It is typical that during election campaigns, politicians promise the moon. Sometimes, with the best intentions, candidates speak of what they wish rather than what they know.
Other times they lie and exaggerate just to win votes. While I am a firm believer in multiparty democracy and free and fair elections, this inevitable aspect of campaigning is insidious. It is time to pull out the b-meters.
All of us who care about an honest democratic process must whip out our bulls#*t meters (b-meters) and use them to guide our votes. This device is made with your common sense, the ability to fact-check with Google, and the chutzpah to ask tough questions.
These meters go from 0 (absolute truth) to 10 (big fat lies). The closer a comment gets to 10, the hotter the meters get.
Far too many politicians behave as if their constituents are vapid automatons, incapable of making clear judgements. It is insulting. For these kinds of politicians, campaign speeches are theatre scripts written to get attention. Their political vocalizations on the campaign trail are not a ‘to-do list’ or contract with the people. But…they should be.
“I will build 30,000 houses as soon as I am elected!” Your b-meter should warm to the 6 level. Houses cost money; servicing land costs money; making land available is not an overnight thing. There is no money. Not a single soul elected in November will build 30,000 homes in their first year or their first term. Anyone promising this is lying. Candidates explaining how existing facilities, staff and budget will be redirected to prioritize housing, might be closer to the truth.
“I will stop all corruption!” Your b-meter should be burning a hole in your hand. Bureaucracies operating without equal rules for all and no checks-and-balances are corruptable. I submit that regardless of which party or ethnic group is in power (just like under apartheid), their ‘in-group’ will win tenders, top-level jobs, access to power and information, fishing quotas or any other manna from political heaven that is available. The best promise is to tangibly increase the wealth opportunities for ‘joe public’. I favour code numbered applications and qualified lottery selections for government tenders, houses, land, fishing quotas and other benefits.
“I will give every Namibian a plot of land.” The b-meters should explode like fireworks with this prevarication. There are 2.5 million Namibians. There is simply not enough government-owned available, arable land for this to ever happen. There are dozens of insurmountable, legal implementation issues that make this promise impossible. Honest candidates must put on their thinking caps and announce a new system for fair land distribution as low cost plots become available.
“I will close/privatize all SOEs!” The b-meter will blow up. As an example, if you unilaterally and immediately close Air Namibia, the lawsuits and existing mega-contracts backed by government guarantees will come due. Billions would be needed to cash out. We have no money to pay off these legal obligations. Perhaps our embassy properties and other state assets abroad will be sold to creditors. Thousands of citizens working directly or indirectly with the national airline will precipitously lose their incomes, default on car and home loans, credit card bills, health, and life insurance payments, etc… the ripple effect of this will sink the economy even further. An honest candidate would pledge to aggressively empower the Ministry of Public Enterprises so it can manage viable phase-out or reorganization plans for stressed SOEs.
“Everyone who qualifies for university will go to school for free” - Sounds nice and the b-meter should beep, maybe a 3 or 4. Universities run on MONEY, not hopes and dreams. How will UNAM (for example) exist without any income from tuition? Who will pay for the new student housing needed, more classrooms, more professors, etc…?
“I will lower income taxes.” The b-meter should turn to lava in your hand. By what percent will you lower taxes? Less tax means less revenue to the government. Who pays for this tax decrease when Namibia is already carrying a HUGE deficit?
“I will create jobs for all who are unemployed!” Your b-meter will go nuclear. Namibia has over 30 percent unemployment – it didn’t happen overnight nor will a solution come overnight. Over 6,000 applicants showed up for 120 jobs. If that is not a wake-up call for employment creation, what is? The civil service wage bill is one of the main drivers of the economic crisis in Namibia - the government cannot (and must not!) absorb all who want jobs. The government has no power (Thank God) to force the private sector to hire people. Where is the viable plan to rev up the economy so that the private-sector can create more jobs?
Those wanting to hold office in Namibia must be realistic about what they are promising. Being measured, doing homework, and addressing what people are concerned about is the right path. Candidates must under-promise, but over-deliver.
Voters must pull out the b-meters and hold those who are campaigning accountable. When that meter burns your hand, vote accordingly.