SONA 2022 lacked self-critique

Martin Endjala

Reactions to this week’s SONA 2022 has been less than flattering with and seen as a futile exercise to paint a too positive picture and sell meagre results as major achievements, while blaming external factors for the lack of delivery.

These were the overall sentiments from analysts, the public to parliamentarians, the Windhoek Observer spoke to.

Henning Melber, a political analyst spoke frankly to this publication, saying domestic policy failures can simply not just be swept under the carpet. ‘’Good governance requires an honest assessment of how to improve and must include self-critical reflections and ideas on how to do better.

Listing to a few figures on limited service delivery and construction of houses, sanitation and road improvements, cannot ‘’replace a conceptual approach of how best to meet the structural challenges for building a people-centred economy and society’’, Melber stated.

“The increase of some monetary social benefits to reduce the misery of the poorest is welcome. So is the moratorium on NSFAF debt repayments. But while these ease temporarily the situation of some in need, it is not a solution to the problems”, Melber pointed out.

Moreover, the announcement of an amnesty for the NSFAF debt repayments for 12 months does not offer any perspective beyond the year and neither does it fundamentally change the situation of those indebted beyond the grace period nor does a waiver of interest on the loans, he continued.

The flurry of task forces, committees and other bodies that are supposed to draft solutions for specific issues to add to the practice and establish new advisory groups, he said, are not the panacea to Namibia’s problems.

‘’If only the line ministries and Cabinet, not to mention the so-called A-team in the State House performed according to what was mandated of them,’’ Melber pointed out, ‘’we would not be singing such an out of tune song’’.

The SONA, he said, in many parts was once again lost in details without offering a fundamental approach to governance.

He highlighted the “challenges of unemployment, land and housing delivery backlog and contracting economic growth,’’ and pointed at the four times bigger GDP since the apartheid days.

The academic further said that debt accumulated during the same time, skyrocketing from zero to over 70 per cent of GDP and that Moody’s ratings agency at the time of the SONA had just downgraded Namibia to junk status even further identifying the long-term debts as a too risky investment.

President Hage Geingob claims that government, is aware of the hardships experienced by the people, where he said “he will make interventions when so required, based on available resources”.

However, he did not mention the kind of interventions, not that such resources are not available, Melber criticised.

The president only refers in passing to “times of fiscal constraints” and “anticipated economic tailwinds that could potentially propel us toward an era of growth and opportunity”.

Melber describes the thinking at best as wishful thinking and could be dubbed as waffling.

There are a few sober elements when admitting that growth did not result in a reduction of unemployment and the admission that the old ways of doing things can no longer bring us the results that we need to take us to the promise of prosperity, he emphasised.

‘’However, there are no suggestions, as to how the new ways can and will be constructed, except using the image of building new doors for opportunities to knock at. These are then associated with the green hydro energy projects and ammonia industry, which are long term investments which at the moment require urgent clarification as regards the tenders awarded and the competence of those tasked with implementation,’’ Melber opined.

The lack of transparency and accountability, he said, applies to the reference of offshore oil and gas exploration by multinational energy companies. “This all is, with due respect, pie in the sky and of no direct relevance for the next few years.”

He further criticised the President for his continues reference to the status of being labelled as a higher middle income country, and the accusation of bias of international financial institutions, which does not do justice to the country’s socio-economic features by simply applying the per capita average annual income as a means of measurement.

After 32 years of independence, Melber said, domestic policy has to answer why this remained unchanged despite a sovereign government which at least has tolls such as tax policy and other related means for initiating redistributive policy.

Referring to the president’s personality, which according to him remain ‘’over-sensitive to critical challenges’’, Melber said his outbursts and lashing out, ridiculing the leader of the official opposition was unnecessary, saying it only displayed the president’s own inability to behave like a true statesman when feeling challenged by resorting to ‘’cheap if not mean flippant remarks’’.

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