Monday, the 21st of March marks the seventh anniversary of President Hage Geingob’s reign. He is in the last half of the second and last term of his presidency. Geingob’s presidency was characterised by a number of new developments at the beginning of his administration, where he announced during his inauguration a one-thousand-dollar increase in old-age pensions, introduced an A-team of specialists in various fields in his office on top of his Cabinet, created new ministries and agencies and a what he termed a short term economic recovery plan, the Harambee Prosperity Plan 1.
These were grand plans, which to the public and many observers were to blow new live into the nation. But, the nation unfortunately did not experience the expected prosperity, although poverty seems to have been rolled back, while unemployment skyrocketed, particularly among the youth.
The start of the Geingob presidency saw the beginning of economic headwinds as a result of global economic recession, and the success of his administration cannot exactly be measured in terms of mismanagement and misfortune.
The Windhoek Observer has interviewed some political commentators, to look at the president’s performance in some select areas over the past seven years of his rule.
At the start in 2015, President Geingob created additional ministries and also added a second layer to his Cabinet, the A-team in his office. This structure, some analysts say caused more confusion and ‘’undermined the authority and responsibility of ministers.
Professor Henning Melber says the Cabinet ministers were particularly confused about their sphere of influence – ‘’Who had the ear of the president? Whose view counted? How did the president communicate – with whom and when?”
But, in other instances there was synergy between the two structures, Melber points out. ‘’There were no visible signs that members of the A Team and their ministerial counterparts practiced Harambee – meaning that they were pulling at the same side of the rope and were in close interaction and joining forces. The absence of such signs enhanced that this is indeed synergy effect.’’
Director of the Institute of Public Policy Research, Graham Hopwood says that the creation of the Ministry of Public Enterprises, ‘’improved the governance and accountability of state owned enterprises through the introduction of the Public Enterprises Governance Act and the Minister’s close monitoring of some of the problem areas such as dysfunctional boards’’.
The closure of Air Namibia, which Melber describes as ‘’too expensive flagship serving national pride’’, Hopwood said, was brought about by the monitoring of the airline by the Public Enterprises Ministry, bringing to and ‘’end several decades of mismanagement that had resulted in significant financial losses for government’’.
There was clear evidence that there were turf wars between the ministry and the line ministers under which the SOEs resort.
Melber disagrees, saying the ministry had not really had any authority over SOEs ‘’when these were directly under certain portfolios of other ministries’’ and the minister always had to compete with line ministries over who has the final say and decision making power. Unless the ministry has decision making powers, it ‘’risks to end as mere tokenism in many instances, where actual action is required’’, Melber opines.
The professor further says that the current administration does not value efficiency which gives recognition to people who deliver, instead of ‘’creating loyalty through co-optation and reward such loyalty’’, when asks about the dumping of some high ranking officials in the Office of the Prime Minister.
The introduction of the Public Enterprise Governance Act, Hopwood says, ‘’should have happened earlier. Instead it took four years for the ministry to get its key piece of legislation through parliament’’. Therefore, he believes, that it should be given more time to complete its work, instead of dissolving it now and incorporate it into the Ministry of Finance.
Despite the government claiming that corruption is not systematic in Namibia international indices measuring corruption show a different picture.
Hopwood says: ‘’Indicators and rankings like the Mo Ibrahim Index and the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index tend to show that corruption in Namibia is becoming worse. I still believe this declining trend could be reversed, but it needs renewed political will from the President and the government.’’
Melber said there were more noble words and promises about fighting this vice ‘’than concrete results against which the intention to implement could be measured in a credible way. Good governance relied too much on promises and too little on efficiency and effective changes’’.
Hopwood agrees saying ‘’he [Geingob] can shift from rhetoric to action on corruption to demonstrate his political will on the issue’’.
The IPPR director says political will would mean setting up the Office of Whistleblower Protection and also the Office for Access to Information.
He also calls for the overhauling of the fishing quota allocation regime to rule out corruption. It is through this system that a multi-million-dollar corruption scheme was executed that led to two ministers, including the fisheries minister charged with money laundering, fraud and corruption among others.
To further curb corruption, the government should publish ministers’ declarations of interest and assets and the president should also ‘’declare his own interests as he did at the start of his first term and promised to do again’’, Hopwood further asserts.
He also wants the government to join the Extractive Transparency Initiative or at least adhere to its main standards on transparency. The initiative sets global standard for the good governance of oil, gas and mineral resources exploitation.
Since independence has spent its budget mainly on the social sector, ie education, health and welfare payments. In this regard already during his first term he announced an increase in old-age pension payments, introduced a distinct leg for social care in the Harambee Prosperity Plan, opened food distribution centres to address rampant poverty in the country.
Hopwood says the increases in the old age social grants were significant and would have had an impact on mitigating extreme poverty. The food bank, according to him, would have been important in the communities where it operated, but its reach was limited so it won’t have had a major impact overall.
According to Melber the social spending helped ‘’to ease the most painful hunger for many and should not be dismissed lightly’’.
But, he argues, ‘’social grants cannot replace a pro-active policy of employment creation and other forms of empowerment’’.