Hard choices

The recent news of the physical collapse of our Vice President, Tate Kulu Nickey Iyambo, is worrying, but we are comforted after reports indicated that the matter was minor and that he is at home and doing well.
 
We wish him the best of good health.
 
Our comments in this editorial are not against the person of our venerable vice president, but we seek to address wider issues that raise questions that must be discussed by the nation.
 
With respect to the current office holder, we would like to reiterate our concerns that the office of the vice president is not necessary in Namibia at the moment.
 
As the nation’s finances dance with disaster, hard looks at any non-essential expense must be taken seriously.
 
Tens of millions are spent annually in the budget to run the VP’s office and there are few tangible returns to the budget in terms of better governance or increased income generation for the nation.
 
In fact, we extend our concern about superfluous and expensive high offices to all ministries with double deputy ministers and duplicate permanent secretaries. 
 
Our country is currently top heavy with extraneous senior staff and million dollar advisors, while small rural farmers are watching their cattle (i.e., their wealth and savings) starve to death for lack of water and feed. 
 
We are concerned that the actual state funded million dollar salaries of the A-team advisors and consultants at the new Ministry of Public Enterprises are not publicly declared. 
 
We have talented ministers with skills (like Alweendo and Scheltwein) competing in the same advisory areas as the million dollar consultants and advisors and we question whether the country can afford such an overlap of services provided to the nation.
 
 Is the country getting value-for-money from the highly paid consultants and advisors (including the special advisors to the governors and ministers)?  We are unnecessarily top heavy and in times of financial crisis, we need to re-examine if the money we spend is generating income and value-add to the country.  We believe it is not.
 
Food aid is rotting in warehouses because of no systems for distribution.  Police in the regions lack transportation to protect the people or investigate crimes. 
 
School children are still under trees and without sufficient books in some areas. Our expectant mothers live in squalor outside of hospitals while they await the arrival of their babies. 
 
Last week, we got a wakeup call after ratings agency Fitch revised the economic outlook from stable to negative.
 
The South African Rand is still weak, and a number of other financial alarm bells are ringing across our drought stricken country. 
 
We are disconcerted at our inability to finance football in Namibia and wonder what will become of the hundreds of young men who face an end to the only income they have.
 
With these realities, how can we afford having unnecessary high offices that are unaffordable? 
 
Many in the country expressed concerns two years ago at the rushed constitutional amendments that allowed a larger parliament and created the office of the vice president. 
 
We are politically astute enough to recognise the realpolitik move of appointing a member of the SWAPO ‘old guard’ from the majority ethnic group as VP in a nod to the out-going Nujoma/Pohamba teams that were being retired to make room for the Harambee/One Economy-bound future planners and implementers.
 
But, we wondered about an 80-year-old distinguished politician taking on the physically demanding mantle of representing the president around the world and across the country while still running several other departments such as veterans’ affairs, and having the mandate to address the needs of both disabled Namibians and marginalized communities like the SAN, as well. 
 
We do not think that Honourable Iyambo or anyone else for that matter can manage these multiple portfolios effectively, generate revenues for the country, and serve the needs of the people under the current conditions. 
 
In the SADC region, Mugabe at 92 is falling down stairs and sleeping in meetings; in Namibia, Hidipo Hamutenya at 77 is also ailing in a hospital in the North after a physical collapse, and there are other Cabinet ministers, who have been ill and in need of medical attention in South Africa and here at home. 
 
We look at the general climate that these examples indicate and express our concern about the issue of succession and future leadership.
 
The next generation of leaders, the 50-60-year-old age range, should already be in the majority of the power seats, learning about decision-making and managing the stress and responsibilities inherent in powerful posts. 
 
The country ought not to be caught out with 70+ year-old leaders as the only keepers of information, managers of power and the masters of the skills of nation-building. 
 
It is long past time to look for others who have experience, loyalty to the Constitution, honour the nation’s history, and have the personal/political savvy to manage people and crises, who can gradually take over while our esteemed elder statesmen are still among us to guide them and pass on institutional memory.
 
It is not our intention to make light of anyone’s ill health, and we unequivocally send our best wishes for speedy recoveries.  We also recognise that age is not, in and of itself, a statement of inability.
 
But our concerns about the budgetary strain of unnecessary high offices in a country with severe economic problems coupled with challenges of having an aging leadership are valid.
 
It is against this backdrop that we assert our right to respectfully discuss challenging issues that should be raised for public debate.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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