Cutting diplomats too deeply is a risk

The financial crisis faced by Namibia is severe. Budget cuts are required. The cuts recently announced will hit Namibian diplomats abroad too hard. There is a huge risk, and it should be done with extreme care.

Horror stories abound of financially challenged countries that cannot support their diplomats abroad. It is a disgrace to any country with its diplomats, embassies and missions with water and electricity disconnected. It is shameful to have local staff suing for unpaid salaries. National humiliation ensues when diplomats are evicted from their homes. The trauma and shame of children sent home from schools for non-payment fees or if bill collectors arrive at an Embassy door.

The media is full stories about diplomats or their dependents crossing the line into illegal actions. They begin to hustle to try to earn money in unpalatable ways. In most of these foreign capitals, temptations of all kinds constantly swirl around diplomats.

The list of countries with diplomats that suffer these national humiliations is long. Will Namibia join this roll of shame?

If a diplomat has no money to pay for internet at home, cell phones or television, attend relevant programs, then what is their point?

The bean counters in the finance ministry see a hard currency cost translated to Namibia dollars, and their ignorance takes over. They have not lived abroad. They do not know the necessity of having local health insurance, attending host country events, or taking language courses in a non-English speaking country. They see only a figure next to a service rendered and react from a local Namibian context.

It is a researched fact that diplomats working abroad perform better when their families are with them. Funds to support families abroad are required. Single male diplomats cause the worse scandals when alone for years in foreign countries. Single female diplomats also can be compromised. But there are also security and safety issues if she is forced to use public transportation at late hours because she cannot afford a car.

There have been countless scandals when diplomats seek secret employment in other areas. Imagine the Ambassador’s wife as a secretary for a local businessman. A diplomat’s son working without a legal permit repairing houses for pocket money is scandalous. Diplomats have been caught ‘selling’ their diplomatic pouch space or diplomatic immunity status to earn extra money.

Having other countries paying your diplomats’ bills, drive them in their cars, pay for the embassy’s children’s schools, or finance other needs because Namibia cannot afford it, is dangerous.

It makes our diplomats vulnerable to manipulation, extorsion, and temptation. After gifts have flowed to the under-financed Namibian diplomats’, what happens when a price for those gifts comes due? Quietly a ‘friendly nation’ that has been financially supporting a diplomat or the embassy insists on Namibia’s vote on an issue. With a smile, they demand Namibia’s backing of their nationals for an international appointment. They insist on Namibia’s silence on issues. They can demand use of their companies and products in Namibia. Cases like these are exposed regularly.

When the diplomat’s representational allowance must be used for living expenses, how can that diplomat do his/her work? How can they promote Namibian products, positions on issues or investment possibilities?

Rather than cut below what is practicable to live in a hard currency country, why not cut the number of overseas missions? Namibia should have fewer embassies that are properly funded than more embassies that are half-funded.

For financial reasons, many small countries opt to have representation at the multilateral level only. A mission to the EU, AU, and the UN only might have to be considered as a viable option for Namibia. Offices within those missions can provide consular and visa services.

Trade representation can support embassies in the USA, South Africa, Germany, UK, or China.

Smaller countries in one region can join together and co-finance one facility with separate spaces. This cuts costs for all when they pool their limited resources.

It must be considered that all other embassies should be closed. Fixed assets in various countries should be rented for hard currency income flowing back to the Ministry.

Good Office treaties can be worked with appropriate countries to handle Namibian citizens’ needs.

These are not ideal situations. But Namibia cannot afford to do the same things in the same way.

Too many cuts will make our diplomats abroad desperate by throwing them into untenable circumstances. They cannot do their duty without sufficient funds.

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