As our 28th independence celebration applause dies down, a sober look at how the world sees Namibia as a nation, not only how our leaders see us, is in order.
The president insists upon citing World Bank indicators showing that poverty has been reducing in Namibia, but we challenge that statement with facts on the ground that indicate the exact opposite.
We all know that international credit rating agency Fitch and their ratings downgrade, means that the international lending plain is a desert where Namibia roams (for now.)
We know about the GINI-coefficient that quantitatively iterates the gross income disparity in Namibia. These are not Windhoek Observer indices, these come from the outside.
We are aware of various international agencies working in Namibia, outside reports and reviews that have consistently dubbed Namibia as a positive part of the new African development trend.
Thankfully, the overall positive review of Namibia continues, but increasingly those same reports carry more qualifiers that record this country’s income disparity, rising poverty indicators, charges of corruption, delayed statistics and substandard project monitoring and evaluation procedures, bureaucratic barriers to easy establishment of new businesses, high income tax regime and growing regulatory barriers to foreign direct investment.
Added to some of the international calls for economic caution regarding Namibia is the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index (BTI), the biennial evaluation released recently which analyses and evaluates whether and how developing countries (Namibia) are steering social change toward democracy and a market economy.
In reading their website, we are impressed by Bertelsmann because it is an outside voice stating several things we have been saying for quite some time. The BTI looks at many criteria, some of which Namibia rates highly. But, when it comes to evaluating the rule of law in terms of prosecution of abuse of public office and the country’s ability to move beyond party politics and assume responsibility for all of its people’s basic needs, as well as other judgement criteria listed, we leave much to be desired.
The BTI assesses the quality of representation with regard to the party system and interest groups, and also measures social capital and the approval of democratic norms and procedures.
Comprehensive development not only aims at economic growth, but also requires successful poverty alleviation and the freedom of action and choice for as many citizens as possible.
Are we really focused on poverty alleviation when we buy farms for the Ministry of Defence for N$47 million and fund a military in peace time at N$5 billion, waive import tax revenues from millions in private overseas purchases of the president (which are part of deals coming from questionable partnerships with accused tax dodgers) or tolerate hundreds of millions in cost escalations on every major government capital project?
Are we really focused on poverty alleviation when we miscalculate exchange rate volatility in hard currency contracts, continue to refinance poorly run SOEs, reshuffle non-performing ministers instead of firing them, pay salaries at an RCC that generates no tangible product or output, or cut the funding for SMEs that can be the backbone of an economic revival in Namibia?
We have called for more accountability, better distribution of wealth, an end to insider trading of information and access to government freebees, and more focus on job creation, lowering of barriers to starting new businesses, reduction in the climbing national debt, serious redress of the land issue, and tougher pursuit and prosecution of anyone participating in treasury-draining corruption, regardless of who they are and who they have as friends, comrades and political allies. The BTI seems to be calling for this too.
Of course, international analyses of Namibia are not a flawless bible. We live here and those who devise these international indices do not. We know that not all is hopeless in the Land of the Brave, our home. But, we too are sounding the trumpet of alarm.
We all know that 2018 will be a tough year, but if there isn’t enough tangible, transparent action to better manage the litany of difficulties we face, this tough year can become a disastrous one quite easily.
Once the president returns from this important trip to a strategic ally, perhaps there will be less rhetoric, speeches and promises about alleviating poverty and more swift silent action to get the job done.