Poignant photos in local daily newspapers showing expectant mothers sleeping and bathing in the rough outside of a hospital in Outapi and young learners at the Ndilokelwa Primary School in the Ohangwena region wearing decrepit uniforms are disturbing.
These two examples are not new stories and have been the status quo in rural Namibia for years, but they are symbols that the war on poverty must be more than speeches, pledges, conferences, slogans and plans. The war needs weapons that bring tangible, visible results.
The Minister of Finance recently announced budget cuts to the various government ministries, agencies and offices, and this is a good move as the country grapples with declining revenues, but that is not enough.
What we have observed is that those at the top of the economic food chain have cushioned themselves from the brunt of the effects of tough economic conditions.
Their top level salary packages and perquisites and access to State assets remains intact despite the tough economic conditions, and this should change.
Questions have also been raised on whether we are focussing our efforts on the right projects for fundraising through lavish parties with charity beneficiaries?
We adore football and cheer loudly for a Hage Geingob Cup football tournament, but is financing one cup while the league collapses due to a lack of consistent sponsorship, the right move? Hundreds of jobs are on the line with the demise of football. Is the sponsorship for one event balanced with the needs of the whole?
We look at travel by officials in business class and wonder why all who must make necessary official trips, are not forced to take the cheapest flight, regardless of what rank they have, and savings from that regulatory change be diverted into the poverty ministry, church groups or civil society organizations that have specific ongoing programs that successfully serve the poor.
We think a war on poverty can be fought while ministers drive Toyotas just as well as when they drive the latest Mercedes and BMWs.
We continue to urge a re-think of the entire Office of the Vice President, not out of a lack of respect for the distinguished office holder, but because we know the hundreds of millions of dollars allocated to that office can be better applied as effective weapons in the war on poverty. Hard times dictate hard and sometimes unpleasant choices.
We note the postponement of all planned and incomplete tenders and the devastating effects of that decision on SME bidders across the country. That cut does not affect the upper levels of society, but rather, it will affect those struggling at the lower/middle level who employ those who live on the margins of society.
We disagree with budget cuts that impact on those who are least able to take the hit, while we leave programs benefiting those at the top of the economic food chain, largely untouched.
Why not mandate that in 2017, a percentage of the net profits from fishing quotas, concessions for tourism and hunting, and EPLs earning revenues go to the ministry of poverty?
We surmise that one top level A-Team advisor may earn N$2 million per year as a salary and benefits package and we compare that to the construction costs of simple expectant mothers’ hostel outside of a hospital and wonder how the public is best served – one advisor at N$2 million or five hostels serving 20+ soon-to-be mothers per month in rural areas for the same amount?
Such ‘either/or’ choices are upon us now as the economic bite clamps down.
We were warned by the Minister of Finance that Namibia faces the most precarious economic times ever. We were told as a nation to prepare for cuts to get our economic feet out of the financial fire.
All in the upper echelons of government should heed this and make the tough decisions that show, demonstrably to the nation, how reductions at the top are being used to finance the needs of those at the very bottom.
The legacy of President Geingob is tightly aligned with the success of the Harambee Prosperity Plan and the necessary struggle against poverty in Namibia. A country that bears the scars of apartheid is showing visible wounds of poverty. It seems that we may be witnessing deeper economic privations now than ever before.
Given the predictions of tougher economic times to come in 2017, the most vulnerable in our society are at greater risk and the nation needs to see those who are insulated against economic cuts, demonstrably take steps to show that they are a part of the solution to the war against poverty rather than blithely insensitive to it.
We need to consider carefully the various ways the public can see (not just listen to another speech) how cuts from the budget show that a government with a pro-poor agenda prioritizes the needs of the many over the desires of a few.