National Council legislators have called for an increase in the Ministry of Defence budget despite a biting economic crisis that has led to underfunding of all ministries and budget cuts to crucial government programmes.
Contributing to the Appropriation Amendment Bill in the National Council this week, SWAPO lawmaker from the Omusati Region, Titus Kanyele, said more resources should be channeled to the defence ministry because it needs to buy new modern weapons to defend the country.
“I don’t understand claims by those who are saying soldiers are not doing anything and are just there eating. The world can change any time and you will rely on defence to protect you.
“I am requesting the minister of finance to allocate more funds to the ministry of defence so that they can buy more weapons and increase the soldiers’ salaries to defend us with pride,” Kanyele said.
He said soldiers are resigning because they are not being paid “nice”.
“Soldiers should be paid nice as a motivation to stay in the army,” he suggested.
He also said the army, navy and air force should be allowed to recruit 300 personnel each year to protect the “territorial integrity of the country.”
Kanyele’s suggestion flies in the face of government’s effort to curb the public sector wage bill, one of the highest in the world.
Bank of Namibia governor Iipumbu Shiimi told the Windhoek Observer earlier this year that Namibia’s public wage bill is higher than the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) average of 9-10 percent and that of many other countries in the world.
Another Member of Parliament, Johannes Nangolo, from the Walvis Bay Rural Constituency, said the ministry of defence needs more money to build military barracks throughout the country as the ones currently in place are now dilapidated.
“The military barracks that are being used now were built in the 1970s and they are in bad condition. The ministry needs to be allocated a lot of money to buy modern equipment because we need a strong army to defend Namibia.
“Those who are saying we cannot give money to the army because they are not doing anything, I don’t know what they mean. We can’t compromise on security,” said Nangolo who said he was an artillery instructor during the struggle for independence.
SWAPO legislators, Rosalia Shilenga and Nico Mungenga, also supported the suggestion by Nangolo and Kanyele while calling for the renovation of Windhoek, Rundu and Walvis Bay army barracks.
The lawmakers added that those who disagree with the proposal to renovate army barracks should visit the bases.
The ministry of defence was allocated N$6 billion in the main budget announced by Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein in March.
The ministry was also allocated an additional N$124,5 million in the midterm budget announced in October.
Schlettwein defended his allocation to the ministry saying it allows “for utilities and transport related expenses.”
While the defence budget was increased, the Ministry of Urban and Rural Development budget was cut by N$290,5 million, from N$2,1 billion to N$1,8 billion, while the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry budget was slashed by N$179 million (from N$2,1 billion to N$1,9 billion).
The health ministry budget was also cut by N$138 million at the time where the ministry needs to renovate, build, equip and staff new hospitals and health centres around the country.
Health permanent secretary Ben Nangombe told The Namibian last month that there will be a delay in implementing projects at the Nkurenkuru, Okakarara, Keetmanshoop, Okahandja, Opuwo, Oshakati and Okahao hospitals, as well as the proposed Khomas Hospital in Havana in Windhoek due to budget cuts.
The finance ministry also diverted money meant for the Aussenkehr Health Centre, the Rundu Training Centre and the Aranos Health Centre, to other budgetary requirements.
Reacting to the National Council’s suggestion, All People’s Party (APP) legislator in the National Assembly, Mandela Nauyoma said a defence budget increase is unnecessary because there are more pressing issues than defence.
“Why should it be increased? We are not at war and there is no threat to national security,” he said.
Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) parliamentarian, Nico Smit, complained in the National Assembly during the discussion on the mid-term budget review that there is no reason why the Ministry of Defence should get N$6 billion.
“We are not at war with anybody, there is no civil strife, and there is no other external threat to our political stability. If we had a small professional defence force with well-trained soldiers, we could achieve the same amount of protection for a fraction of the cost,” Smit said.
Political commentator, Henning Melber, said given the current economic constraints and that Namibia already ranks among the top countries on the continent with one of the highest per capita expenditures for defence (second to the DRC in sub-Saharan Africa), the suggestion by the SWAPO lawmakers was not only bad timing, but irresponsible if not “stupid idea.”
“Especially since we learned only a year ago that the ministry could afford to purchase some up market farms from its budget, which suggests a dubious preference.
“It is also mind boggling that defence is given such a priority in light of the sub-regional relative stability. There are no threats of invasion or war. In the unlikely case that any of the big powers would seek to occupy Namibia (maybe to secure control over the uranium reserves) an increase of the budget and investment in the defence capabilities would we be in vain.
“Rather, the best investment in security is to improve the situation of the people at home. This means more money for social delivery services such as health and education and supply of public utilities to the needy (water, electricity, sanitation). This is the best investment in security matters at home,” Melber said.