PDM speaks out on COVID-19 response locally
By Nico Smit MP
Treasurer General, PDM.
Swapo as the majority party in government has failed to set a clear policy and to plan adequately for combatting the deadly Covid-19 virus. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised national governments across the world to continually screen and test for the virus.
With a comparatively small population, the government is in the unique position to be able to test almost all of its citizens in a relatively short period of time. However, the official protocol is that only those showing symptoms for COVID-19 are being tested.
This is problematic for two widely publicised reasons. Firstly, an infected person may show symptoms between two to fourteen days of being infected, and secondly, an infected individual can pass on the Covid-19 virus to other people without being symptomatic. The Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) therefore requests the government to revaluate this protocol and to begin testing for Covid-19 on a larger scale as a matter of urgency.
The PDM also believes there is a lack of adequate information released by Government on Namibia’s readiness to combat the virus in the event of a significant increase in the confirmed cases of Covid-19. At present the Namibian public is not privy to key information, such as the number of ventilators available, how many Covid-19 test kits there are in Namibia, whether there are enough masks available for health workers, whether all health and essential workers like police and refuse collectors have personal protective equipment. The PDM is of the belief that it is every Namibian’s right to have access to the above critical information.
The PDM demands openness and transparency around the N$8,1 billion stimulus package to support the economy that was announced last week by Finance Minister, Ipumbu Shiimi. Our point of departure is that, given the fact that the Namibian economy has been in recession since 2016, it is no stretch of the imagination to conceive that the country has limited, if any, fiscal space and that its reserves and savings are all but depleted.
Our request is therefore that Minister Shiimi allows the nation into his confidence and provides a clear explanation of the source of these funds.
The PDM also request that the Finance Minister inform the Namibian nation on the impact of the Covid-19 virus on employment, specifically the number of jobs that have been lost and still will be lost, and the effect on small and medium enterprises of the decision to halt business activity for a majority of sectors. What is the logic behind prohibiting the sale of general items found in supermarkets? How will stopping the sale of cigarettes or clothes and shoes for example stop the spread of Covid-19, if these items are sold in the same stores that remain open to sell food? It does not make sense!
The PDM suggests that all Namibians who have been retrenched or placed on unpaid leave should be allowed to draw two-thirds of their monthly salary from the Social Security Commission (SSC) – it is well-known that the SSC has billions of dollars in reserve and it is our belief that in this time of national crisis these funds should be used to provide a much needed safety net to many Namibians.
Any grant from government should also be administered through the SSC, as this organisation should have access to the personal information of all employed persons in Namibia.
The PDM further requests that Trade and Industrialisation Minister, Lucia Iipumbu, explain to the nation why building materials are considered essential items but NamPol officers stationed at roadblocks at Seeis and Rehoboth refuse to allow trucks carrying such materials to destinations outside the locked down regions?
This despite the truck drivers carrying certificates from the relevant Ministry stating that these are essential goods. An example of the crisis this action by NamPol officers is creating relates to the heavy rains over Mariental last Thursday which caused localised flooding that damaged numerous shacks in informal settlements.
The NamPol officers stationed at the road block arbitrarily decided that such building materials are not essential and refused to allow trucks carrying these to proceed to the south. We request to be informed as to who has bestowed upon NamPol officers the authority to take such decisions.
Surely Government Departments / Ministries should be doing everything possible to ensure that trucks carrying essential foodstuffs, medicine and other supplies to businesses both inside and outside the locked down regions, can enter Namibia quickly and easily, travel to their destinations unhindered and unload their cargo with ease, despite the current situation. The fact that this is not happening despite three meetings between the stakeholders and relevant Government Departments / Ministries is a clear indication that they don’t have a basic plan or any understanding of the logistics that keep Namibia going. At the same time, they are bogged down in rules and regulations that must be suspended during this crisis. Why did they not accept the offer by the Logistics Association to provide manpower to help with the process at checkpoints?
The Ministries of Education, Basic and Higher, have thus far made no attempt to provide any guidance on what is to become of the thousands of students who are sitting at home, losing valuable learning time. It is the duty of the respective Ministers to explain to the nation what plans are being made to help learners and students recoup the lost time and to inform parents whether their children will be able to write their final exams or whether they will have to spend an extra year at school.
It is the PDM’s opinion that the government’s handling of the crisis thus far shows a complete lack of organisational skill at all levels. The ruling party will not be able to claim that the ruined economy is the fault of this Covid-19 crisis when everyone remembers that it was the government’s policies that ruined the economy long before this crisis hit the country. The government has a duty to provide the answers the people want and need.
The PDM believes that what Namibia needs now is clear and unambiguous leadership from those in charge of this crisis and not people who dither and announce regulations that are difficult to implement. The official COVID-19 response demonstrates a disastrous lack of understanding by government officials how such a crisis should be handled.