Defenceless

The latest development document shows 39 projects for the provision of water, electricity, sewerage and roads – some of them on the books since 2013 – which have been gathering dust on government’s budget shelves.

05 August 2020 | Economics

Jo-Maré Duddy - A mere N$10 million versus N$170 million.

These two figures in the development budget for 2020/21 in many’s opinion will summarise government’s skewed spending priorities: With a conservative estimate of more than 300 000 people in Windhoek living in informal settlements, only N$10 million has been set aside for the upgrading and development of informal settlements and low-income townships in the capital in the current fiscal year.

That’s a mere N$33 – at most - for every person in Windhoek’s bulging informal settlements trying to lead a dignified life as guaranteed in the Constitution of Namibia.

In contrast, N$170 million was made available for classified spending for “research and development” for the ministry of defence – tax dollars spent in secret.

Should that amount of money have been invested in the improvement of the living conditions of thousands of shack occupants in Windhoek, it would have translated into nearly N$567 per person for sanitation, water and electricity.

Big spender

The classified research and development project forms part of the overall defence budget of more than N$6.2 billion for 2020/21, nearly 10% of government’s total expenditure in the current fiscal year.

This means Namibia will have a military burden of around 3.6% in 2020/21. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) defines military burden as a country’s military spending as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP).

Namibia last year had the third biggest military burden in Sub-Saharan Africa, despite not being involved in any conflict. (See page 4.)

The plight of the masses stuck in informal settlements around Namibia was highlighted by the recent fire in Twaloloka in Walvis Bay, where 150 shacks were left in ruins and hundreds of residents were, once again, stranded homeless.

Yet the development budget this year only provides for N$7 million for water, sewer, electricity and road infrastructure in Walvis Bay Urban – N$3 million less than in 2019/20.

Home sweet home

The most recent official figures, released by the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA) in 2015/16, show one in five people live in “impoverished housing” – that’s excluding caravans, tents, single quarters and traditional dwellings.

Nearly 30% of people in urban areas call shacks home, while about 9% in rural areas live under these conditions, according to the dated data.

However, the latest update of informal settlement profiles done by the Shack Dwellers’ Federation of Namibia (SDFN), the Namibia Housing Action Group (NHAG) and local authorities indicate that nearly 992 000 people in the country live in informal settlements.

According to their research, there are 291 informal settlements in Namibia with more than 228 000 shacks. On average, every shack houses at least four people.

The last time an official population figure was released, was in the Namibia Labour Force Survey in 2018. The NSA then recorded a population of about 2.41 million.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in a study released in July this year estimated Namibia’s current reference population at 2.48 million.

Using the above figure and that of the SDFN/NHAG, it means about 40% of Namibia’s population live in informal settlements.

According to the 2020/21 development budget, government has a much rosier take on the number of people living in informal settlements. The document states its desired outcome of spending is to reduce people living in impoverished houses from 19% in 2016 to 12% by 2022.

‘N$10-solution’

Government’s budget for basic sanitation infrastructure development to help curb open defecation in the entire Namibia is 2020/21 is N$10 million.

That’s about N$10 per person living in informal settlements countrywide.

With this, government wants to increase improved sanitation in rural areas from 28% in 2016 to 40% by 2022, and from 77% to 87% in urban areas.

This budget, for example, makes provision for just N$98 000 for “improved ventilated pit latrines” in Windhoek Rural in 2020/21. Government intends spending N$2 million on this project until the end of March 2023.

The bulk of the total basic sanitation budget this year will go towards Omusati and Ohangwena (both N$1.154 million), Oshana (N$1.058 million) and Oshikoto (N$1.057 million).

In total, government has committed to spend about N$77.6 million on the project countrywide until March 2023.

Reality check

The latest development document shows 39 projects for the provision of water, electricity, sewerage and roads – some of them on the books since 2013 – which have been gathering dust on government’s budget shelves.

The total estimated cost of these projects are estimated at more than N$1.3 billion. (See page 2.) Not only would these projects have made a big difference in the communities, but capital expenditure of this magnitude would have been a welcome injection into the local construction sector which has been in recession since 2016.

Yet only an estimated N$126 million was spent on the projects in 2019/20, while N$100.5 million was set aside for these projects in 2020/21.

The 2020/21 development budget indicates the end of March 2023 as the completion dates for all the projects, which means government will have to spend more than a billion on the 39 projects in 2022/23.

This is highly unlikely as government’s entire development budget for 2020/21 caters for more than 450 pages of projects for which around N$8 billion in total is available.

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