to issue loans and bursaries for students at institutions of higher learning – crippling human capital development. Yet, we’ve allocated money to all sorts of non-essentials running into millions because our politicians need to be comfortable at all cost.
Finally, we do applaud the efforts made on different levels to keep the country’s economy afloat; however, we can no longer ignore the ethically unjustifiable spending in an economic crisis. The ongoing allocation of funds on the basis of hypothetical projects only creates hypothetical beneficiaries of whom we only know through hypothetical reports of development. Such funds are easily redirected by scrupulous individuals to fund their own bellies, a normalised thievery since independence. We need a new ethical framework, which will question the validity of national spending in this time of crisis, so that the little resources are put to real priority areas rather than luxuries.
*Basilius M. Kasera taught systematic theology and contextual at the Namibia Evangelical Theological Seminary, and philosophy and applied ethics at UNAM. Currently serving as the Dean of Students at IUM.

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