When the emergency income grant (EIG) of N$750 was announced, we applauded the idea. At the same time, we raised concerns about how the program would be packaged and rolled-out to the public. The current wave of public gripes about the grant seems to reflect that indeed, there is major misunderstanding about what the EIG was meant to be. Expectations were raised that cannot be met.

Promises of ‘free money for all’ to momentarily deflate rising fear and anger amongst low-income citizens, could backfire. When loftily-announced pledges (like fishing jobs for all who were retrenched due to Fishrot) fall flat, government credibility takes a hit. Doing that too often could make government ‘announcements’ sources of even more frustration.

The fact that we had to raid our Eurobond repayment kitty to pay the promised EIGs, is frightening. Decision-makers could have felt that immediate threats had to be addressed. We fear what is snapping at our heels today; we are less anxious about next year’s worries.

Public comments about the EIG on social media and in newspaper SMS columns and responses on media websites, include: “Where is my N$750?” “My neighbours got their money, where is mine?” “I applied last month and still did not get my money.” “That money was not enough, we must get our money every month.” “I stood in line all day just to be told that there is no more money for me.”

This kind of self-centred thinking was inevitable given the way the entire program was presented to a public. The wrong message was delivered. “You are owed! Come get your share!” That was not the truth. Government inability to influence the story about the EIG allowed the rumour mill, social media and the empty hopes of desperate people to control the discussion.

The EIG is an emergency effort, not a payday. This is the message that should have been reinforced at every turn.

Though it would slow down the disbursement process considerably, people applying should have been forced to spend two minutes hearing the facts about the EIG. Perhaps a counsellor, social worker, church leader, traditional leader…or whoever could have been asked to volunteer for this service.

The message should have been repeated. It is not ‘their’ money; it is government allocated money in a time of national emergency. Taxpayers provided that money.

Those that applied for the grant should have been told the criteria upfront. Before submitting the EIG application, they should have been told that if they are on the tax rolls, whether they are working now or not, they are ineligible. Why let tens of thousands apply who never had a chance to receive the government handout?

The emergency grant was not presented to the public with these kinds of realities in mind.

Official statements with verbose background and history about the entire situation since the beginning, placed on Statehouse letterhead look great. Are such documents the most effective way of getting information to the grassroots – many of whom have language challenges? Probably not.

Those who are unemployed, yet on the tax rolls and not eligible for the EIG are the epicentre of growing frustration. And their challenges may not end there. The Ministry of Finance’s new revenue collection arm might consider using the information on their applications to send invoices for interest and penalties for unfiled tax returns.

Delivering bad news is avoided by politicians. But, this is where they earn their benefits, perks and pay checks. Pride must be swallowed. The EIG coffers are insufficient for everyone qualified. Many who have applied and not yet received the special funds, probably will not for one reason or another. Tell the people the truth and come up with a true mitigation plan. Take the criticisms on the chin. The pandemic is decimating the entire economy; everyone is hurting, not just the individuals demanding their money.

In these times of uncertainty, crisis, fear and frustration, concise information must be given at the start. Simple messages in different languages are needed.

It is better to under-promise and over-deliver. The government must lower public expectations. They must focus on what actually will be done, not on what they would like to do.