Geingob made 'deepest cuts'

President Hage Geingob's spokesperson argues that the head of state has eliminated wasteful expenditures on travel, meetings and inflated procurement.

28 June 2019 | Government

Presidential press secretary Alfredo Hengari maintains that President Hage Geingob has made the deepest cuts since independence, as a consequence of the revenue deficits that arose from the global commodity crisis in 2013.

He was responding to questions by Namibian Sun on the consistent clamouring from Geingob's detractors that he cut his cabinet, as well as his presidential advisors.

He was also asked what measures the president had taken to cut wasteful expenditure.

Geingob told New Era earlier this year that “the current cabinet is too big and there's reason for it”.

“President Sam Nujoma, being a founding father and a liberation hero, has natural authority. President Pohamba was a bit relaxed. But with me, I am dealing with my peers - where anybody could have taken over as president.

“The pressure on me to have a bigger cabinet is bigger because all these people are my peers who want to be accommodated. It could have been worse if I didn't do that [appoint them],” the president was quoted as saying in the New Era article. Hengari was asked what measures Geingob had introduced to cut expenditure, given that government is now asking workers for a 2% voluntary contribution from their salaries.

“Wasteful expenditures have been eliminated, be it on travel, meetings and inflated procurement. You should be reminded that the president cancelled a highly inflated airport tender as a demonstration of his total commitment to fight corruption,” Hengari said.





He also said the president understands that a delicate balance should be maintained between competing and equally important priorities.

“National cohesion and unity is a priceless precondition for peace and development and as president, he is obliged to constantly think about it and act to create conditions for peace and stability,” Hengari says.

“I understand that the media, even if it is a moral obligation, you have a choice to make. The president does not have a choice to make. He works at all times to consolidate the foundations of a peaceful Namibian House.”



Rock and a hard place

Analysts believe Geingob finds himself between a rock and hard place and must cling onto his bloated cabinet and host of presidential advisors.

Political commentator Ndumba Kamwanyah says in some regards the country's economic turmoil has directly to do with the size of the Namibian government.

In particular, he says, the excessive duplication of roles in the government continues to bleed the state's coffers.

“It costs a lot to have such a big cabinet, and look at our executives. You have a minister who advises the president on economic issues, you have an economic advisor, you also have an economic panel, you have a minister that deals with law and justice, but we also have an advisor who advises the president on constitutional matters and law issues,” he points out.

Economist Omu Kakujaha-Matundu also believes that the president is trapped by his comrades and that it would be painful for the president to simply retrench them.

“Perhaps what could work is that you retain them mostly when the economy is doing too badly. But try to see where you can cut some of their perks, because it is up to them to decide if they will agree on reduced benefits. If not, then they should go and find work somewhere,” he advises.

In his view the president can look at cutting salaries or benefits such as vehicle allowances in order to demonstrate that his cabinet is not oblivious to the hard times ordinary Namibians are facing.

Kamwanyah adds that there seems to be a perception by African leaders that “more is better”. He believes that perception must change and they must learn from developed countries.

“We are a population of 2.5 million and we have a cabinet that is more than 25 people. We must learn that we can achieve more by having a smaller cabinet. The focus should be on competence and skills and people who can do things instead of having an army of people who do not possess the competence and skills,” he says.



Solutions

Kamwanyah says it appears as if the government does not truly understand what the cause of the country's economic crisis is.

“We need to strategically figure out that problem and tackle that problem. We have been talking about the global market but that would not give us a solution. You can only solve a problem if you really know where the problem is. And for me the biggest problem is unemployment,” he says. Kamwanyah believes that if the government focused on creating jobs and new industries it might propel the economy out of the doldrums.

“But I do not see any employment strategies coming from the president or the government.”

Kakujaha-Matundu argues that there are many ministers who have been in cabinet for more than ten years who can be released.

“People who have been in government for so long ... have accumulated enough wealth to sustain themselves for the ten or so years that they are still going to live. And then the president can remain with the active, productive people,” he says.



Builder and reformer

Hengari said Geingob launched the Harambee Prosperity Plan in 2016, in order to ensure that “the Namibian economy delivers a better life for the majority”.

“If you take a sectoral review, you will see the achievements to date and not make general, if not vacuous, assertions. I should refer you to the detail in the State of the Nation Address (Sona) 2019 and the HPP report attached to the Sona 2019. A whole lot has been achieved: social protection has been strengthened, massive increases in the old-age pensions since 2015, grants for vulnerable children and orphans, people living with disability, the food banks and several initiatives. These are all impactful initiatives deserving serious attention on the part of media,” he says. Hengari says the president is a builder and reformer of institutions, adding that the reform of state-owned enterprises under his watch was a significant accomplishment and a manifestation of his commitment to delivering sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

“It is an exaggeration to still speak about an economic crisis in light of the actions highlighted above. The country is moving into positive territory.

“Yes, we are experiencing a drought, the worst in recent history, but government has committed an envelope of over N$500 million to deal with this natural disaster by declaring an emergency, and the president and the government are scaling up interventions to deal with the situation on the ground.

“At the same time, the president is working around the clock to attract inward investments through targeted interventions, at home and abroad,” Hengari added.

JEMIMA BEUKES

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