BBC Africa headlined that ‘Broke Namibia bans private jet for president, foreign travel for ministers and gives soldier holiday because it can’t feed them’. The decision by the Presidency is simply put, good governance.
There is no sensation there whatsoever because the reality on the ground is that stringent measures are necessary to ease the state purse.
This discussion engages data from the Legatum Prosperity Index which ranks countries according to their performance across eight equally-weighted sub-indexes: Economy, Entrepreneurship & Opportunity, Governance, education, health, Safety & Security, Personal Freedom and Social Capital. The 2017 Index findings record that overall prosperity in Namibia has fallen by two positions from 68 to 70 compared to 2016. The index has been ranking Namibia since 2006 and we are ranked 8 times lower to date.
This is not news because we have known we are in an economic recession for the past 3 years now. So, it is true that Namibia is not prospering, and public spending cuts are a necessary step in the right direction.
There was a time where the world gushed over Uruguay’s former President Jose Mujica, who donated 90% of his monthly salary amounting towards poverty alleviation as well as small and medium enterprises (SME) development. Mujica also shunned the state house, preferring to live on his farm and growing flowers whilst driving a VW Beetle. This man personified humility and is alleged to have used international platforms to accuse world leaders of “having a blind obsession to achieve growth with consumption, as if the contrary would mean the end of the world”. During his tenure as president from 2010 to 2015, critics often pointed out that his choice of lifestyle did not have major tangible impact on good governance in Uruguay.
However according to the index, Uruguay ranked 30th at a global level among ‘high prosperity’ countries and leading in Latin America in 2013 and 2014 respectively. The index also collected public opinion with 67% of the population satisfied with the financial system and 71% with the standard of living. Whilst 57.1% were satisfied with the judiciary system and 59.9% with government’s efforts to combat poverty. These ratings are all above average and concluding that the President’s lifestyle positively attributed to good governance is not far-fetched.
The reason why public spending cuts are important is because the state purse is filled by the tax payer. So, whilst critics can argue that the cuts announced by President Geingob are publicity stunts on the eve of the 2019 National elections; the truth equally remains that public money is being saved.
Namibia is in dire need of quality public services and if Public servants must sit out on expensive international meetings for the sake of availing money to treat cholera or Hepatitis E patients then it must be done. Furthermore, the ‘forced’ leave of soldiers will allow the state to weed out ghost employees.
If anything, investigations should be carried out across all n enterprise or establishment that is funded by the state because the issue of ‘ghost workers; is not isolated to the Ministry of Defence alone.
More lessons can be drawn from the example of Tanzanian President John Magufuli, who literally ‘bulldozed’ public spending since taking office in 2015. He not only slashed his own salary but that of executives at state-owned enterprises. Magufuli also imposed restrictions on foreign travels by government workers and weeded out “ghost workers” from the wage budget. So, the Presidency should be encouraged to identify and cut out on more ‘wasteful’ public spending.
In the words of Jim Paredes, Filipino artist, activist and educator, “We were all ready to die for the country but what we did not discover was we have to live for the country”.
Namibia has a powerful history of resilience and just as her leaders died for her liberation, it is equally important that they become intentional about living for her people by governing well.
Rakkel Andreas is an MA Development and Governance student at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. She holds an MA Advanced European and International Studies from Centre International de Formation Européen (CIFE) in Nice, France.