Five priorities that must be done before Harambee
With the government’s financial knickers in a knot, it is understandable that the initial hype around the Harambee Prosperity Plan has settled somewhat. Since the announcement of this grandiose scheme, much of the frenetic activity to get it started has subsided to a more realistic “How the hell are we going to do it?”
Perhaps one of the more startling discoveries since its first publication, is that this is not the first Harambee on the continent. In fact, there were several. What level of convergence there are between Harambees in other African countries, and our own, I do not know. I have not bothered to study the others.
But let’s say, somehow, by some magic we find the funding somewhere and Harambee can actually get off the ground this year, there are in my opinion five other priorities where urgent attention is required. These issues have been dragged along, some of them for many, many years without any tangible results, or without the hope of any final resolution.
Topping my list is the SADC Tribunal. Remember that sour history when this crucial court was sunk, without much prior notice almost overnight to appease the geriatric Zimbabwean oligarch. Admittedly, this is not a uniquely Namibian problem but seeing that we are the host nation for the SADC Tribunal, it is nor farfetched to say we should lead the charge to reconstitute this key mechanism for dispute resolution.
Next on is the National Pension Fund. The plans for this all-important long-term funding instrument have been wiped off the table so many times, I have lost count. For the past two years, every time we enquired about progress, we were told the final submission is with the line ministry. Since the major ministry shuffles and additions beginning of last year, I am not even sure who the line ministry is. I am also not too convinced the Social Security Commission itself knows who their line ministry is.
The fact is, the National Pension Fund has been delayed for the better part of eighteen years. (That is not a typo – 18 years). If something as important as universal retirement provision has been buried, how can we expect other equally important policy instruments to receive their due attention. The history of the attempts at a National Pension Fund reflects the government’s focus on short term gains. Typically, four years is regarded as long term since those are the intervals at which elections have to be contested.
How is it possible that the very people tasked with our long term development over 20, 30 or even 50 years, are so intransigent that they neglect to put in place one of the most important future financial provider mechanisms. It does not take much common sense to realise as one after the other generation of employed people reaches retirement age, without a basic pension, they only become the government’s problem again. It must be clear to everybody that the failure to kickstart a National Pension Fund, only increases the pressure on the fiscus later on.
A national medical aid, or some form of covering the costs of medical care, is number three. I can understand the reluctance for creating another monster like PSEMAS. Given the government’s bloated employment burden, I can only imagine the fears it must put into the hearts of those who are responsible for balancing the books, when they see the rampant level of exploitation happening daily through the civil servant’s medical aid scheme. It seems, a national medical aid will remain a pipe dream despite the fact that the basic conceptualisation is already captured in existing legislation.
Sliding in at the before-last position is the reduction of company tax, including the pervasive mining taxes. Again, it does not take much common sense to figure out that prosperity and employment go hand in hand. If the government is serious about reducing its overbearing role in the economy, it must allow the private sector (including the mining sector) to flourish. One of the easiest ways is to reduce the tax companies pay on profit. When the private sector companies are prosperous, employment follows automatically. This is an axiomatic economic law, and it does not matter what level of enforcement is applied, as long as profits to shareholders are diluted by contributions to the fiscus, employment will always remain at the bare minimum. Oh yes, in the same vein, get rid of the unions too, or at least force them to abide by the same laws as everybody else.
Number five, unbelievably, is road safety. Like all other developing countries, our appalling road safety record, or lack of it, is a function of the urbanisation rate. In Namibia, however, we have other unique features, like distances, open roads and incorrigible road users all helping to brew this poisonous concoction. Road safety will not improve, regardless how many campaigns we run, until every road user, at an individual level, realises he or she shares the road with other people. And as long as licensed drivers fail to learn that a white line on a piece of black tar, is an ordinance, all our life-saving attempts will be useless. How can one expect the driver to be in complete control of the vehicle if the very basic issues of legality continue to escape his or her attention?
For 2017, my own expectations are considerably more elevated than for 2016. Using only a few macro-economic indicators, I believe we crossed the bottom of the trench somewhere in July last year. By March this year, after the tabling of the budget, I am positive that we will see tangibly, the restoring of momentum to the broader economy.