The pandemic has slapped an ailing Namibian economy in the mouth and drawn blood. Namibia should now be calculating the real economic impacts of the outbreak to get a solution that encompasses the crisis’s depth and breadth.

The government must not under report data about job losses due to COVID-19. This country cannot fix what is broken unless we acknowledge all that is broken, even if it paints a dismal picture. This is not the time to placate decision-makers and political bosses with optimistic, rosy scenarios. We need to look into the eyes of the pandemic beast and do battle.

The executive director of the labour ministry, Bro-Mathew Shinguadja reportedly says that of the 12,198 workers who lost jobs (across many sectors) in 2020, only 2,842 workers lost their jobs due to COVID-19. Astonishingly, he claims that 8,000 workers were retrenched because of ‘other’ economic factors such as business closures. Then what does he think caused those business closures in 2020?

Let us not play word games. Let the economic gurus tell us the full, scary truth if the government will not. That formal sector jobless figure is likely the only part of the jobs lost due to the economic blowback from measures taken to manage the pandemic’s spread. With no unemployment insurance program, those without a job, simply suffer until (or if) they find work. There is no option.

The informal economy in Namibia is vast and has been hit hard by the state of emergency measures. The trickle-down of joblessness and retrenchments across the socio-economic strata comes when people can no longer afford childcare, a gardener, or a housekeeper. It shows when people no longer can afford to buy food from the women on the street selling fat cakes or oshikundu. It shows up when people don’t get their cars washed or hair cut or braids put in, or nails done. It shows up when people no longer buy hot food at a neighbour’s home and frequent the shebeens less. The local seamstresses and tailors are hurting. Weddings are postponed, and those making money providing those services are laying off workers.

Job losses come not just when people cannot go out and eat in restaurants, and the waiter staff is reduced, but also when those restaurants no longer order food supplies or have no need of security services. Those services have jobs attached. Those jobs are lost due to Covid-19.

People on contract are not getting renewed. Company jobs that are unfilled are being cancelled. Promotions are being scrapped. Bonuses are being postponed indefinitely, and salary cuts are now permanent. People are being forced to retire earlier than planned. These are, in effect, job losses. Are they being counted?

Are those who had two jobs to make ends meet and have lost one, counted as unemployed?

Perhaps officials fudge on how high the job losses really are to avoid the usual ‘shoot the messenger’ syndrome in Namibia.

Show the full COVID economic damage.

The Economic Policy Research Association says that of the 220 businesses for which they have statistics, half of them had to downsize in 2020. Are the ripple effects of those job losses captured? Putting Shinguadja’s questionable figures aside, the downstream disaster caused by the pandemic are the actual impacts on Namibians in their homes.

The informal sector is larger than the government accountants may think. After recession and COVID-19, the job losses could be in the tens of thousands in every region of the country at every level.

The real impact of pandemic caused joblessness will make itself known soon. Starvation and malnutrition have begun in pockets of the already underserved country. It is always the weakest that suffer first and hardest.

Crime spikes will occur; police and official petty bribery will take root, and suicides due to unpayable debt may increase.

The banks must give the statistics on homes and cars repossessed and loans that have been left unpaid.

The insurance companies need to give their statistics on how many policies have been dropped for lack of payment.

Ministries must share statistics and compile a non-sugar-coated report on formal and informal sector job losses. If that process estimates 40,000 job losses in Namibia, so be it. The government must then manage the problem effectively using that figure.

It only makes things worse to underplay the painful impacts of the pandemic. Programs developed based on wrong numbers will fall short. We must not plan to fail by failing to plan.