The storm is definitely not over

22 June 2018
We have expressed our concerns before about a government that appears too detached from the needs of the average citizen and we are forced by recent statements and economic developments to revisit that issue. 
In times of hardship, leaders must rise up to find tangible solutions, but also address the intangible needs of the people for encouragement to keep on working hard in spite of the difficulties.  What is not needed is a false sense of hope.
Last week, Finance Minister, Calle Schlettwein, said the country's perfect 2016/2017 “economic storm is over” and that Namibia looks to the future with optimism, “projecting growth at 1.2 percent in 2018.”
When we read this, we are reminded of a farmer whose crops and cattle are dying in a drought in June, being told that things are getting better because a light rain shower is predicted in December.
While we do not claim to be economic experts, even lightweights like us are aware that a GDP growth of 4.4 percent was applauded a few years back as the level the country needed in order to increase employment, meet debt obligations and expand services and facilities to a wider range of citizens. 
To hear our government doing a verbal happy dance over a mere 1.2 percent growth projected by the end of the year, is discouraging. 
With world oil prices rising steadily, that miniscule ‘growth’ in GDP that is touted now, could be sopped up in rising fuel import expenditures and tumbling mineral prices in a month.
Nearly concurrent with the minister’s short-sighted ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ statements, statistics on Namibia’s trade deficit were released.  That alarming data says that in 2017, the deficit worsened by 71 percent. 
Over a data period of 20 quarters, the deficit grew by 57 percent.  We are importing significantly more than we export and this weakens our economy considerably.
We have old age homes without needed medicines that are supposed to be provided by the State, but are unavailable because of budget problems.  Some of our elders are going to bed tonight without their needed medications.
Nurses and other health professionals are in short supply, particularly in the more remote areas of the country.  And yet, nurse graduates cannot be recruited because there is insufficient funding for their positions.
Due to budgetary constraints, government eliminated over 950 temporary and permanent posts, cutting job availability for thousands of qualified Namibians considerably. 
Many recent graduates smiling as they took photographs just last month in their caps and gowns are sitting at home jobless right now.
Construction jobs are disappearing each day; mining jobs are also under threat.  Langer Heinrich just concluded its negotiations for retrenchments of 300 employees. 
We know about SME bank retrenchments and given the latest financial woes (N$80 million overdraft being recalled by the bank) of the RCC whose staff is currently being paid from tax payer’s money to do nothing, those retrenchments must certainly be forthcoming before the end of the year.
As noted, world fuel prices are slowly rising, and as a logical result, local pump prices are up and all food and other consumable items imported by truck will also experience increases.
Electricity tariffs have increased repeatedly in the past two years, and a list of food staples were just announced with price increases.
The poverty minister had to drop thousands of needy families off the Food Bank list due to a lack of funds.
The police cannot recruit new officers as the petty crime rate spirals out of control and police stations continue to lack ground transportation, investigative officers, supplies and the capacity to protect the public.
Recent revelations around the beleaguered Namibia Institute of Pathology (NIP) appear to identify that over N$700 million is owed by government, with this debt reportedly jeopardizing that institution’s ability to process test results in a timely manner, and thereby delaying diagnoses. 
Many healthcare providers no longer accept PSEMAS patients due to the slow payment reputation of the government insurance service and the uncertainty of payment for medical procedures previously covered.
The list of negative backlash examples of our severely ailing economy that affect regular, ordinary Namibians, is seemingly endless.  People are hurting; citizens are nervous about their family’s economic stability, job security, and even their ability to pay for basic needs.  
Against this reality, we find it very hard to understand how the minister of finance can make any statement that makes it appear that the administration is unaware of how their own people are suffering.  Is State House built not only up on a high hill, but also in the clouds?
The economic storm is not over when the majority of the people continue to be rained on and live without shelter to keep them dry.
We rather like the saying by a historic British Prime Minister:  “there are lies, damn lies and statistics.”  We feel it is irresponsible to offer misleading encouragement to the public by spouting macroeconomic long-term indicators when all eyes are on the administration for easily understood, real information about the economic situation. 
People want to know how long they must walk the tightrope over the abyss of poverty, unpaid bills, defaults, withdrawing kids from schools, delaying medical procedures, cancelling insurance policies, cutting the amount of meat eaten each week, cancelling/reducing holiday plans, downgrading DStv packages, terminating domestic employees, and other cost saving measures.
We would urge the administration through all of its various sector spokespersons and representatives to proceed with caution. Watch what you say!
Now is not the time for overly optimistic promises.  The public needs to seriously plan for what actually is coming in the short and medium term. 
We cannot plan properly if we are being urged on with smiles on the one hand and slapped back by the reality at the cash register on the other. 


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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