Are we prepared for COVID round two?

For the past 2-3 months, the shape of Namibia has been re-moulded, stretched, and remade to fit the government’s efforts to stem the spread of the pandemic. Through it all, the leadership credibility of President Hage Geingob is on the line. But has the foundation to get ahead of this disease actually been laid to battle the spread of the virus? Or are we assuming progress on the basis of hopeful reports and general briefings?

During round one of the president’s proclamations have people been cutting corners? Have allocated funds been chopped? Are people scamming on project implementation? If the initial anti-pandemic measures fall short of expectations, then round two is already crippled. And, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Government money has been disbursed for needed medical supplies. Ventilators, masks, gloves, hospital beds, COVID-19 tests, disinfectants and other items are presumed to have been purchased in specific quantities. Is money being dished out for the sake of speedy expenditure or to achieve project goals?

Is there accountability for the funds that have already gone towards the fight against the pandemic? Do the products bought with state funds and donor contributions exist in the quantities purchased? Have funds been misdirected to line the pockets of useless suitcase companies? Have unscrupulous enterprises with grossly inflated prices benefited during a national emergency?

We ask these questions for good reason. Fishrot tells us that greedy middlemen and their ‘connected’ cronies can steal millions from government programs.

We recall the Mass Housing project that is needed to address the woeful dearth of low-cost housing. Tenderpreneurs and briefcase ‘construction’ companies scrambled to stick their snouts in the Mass Housing tender trough.

Quite predictably, many of the housing projects they were supposed to build languish incomplete. People are still without proper houses. Companies that bid hundreds of millions to do the job claimed later they need more millions to finish. And yet, their directors drive the new cars they bought with their ‘share’ of the initial funds. The money for that project is long-gone; the resulting increased national debt and housing the problem remains.

Are we looking at the same modus operandi for COVID-19 prevention programs?

At stake this time is not continued homelessness. Possibly, the country will face a medical emergency that places lives in jeopardy. Government may lack the ability to respond effectively because medical items that should have been purchased weren’t. Are the corners being cut in our virus coverage chain due to the Fishrot mentality?

Geingob should know that issuing orders from in State House does not mean things are actually happening. He must overcome his usual disconnect from ordinary Namibians. This attitude caused him to appear in public without a mask on, oblivious to the powerful impact of perception and optics. Geingob must have avenues available to consistently oversee progress to be certain that all is, in fact, moving properly.

Glowing reports presented by officials about pandemic protections must be confirmed. The president must make sure exaggerations, hopeful assumptions and outright lies aren’t a part of his briefings.

Imagine this: “Sir, we purchased 20,000 masks for health workers.” In fact, that money was chopped so only half that number would have been purchased. The result is that health workers would have to serve the public without masks and risk infection. Officials would cover-up the matter in their reports to hide the problem. Meanwhile, a few smiling insiders have new smartphones with space for two SIM cards and one person now drives a new double cab.

By nature, people are usually unwilling to admit that they’ve made mistakes. When errors are uncovered, prevarications, euphemisms and creative accounting begin. If people start filling hospitals or dying of this virus (we pray not) and there is an unexpected lack of supplies and preparedness, Geingob will take the blame.

This is not the time for underestimating the challenges faced in battling this pandemic. We must ensure that reports from the Ministry of Health never soft-pedal the potential downside of failed efforts. Briefings at the highest levels must not gloss over missing supplies and equipment. The virus continues to spread due to the surprise situation in Walvis Bay. There have been truckers arriving from South Africa absconding from quarantine. People are creeping across the Angolan borders untested.

Geingob must be alert to ensure that protections mentioned in speeches or notices aren’t just words. Part two efforts to fight this disease must be based on facts, not assumptions. Resources to fight the pandemic must not be diverted.

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