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Befitting conditions

26 November 2015
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Recent reports about the lofty acceleration of amounts paid in benefits allowing, in essence, free municipal fees for high ranking officials already on the national payroll are infuriating.

Stories about million dollar hotel bills for one minister and more perks for officials paid out of a national budget that was supposedly trimmed to allow for more funding of essential poverty reducing programmes, speak to a gross insensitivity of those making administrative decisions in government.

One wonders what people can be thinking in their defence of such spending against the backdrop of intolerable and volatile levels of poverty, landlessness, drought, lack of sufficient medical care and shrinking opportunities for hundreds of thousands of our people.

In response to queries about the huge acceleration in benefits on offer to public officials, authorities responded that the increases are justified in order to maintain these officials “in the conditions befitting their status as national leaders.” This absurdity revolts us to the core.

What about the status befitting the poor living in tin shacks all over Namibia who freeze in the winter, sweat in the summer, battle snakes, scorpions and biting spiders, live under the constant threat of burning to death in fires caused by candles? 

What about children who still share one text book with five other learners?  What about the baby that died while waiting in a queue for medical services right here in Windhoek?  Can that same official justifying the massive expenditure on utility freebees for the elite, tell us what is the ‘status and living conditions befitting’ these people?

We can blame regulations and laws that create these programmes.  We hear that these boondoggles are allowed as they are ‘within the confines of the law.’ But, have we all forgotten that apartheid injustices were justified as being ‘within the confines of the law?”

We know there are unjust laws; we fought to liberate ourselves from them.  Now, we hide behind such language to cover-up the continued legal lining of already well-tailored pockets.

If reports are to be believed, the minister benefiting from a bill of N$1 million at local hotel for about 240 days is eating up over N$4,100 per day.  We pay our policemen and other regular workers that much in a month. 

Has the administration no squeamishness about ruling over a country of people who live in tin shacks or are our decision-makers and advisors used to the highlife to the extent that they’ve lost sight of what it means to live mean, the way the majority of Namibians do?

How can anyone think that constantly escalating hotel bills for ministers are fine just ‘because it is the regulation?’  If this is so, then, the regulation is a bad one and must be changed with immediate effect.

We applaud ourselves for having a peaceful democracy and rightfully so.  But, the first prelude to a revolution is when people lose hope and trust in the relationship they have with their leaders.

The 87 percent popularity that hailed the landslide election of the current president resounds in the many cheers of continued support for the ruling party and our leadership.  But, how many more reports of government waste and excess can the ordinary people take and keep cheering? 

The system itself must be pro-poor and those working in that system must drop the expectation of entitlement that such benefits engender.

We must make practical decisions in light of the struggle for a poverty-reduction-focused budget.  A minister living in Windhoek, with a house and resources based here need not receive the same benefits of an MP arriving in town to serve in parliament and who is forced to maintain their family home back in their regions at the same time.

It is a sad day when we walk over a cliff to die on the rocks below because we say “well, we’ve always done it that way, so we must continue.”  We are not mindless and brainless sheep en route to the abattoir.  We must take thoughtful decisions that are in sync with our supposed national priorities to fight poverty.  And we can’t do that while paying rich people’s water bills.

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