We are vexed by an end-of-year cabinet meeting that uses descriptive adjectives like “ethical” and “integrity” attached to the activities and performance outcomes of some cabinet members in this recession-battered year of 2018. We find some words used in the president’s statement to be off the mark.
We are not suggesting that the president should have publicly lambasted his ministers for under-performance, tainted deals and disappointing results that have come to light over the last 12 months. We are suggesting that more muted praise would indicate that the president and cabinet are aware of their shortcomings but have re-committed to a changed course in 2019.
Where is the integrity in a cabinet that secretly approved a highly questionable land deal in favour of a Russian billionaire with one hand, while planning a land conference to address the number one concern of the Namibian people (land ownership), with the other?
We know that members of cabinet sitting quietly with folded hands while receiving praises from the president know the now questioned value of that Russian land deal. They know for a fact if that deal’s value is N$43 million or N$207 million. Is it their integrity and sense of ethics that keeps them and the president silent on this point of fact?
We recall how difficult it was this year for cabinet and the president to submit a complete, unedited list of who has received resettlement farms since the inception of the program. Is it their integrity and sense of ethics that kept this list under wraps for so long?
This year during a heavy recession and budget cuts, the Ministry of Defence spent tens of millions to purchase a game lodge and hunting farm for specious reasons. That same ministry sent soldiers on unpaid leave due to a lack of funds. The public incredulity over this contradictory use of state funds has gone unaddressed. Even the president announced that he would query those purchases and yet, he did not revert back to the public. Is this integrity-filled, professional and ethical cabinet behaviour?
As another example, two major decisions made by Minister John Mutorwa were overturned by the courts. His controversial appointment of a Meatco Board while the line minister of that SOE was recently struck down as illegal. In addition, his hasty dismissal of the Namibia Airports Company (NAC) board deputy chair as the line minister for this SOE was also successfully challenged.
What message does this send when ministers make unilateral decisions that blow-up in their faces? Is it a question of ethics and integrity or competence and poor homework? Either way, it does not speak well of informed leadership.
Over the past 12 months, when our politicians withhold necessary information, promise the sky but deliver only a cloud, and appear to tolerate corruption, these actions are in full view of the people. Actions speak louder than words.
We take note of a group of landless people preparing to march on the land now owned by the Russian billionaire near Dordabis. They are targeting this land owner because they believe that something ‘shady’ is going on; they don’t trust that government has been above board on how huge swaths of Namibian land are sold to foreigners, at undisclosed prices while sons and daughters of the soil remain landless.
We wonder how those marchers in Dordabis would respond if that exact same end-of-year speech for cabinet were presented to them.
Under the punishing economic recession and devastating budget cuts of 2018, when cabinet members make pledges and promises about what is ‘going to’ happen, people find it hard to believe them. There are trust issues in Namibia, where our people wait to see what leaders do, paying less regard to what they say.
We recall quite clearly that in 2018, five cabinet members, Obeth Kandjoze, Alpheus !Naruseb, Bernhard Esau, Tjekero Tweya and Sacky Shangala were called in to the president’s office to answer questions about accusations of corruption in their ministries over previous years.
In fact, this year’s only cabinet reshuffle for three of these ministers was specifically done (according to president Geingob’s own statements) due to allegations of corruption and mismanagement in their previous portfolios.
With one sitting minister in court this year facing charges over actions taken in the past, we suggest that the president’s speech writers be a bit more tactical in their word choices when describing ministerial performances.
Perhaps such speeches should rather include adjectives that nicely describe ministers as primarily interested in their own political self-preservation or use words that accurately state how fearful they are of disagreeing with the president or how many of them remain silent even though they have questions and doubts.
In addition, we question why presidential speech writers included that there were 19 meetings, 272 agenda items or 260 decisions made by Cabinet. Where is the relevance of a litany of statistics collected from sign-in sheets?
The people struggling with poverty, insecurity about their jobs or rising crime, are more concerned about how many agenda items discussed resulted in actual budget savings, job creation programs or more affordable housing.
Let us not pretend - cabinet meetings are routinely held where most agenda items include routine issues such as approvals of appointments for SOE boards and executives; agreements about the executive branch travel arrangements; the approval of hosting/attending international summits; or invitations for official state visits.
Reciting statistics about hundreds of cabinet decisions as if that means the work of battling the recession is being spearheaded by that apex executive body, are misleading.
A year-end meeting that was more balanced in reviewing government successes and shortfalls was more in order (and truthful).
End-of-year cabinet meetings should offer targeted praise where it has been earned as well as a message of hope to the recession-weary public, but the adjectives used must reflect the reality of the actual outcomes.