The CEO of the Government Insurance Pension Fund (GIPF), David Nuyoma made a comment this week that needs to be repeated. He said, “The GIPF will not be making any rushed investment decisions [due to the virus].” This wisdom needs to be injected into our Covid-19 mitigation ideas and plans right now. Programs must not be entered in a rush of ‘doing something’ about Covid-19. When the virus emergency passes, as it eventually will, the after crisis recovery could be worse for the already-stressed Namibian economy.
When the Titanic hit the iceberg, the crew, in its haste to ‘save as many souls as possible,’ rushed to release and lower many of the lifeboats into the water. These empty or half-filled boats just floated away. When abandon-ship efforts became more organized, there weren’t enough life boats left and thousands of stranded people died.
Protecting the public from Covid-19 as much as possible is IMPORTANT; it is government’s duty and they are doing a good job in a tough time. But, we believe it is important to plan for the end of the tunnel even though the storm is still raging. Situations like this is where leaders and officials earn the perks and salaries they have been receiving.
They need the wisdom of King Solomon to make choices. Decision-makers must choose what must be done right now to ‘prevent’ new infections and begin managing what people will need in 30+ days when the aftermath sets in.
A significant number of people will miss at least one month’s pay check. Others may face termination as businesses close down precipitously. Still others may face forced unpaid furloughs for several months. How will they eat?
Vulnerable SMEs and weaker businesses will close and default on all debts. People and companies will default on house or car loans or make late payments. Food supplies may even be in question in households that never faced this problem before.
These desperate and frightened Namibians will look to the government for assistance alongside of the huge numbers of citizens that already are living in poverty. They have been in need of assistance for decades.
Most people have insufficient or no savings. Far too many live from pay check to pay check. Their credit cards are maxed-out. People grocery shop using overdrafts or revolving loans. We recall that the Governor of the Bank of Namibia, Ipumbu Shiimi warned that Namibian households were carrying too much debt. After this crisis passes, many will wish they had listened to him.
The generationally rich and those who have disposable income will weather the post Covid-19 storm with only minor disruptions to their lifestyles. The Fishrot types (those not yet in jail) have stolen enough to make it for the next six months and will continue laughing at the rest of us. Those working for international agencies, embassies or receiving overseas remittances from hard currency countries, will be ok. But, the majority, not in the above categories should prepare right now by making emergency, drastic changes in their living standards to prepare for post-Covid-19.
We will not second guess our government on decisions taken during a State of Emergency. We have no contrary proven information to question conclusions made. Trolls and knuckleheads on social media, must not amuse themselves by spreading rumours and fake news in a time of crisis. That is immoral.
The 800 pound gorilla in the room is that the Namibian government engine is running on fumes. This country has been in a debilitating recession for three years. We are coming out of a terrible drought and the negative backlash of depleted cattle stocks and lost subsistence crops. We have no ‘spare billions’ to bail out entire industries. Government must devise a tough needs-test to ensure that millionaires lamenting the loss of 20 percent of their income are not considered equal to the family making N$10,000 per month and loses 20 percent of theirs.
Every emerging country is shaking their begging bowls under the noses of developed countries for immediate emergency grants. Namibia, as a so-called high income country, is at the back of the ‘needy’ line. Remember – Developed countries are handling their own massively expensive domestic needs first. Significant levels of un-programmed cash dished out from development partners is likely a non-starter.
We believe that government must come up with innovative ideas that can help people at the household level post Covid-19. There are things that could at least be researched and considered now.
Banks operating in Namibia that always post double page ads about how profitable they are, should spend some of those billions in the country where they earn them. They should suspend their multitude of account charges for the next six months.
Car and bank bonds should be either reduced or forgiven for six months depending on the overall record of the client. Municipalities must be forbidden from turning off electricity or water from any residence for the duration of the State of Emergency. Let insurance companies extend the grace period for missed premium payments before cancelling policies. Businesses should not be assessed late fees for tax filings.
All SOE executives and top public servants must immediately absorb a temporary 15 percent cut in salary with the funds going directly to the food banks to increase their capacity for the next six months.
Private sector employees earning more than a million per year must be encouraged to give that same 15 percent of their income to orphanages, elderly homes, or the food banks for the next six months in exchange for a 20 percent tax deduction in 2021 (not in this Covid-19 year.)
Government must consider funding churches to begin organizing soup/bread kitchens to feed children under the age of 12 and those above 60 for the next six months. The products used for the soup and bread could be purchased from local Namibian farmers.
Those in the tourism and other Covid-hit industries, must receive some level of government cash bailout for their businesses. Government must sit with the industry and work out these modalities.
There is no silver bullet solution in this situation. We felt it necessary to begin this dialogue now. In many ways, Covid-19 itself is the calm before the storm. But, what happens the day after?