…credibility is legal tender in an emergency

Government must stop over-promising and under-delivering. People are taking the government at its word. They are cheering for the great pronouncements about support for the people in this new Covid-19 world. Then, the promises can’t stand the light of day in terms of implementation. It is glaringly apparent that announcements of bailout packages were intentions and not programs.

A drowning person desperately grabs for anything that looks like a lifeline, even if it is not. Those offering possibilities, therefore, must be very careful that what they throw out there is the real deal.

We have witnessed banks throwing around large numbers of supposed bailout funds for businesses with loans. They claim that they will allow temporarily deferred payments.

Businesses are reporting back that there is no such money immediately available; it has been alleged that FNB sends applications to South Africa for approval. If this is the case, are the other South African banks that make billions in Namibia doing this as well?

Sources in the business community have complained that they are told by banks that the usual loan committees must approve applications using the usual means. Processes for this could last weeks (if not longer) when staff paydays and loan payment due dates loom now.

There are worries that only those who have enough money and do not need a temporary break on loan repayments are likely to obtain them. Financial institutions’ smoke-and-mirrors could end up being a lifeline thrown out that disappears when those in need reach for them.

The government announced an N$750 bailout for citizens unemployed due to COVID. This is a needed emergency income grant lifeline. And yet, the date loudly announced as the start of the program could not be met. The over 800,000 applicants are not fully addressed. It will take many months to get to all who have applied, though there is progress.

The government grossly underestimated the needs of the people when offering such a once-off grant. It did not have enough staff, procedures, checks-and-balances, and oversight in place for such a massive social welfare handout. Nearly a third of the population has applied for help with that number increasing daily. Namibia has not done this before and that was not taken into consideration BEFORE promises about delivery were announced. In time, this hurdle will be overcome, but for now, expectations are through the roof.

The drowning tourism sector was thrown a lifeline of a subsidy of N$400 million three weeks ago. To date, no criteria for disbursement have been submitted to that industry in writing; not a cent has been given to those in need. It is likely that no money will be disbursed in the short term and yet the industry is laying off people now.

The Social Security Commission (SSC) has announced N$1,000 grants for three months to employees of Covid-hit companies. The money carries unspecified conditions. Again, a lifeline promise has been made. And, it is not backed-up by approved processing steps, cash-in-hand funds (unapproved budgets are not cash) and no confirmed rules for disbursement. There is no public education campaign to inform the public.

It is cruel to dangle a lifeline to the drowning person and it is too short to reach. SSC should say nothing until they have everything needed to implement the boon.

There were grand pronouncements made to the unemployed fishing company workers fired due to the Fishrot machinations. The government boldly announced that ALL would get their jobs back immediately. It was a grave mistake to do that so precipitously. While that should be the goal, a plan with industry should have been in place FIRST. Then, enough job openings should have been identified, then the announcement made.

To date, those hapless workers had their expectations raised and are not yet employed; credibility has been lost.

The government should avoid blatant over-promises. Let us not confuse what should happen or what we would like to happen with what is actually happening.

We understand that bold statements of monetary support for businesses and the public have been made with the best intentions in mind. There is a need, when people are afraid, to release the tension by injecting hope. The danger however, is when that hope goes up in a puff of smoke as nothing immediate happens, what then? The drowning person doesn’t stop drowning just because the lifeline disappears.

Credibility in the midst of a national crisis where the government is expected to find a viable way out and lead the people is critical. By promising the moon and stars prematurely, credibility is trampled.

Officials, local people from the industry, and development partners must roll up their sleeves and serve the people. They must sit down all day and night if necessary and make a simple, effective plan for every pot of money announced.

Plans for benefits must not involve time-wasting steps that force people to jump through unnecessary bureaucratic hoops. Those working on the implementation of these promises must identify the goal and draw a straight line to get there.

This is an unprecedented emergency. Old bureaucratic forms and requirements may not always be applicable. Robotic civil servants and unimaginative bean-counters need to THINK about solutions and not add to the problems. Those in power must crack the whip of reality over officials and make sure what comes out is not the same old turtle-speed processes.

Government and banks must make sure they UNDER-PROMISE and OVER-DELIVER this time. Do not throw premature lifelines to desperate people.