As the campaign season gears up for local and regional elections, it is time for the voting public to hold parties accountable and demand the details. People need to ask a simple question after every generalized comment made by political parties. “How do you plan to do that?” This question will separate the wheat from the chaff.

Politicians must have a plan or strategy that makes sense. They must be recorded and held accountable when/if they do not deliver.

It is easy to stand on a stage and say anything that pleases the crowd. Politicians often change their promises and stress different priorities depending on the audience. All too often, candidates promise the sun and the moon, but have no idea about how to get there. Or worse, they have no intention of trying to get there.

Unrealistic service promises are insulting to the voters. Most candidates talk nonsense knowing that few will ask that key question (How will you do it?) and demand a reasonable answer. This must change.

Recently, an opposition party made noises about stopping the poor treatment of street vendors. That’s nice. How do you plan to do this? Shall street vendors be allowed to set up their tables or blankets anywhere they choose? Perhaps they should sell their goods right in front of a tax paying retail store that is selling the same products? Or maybe they can sell their things in front of your church, your house, or a school?

Why not give any vendor free water taps while rate payers cover the bill? When foreign vendors without work permits mix amongst the local vendors – is that ok? What about the refuse removal and their toilet needs during the course of a day? Perhaps we should just let them and their customers throw trash anywhere they wish and use the bushes beside someone’s house as a natural toilet?

What is politician’s plan in that regard?

Other parties promise income-generating projects in the South. Again, the question is pending: “How do you plan to do that?”

News flash: the Namibian government cannot finance the existing budget deficits and huge international loans and foreign currency bonds. Namibia is struggling to pay an unsustainably bloated civil service bill. Corruption and waste have cost the country billions. The country must swallow enormous losses due to the pandemic and has empty coffers due to the drought and recession. Namibia will not recover economically for several years. So which projects will be headed to the South or anywhere else?

Anyone promising cash, jobs and ‘projects’ to generate income is usually seeking applause. But, the public must ask them “How will you do this? What is the plan and timeline for action?” Then, the people should watch them splutter, mumble and become evasive or angry as they try (and fail) to give a relevant answer.

For Namibia to graduate to a higher level of participatory democracy, those listening to campaign promises must chant “how?, how?, how?” And then they must shout, “when? when? when?”. They must follow-up and then hold the speakers accountable.

The public must stop letting themselves be bought off at political rallies for free boerewors, brötchen and bottle of water. Voters must not be awed by nice music or celebrities. Candidates must specifically say how things will be adjusted, when will it be done, how much will it cost and who will do it. They must be prepared to resign if goals are not met.

The people must demand scheduled town hall meetings with regional leaders. People must demonstrate at their offices if they don’t show up. A city counsellor, mayor or governor is not a demi-god; they are public servants. People must stop putting them on pedestals and cheering them on cue.

Voters must photograph, video and post on social media any service failures in their area. The voters must record testimonials and collect evidence of poor government services. They must hold their own town meetings if their elected leaders are too afraid to face them. Constituents that act like sheep will be treated like sheep.

Responsible democracy means tolerance of different points of view. It means demanding to be heard, but being prepared to listen. Leaders must not be party hacks and dictators, but the public must not be a mindless, shouting, angry mob.

The season of campaign promises has arrived. It is up to the public to stop cheering and demand details.