A letter dated 12 July 2017 from Ministry of Works and Transport Permanent Secretary, William Goeiemann, abruptly informed the Acting Managing Director of Air Namibia, Ellaine Samson, that, “The ministry is unable to pay for your July GRN subsidy allocation.
The ministry advises Air Namibia to kindly make other financial provisions to pay its leases, maintenance, and fuel for July 2017.”
This came as the RCC faces D-Day, according to the red headline of a local daily, after we had already seen the padlocks on the SME Bank, and at a time when PSEMAS is struggling to meet its obligations and some practitioners are refusing to accept its members as patients.
We already know about the hundreds of millions owed by the Ministry of Works and Transport to various contractors. And the story goes on.
This situation leads us to worryingly question, where is our Plan B? It seems to us that the boat is sinking and there is no rescue plan. Worse, there are no life jackets on board and we are being informed of the sinking only when the ship is half submerged and we had sailed too far away from shore.
We are being told to make survival plans on our own after the entire ship has already gone down. What a way to run a country.
Schlettwein is not giving a rescue plan; he is just cutting things out of the budget and paying bills with money that is actually there in the country’s bank accounts. This is a tough thing, but a necessary step.
While all of this cutting is happening and people’s lives are being affected and service delivery is slammed, the line ministers of the affected SOEs and other ministries are just quiet. No mitigation offered, no alternative plans or changes in procedure (albeit temporary) to allow for the changes…nothing, not a word.
Items needed by the public are simply ‘not there’ due to budget cuts and there is no other alternative or mitigating procedure on offer to the public. Why do we manage our affairs this way?
In the case of Air Namibia, whether you are a fan of the airline or not, if the Government decides it can no longer afford to have a national airline, why issue a missive about not being able to pay a subsidy that is promised, committed and owed in July, on the 12th of the same month when it is due?
What time does that leave the management of Air Namibia to “find alternative sources of financing” for their fuel, maintenance and leasing costs?
The law prevents them from alienating or encumbering any property or assets, they cannot take even a short-term loan, without Cabinet approval. So, what money should they access with zero notice (and the money is needed in hard currency)?
If you take the principled decision to close Air Namibia, then make a phase out plan over a reasonable period of time. This business of backing people up to the wall, leaving no options and running around like the house is on fire, has to stop. That is not national planning, that is chaos.
If Cabinet decides that to save money, they have to cut the old-age grant from N$1,200 per month to N$600, (This is only a hypothetical example) explain why, plan a gradual reduction in the money offered each month and avoid an abrupt cessation of the payments altogether due to “lack of funds”.
A gradual reduction in a sustainable payment amount is far better than having people wake up on the day they expect their money to be deposited and only then learning that nothing will be paid in at all.
Decision-making by shock therapy is no way to run a country.
If Cabinet decides to return the size of the National Assembly to its pre-2015 levels and vacate the position of the Office of the Vice President effective at the end of the first completed term to cut the budget, then do it using a phase-down plan that makes sense.
Those affected by the cut would have two years to wind up their work with dignity. But, to wake up one morning and have parliamentarians get a letter like the one Goeiemann sent to Air Namibia, is wrong.
The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology could be told of a principled decision to close down a press agency, for example. In such a case, a future date should be given for the final shut down, with a phase out of the work and staff on a gradual scale. An abrupt closure with no Plan B in place is haphazard.
We need to downsize smartly with plans in place and have a conversation about the cuts and what system is needed to mitigate the impact on the people affected. We need to stop cutting things out and expecting the chips to fall where they may.
These are tough times and we can make it through, but we must plan around them. Government must make a Plan B to mitigate the impact of the decisions that have to be made. After all, while it may be figures on a spreadsheet to some, for others, it is people’s lives and livelihoods.