100 DAYS OF PRESIDENT GEINGOB:
REFLECTIONS FROM THE LEADER OF THE OFFICIAL OPPOSITION HON MCHENRY VENAANI
Following his inauguration as Namibia’s third democratically elected President on 21 March 2015, Dr Hage Geingob, recently marked the first 100 days of his term in Office. The DTA of Namibia wishes to share its evaluation of the first three months of the Geingob administration, but admits that this time frame is not sufficient to holistically scrutinise and analyse the performance of the President.
President Geingob assumed the highest office in our land amid much public euphoria and excitement, and rightly so. This is because he is not only perceived as a technocrat but also carries with him the hope of the Namibian public and the promise that the country, under his leadership, would enter a new era – one that would break with the way things have been done in Namibia over the past 25 years – and usher in a period of socio-economic advancement and prosperity for all Namibians.
In some regards President Geingob has exceeded these expectations; through the analogy of the “Namibian House” he has made inclusivity and poverty eradication one of the main goals of his administration. Furthermore, he has addressed accountability and transparency in governance by demanding submissions from Cabinet Minister’s regarding their ministerial statements of intent and action plans, and has barred political office bearers from conducting private business. Furthermore, the President has taken an unprecedented and much lauded step in declaring his personal wealth as well as that of First Lady, Monica Geingos. For these steps President Geingob must unreservedly be commended, the DTA believes that the above actions are characteristic of the kind of leadership and decisive action that Namibia has lacked in the past
Other positives that have emerged from the Geingob administration’s first 100 days have been Government spending on a number of social upliftment initiatives, most notably the much needed increase in Old Age Pensions, as well as the introduction of universal secondary education throughout the country. Citing the imperative and responsibility to address problems at home President Geingob imposed a ban on foreign travel for Ministers, and called for a reduction in size of ministerial delegations when travelling abroad. As one of his first acts as President, Geingob illustrated his willingness to back up his strong verbal stance on issues that he had identified as high on his agenda.
The introduction of key performance indicators for Ministers and consequences for under performers– the naming and shaming of those Ministers who failed to submit their ministerial statements of intent and action being an example, are very welcome and the early signs from President Geingob point to a willingness to walk the talk and deliver. The reform of the asset declaration mechanism for Members of Parliament and the introduction of an asset declaration regime for public servants are further grounds for optimism.
Over the past 100 days the DTA has noted with concern some less positive issues that have emerged from President Geingob’s tenure as President. For all his talk on ensuring efficiency in Government service delivery President Geingob has significantly increased the size of the Executive branch of the State and has appointed a large team of advisors to assist him in running the country. The financial effect of an enlarged Cabinet on the taxpayer is well publicised and the addition of the eight-member “A Team” – which President Geingob himself has admitted will be costly – will only add to this.
The appointment of these advisors raises further questions, for President Geingob is quoted in the media as stating that the “A Team” would help him run the country. In the first instance one must question how this impacts the advisory role of Cabinet to the President. The reported cost of one of the advisor taking a pay cut of N$1Million from N$ 3 Million means that the President Advisor would cost the Tax Payers a whooping N$ 50 000 a day and we shall closely monitor the Public Service Commission bending of Special Procurement of services.
Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that added and/or increased bureaucracy leads to improved efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery. On the other hand, the creation of new ministries – which appear to be the result of last minute and haphazard thinking – have the direct effect of expanding the already bloated public service and its related consequence of increasing the worryingly large public wage bill. The creation of the new ministries also point to poor planning on the part of the President. With no clear mandates, plans and establishing legislation the Ministries of Poverty Eradication and Public Enterprises are effectively stuck in limbo and this will undoubtedly cause delays in delivery.
A worrying consistency between the Swapo Party’s 2014 Election Manifesto and President Geingob’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) is the fact that both are decidedly vague in terms of Government interventions aimed at addressing poverty and unemployment, especially amongst the Namibian youth. More specifically, both the Swapo Election Manifesto and President Geingob’s SONA lack clear and discernable targets, and reference is made to the continuation of ongoing programmes in the broadest sense.
While President Geingob may have a strong verbal stance on accountability and transparency in Governance, actions often prove definitive and the DTA believes actions like these to be cause for concern.
One area where the Geingob administration has failed to cease the opportunity to act decisively, and set itself apart as truly sensitive to the needs of the Namibian people has been in addressing the urban land and housing issue. Despite clear evidence that access to affordable urban land and housing constitute the most pressing social need across Namibia, little action has materialised from Government in this regard. As for the Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement, the approach has been to address this as a Swapo Party issue, instead of a national issue. President Geingob and his Government appear to pay little heed to the ultimatum set by AR, and very little has been done by the current administration to engage the social movement in dialogue to address their demands, despite the legitimacy thereof.
Furthermore, the fact that no senior political office bearers have been held to account for the shameless manner in which local authorities have sold off prime urban and residential land at a pittance to politically connected individuals, calls into question the sincerity of President Geingob’s tough stance on transparency and accountability in governance. The Mass Housing Programme has been stopped indefinitely, causing 5000 Namibians to lose their source of income, while no viable alternative has been developed, yet the Geingob administration chooses not to engage with movements such as AR.
President Geingob also appears so preoccupied with land reform and the redistribution of agricultural land. It seems the President has attempted to shift the focus away from the urban land and housing, but in the process has grossly underestimated public discontent over the latter issue. This points to a disconnect between what the President perceives to be the needs of the people and what these really are – the older generation wanted agricultural land, the youth want urban land and housing.
Attending the recent African Union (AU) Summit in South Africa, President Geingob chose not to deliver his prepared speech, an incident the DTA believes to have been another missed opportunity by the new Head of State. The President could have used the platform to put Namibia on the map regionally with regards to the country's progress in terms of gender equality at decision making level in national governance structures.
Despite the positives mentioned with regard to public spending on social upliftment programmes, the collective budgetary allocation for the Ministries of Defence and Police indicate that these portfolios and their respective mandates enjoy priority over that of the Ministry of Poverty Eradication, despite the latter being a major stated objective of the Geingob administration. Government's spending on the social sector, including both the Ministries of Education, Gender Equality and Child Welfare, Health and Social Services, Sport, Youth and National Service, Veterans Affairs and Poverty Eradication is N$26,7 billion. Of this the Education and Health portfolios have been allocated N$21,9 billion, with the remaining four Ministries receiving N$4,8 billion. On the other hand, the Ministries of Defence and Police have been allocated N$12,1 billion collectively.
The first 100 DAYS have failed to create the policy framework for creating jobs as industrialization would need skills development and lack of emphasis on Vocational Training and amending of rule 28 to prevent capital flights are a no action to be seen as negative. The Youth have not been assured of how they would put bread on their table.
The Swapo party has cast a long shadow over the first 100 days of President Geingob's term in Office. Much of the initiative seized and progress made by the Head of State on key issues has been pushed back, as President Geingob has had to balance the imperatives of the ruling party against his own as President, as he undoubtedly looks to secure the Swapo Party Presidency, and the possibility of a second term in Office. The 2014 Constitutional Amendments that saw significant centralization of State authority within the Office of the President, as well as the appointment of the Presidential Advisory Team are political maneuverings that should be viewed within this context.
The first three months of the Geingob Presidency have fostered little more than cautious optimism. The DTA is of the opinion that the success of Geingob's tenure in Office will be based on his ability to balance the interests of Namibian public against those of the Swapo Party.
Lastly, negatively is the fact that the President has proved to be weak at accessibility and consultation that in his first 100 days he has failed to meet Opposition Leader even letters are taking months to be replied to a benchmark worrisome in a democracy.