In the middle of an economic depression, where jobs are being lost left, right and centre, few jobs are on offer in the civil service, kids are dying in shack fires, students aren’t able to have loans for education and anger in the streets is rising, building an ostentatious new SWAPO headquarters (HQ) right now, reportedly with Chinese financial support, is a mistake.
SWAPO is the democratically elected, ruling party in Namibia. And, as such, it is not just answerable to its members, but also to the citizens of the country living under laws and regulations made according to its manifesto.
The perception is that the country’s economy while under the control of a succession of SWAPO governments is in shambles. To act as if this perception is not shaping reality and for the ruling party to flamboyantly announce such a huge building project as if it is a trophy of achievement, is a slap in the face to those struggling to stay warm and put bread on the table every night. Rightly or wrongly, that project N$730 million building is now the lightning rod for party criticism and hostility for a drought stricken, financially besieged, insecure public.
Where is the political common sense of decision-makers within the party responsible for this entire building project? To be ostentatious while people are battling privations is insensitive, politically naïve and un-strategic. Party leaders that proceeded with this project without adequately considering the national pros and cons of making such a huge award and announcement at this time have faltered in their duties to build up the party.
Comments made by former Minister of Justice and a past party Secretary-General, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana regarding this subject are on point. Iivula-Ithana said that N$560 million was used by the billion dollar FNB financial mega-corporate entity to build its new HQ a few years back. How does SWAPO with no income stream in any way comparable to FNB’s, afford to build a structure at N$730 million.
Reportedly, an earlier bid for the cost a new party headquarters was N$400 million. Apparently, for some undisclosed reason that cost has ballooned to N$730 million. It begs the question of how much fat is in that larger figure. One could wonder how many ‘little brown envelopes’, highly inflated materials estimates, pricy sub-contracts to businesses of comrades, or kick-backs are included in the huge amount?
Those who may end up repaying the loans for this project should ask if the materials being sourced locally or imported at higher prices? Are there service contracts for equipment installed? Is there a penalty provision for substandard work and things that break after a few months? What experienced, professional contractor is hired to independently project manage the entire construction process?
Sources state that the building project is to be financed with loans and/or grants from the Chinese government or one of its state-owned entities. We would be quite surprised to learn that SWAPO actually has N$730 million in cash or private credit lines available to self-finance such a project. And yet, the money for the gambit must be coming from somewhere. Are there strings attached to the money that will cripple the party’s independence to set the policy goals for the government?
If loans to foreign governments are being taken out to pay for such an expensive building, is the repayment plan (with interest) provided for? Will future SWAPO leaders be left with debilitating loan repayments due to decisions taken by current leaders who may or may not be at the helm five or ten years from now? What happens in case of a default? What loan collateral or security is being pledged?
The issue is not whether the SWAPO headquarters needs complete rebuilding or just a modest expansion and facelift. The issue is the rationale of throwing an all-night, food buffet and free flowing drink-filled party while your neighbours are starving.
Just because you can do something, does not always mean you should do it. You would think that the party that defeated apartheid, won independence for this nation and garnered world support for its efforts, would be astute enough to read the mood of its own people, check the tone of the times and act accordingly. The current Secretary General and CEO of the party should explain.
The best gesture possible is for SWAPO decision-makers to rethink this entire thing. Consider shelving the plans for the building and implementing a targeted infrastructure update at the existing headquarters for a more reasonable amount. Then, have the party provide significant millions for drought relief amongst its constituents (it is an election year after all) and revisit the project in the future when economic indicators make a consistent upturn.