Social media, kambashus, town halls and streets in the Land of the Brave are awash with analysis on the much vaunted and finally launched Harambee Prosperity Plan.
The high sounding Harambee Prosperity Plan was launched this week by President Hage Geingob during the State of the Nation Address. At face value, the plan oozes promises for prosperity, particularly its focus on a more transparent Namibia; a high-performance and citizen-centered culture of service delivery; significant poverty reduction (not eradication); a reputable and competitive vocational education training system; and a spirit of entrepreneurship; broader participation in the national economy; improving access to serviced land, housing and sanitation; guaranteeing energy supply and sufficient water for both human consumption and business activities; and enterprise development.
While noting the lofty plans contained in the Harambee Prosperity Plan, one is tempted to underscore that implementation of the plan is primarily the responsibility of government agencies, including ministries. Such implementation will require a thorough understanding of the plan and commitment to its success, otherwise the plan will remain a pipedream like many other pipedreams that were launched with pomp and fanfare in the past. There are, however, a few sticking points in the plan that need serious interrogation.
Mathematicians might agree that servicing 26 000 plots in four years translates to servicing 166 plots per year in the 39 towns of Namibia, including Windhoek but excluding villages and settlements. Is this the best we can do to address the acute national housing challenges? The envisaged building of 50 000 toilets compared to the expected building of 20 000 houses country-wide is an issue that has elicited much debate with regard to our national priorities. These might sound trivial, but they illustrate where we place our priorities.
The Harambee Prosperity Plan states in part that “Government will investigate the feasibility of establishing and institutionalising a State Lottery with the objective to supplement State revenue streams, for poverty eradication.” It is a pity that this sentence found its way into the largely very good Harambee Prosperity Plan. It blows the whole plan into smithereens.
The Harambee Prosperity Plan has laid a strong framework for socio-economic development. However, introducing a state lottery and exposing the already vulnerable and poverty-stricken population to this addiction is very harsh. The history and practice of a state lottery depicts the seriousness of how this state machinery erodes the lives of the poor. The USA is a good example of this. For 50 years when the notion of state lottery started in New Hampshire, and now covering 43 states in the USA, Americans wager more than US$56 billion a year on lotteries. The state only takes a third of that, the rest goes to corporate firms. The big winners in this lottery gamble are corporate entities and politicians. In other words, the rich become richer.
Ideally, lotteries provide extra money to improve targeted programmes for the government. However, researchers and critics cite many shortcomings in the state lottery, such as more often than not, state lotteries displace wealth regressively. In other words, because the poor and working class are particularly attracted to the lottery due to the hope of winning huge sums of money, changing their livelihood and climbing the economic ladder, they buy more lottery tickets than the average citizen. Lottery is a game for desperate people. It is not entertainment at all. The vulnerable treat it as an investment opportunity. The popular excuse that no one is forced to gamble cannot be entertained in this regard. The lottery idea instills a notion in the poor that by paying two dollars they invest in a game where they could win thousands or millions of dollars. The chances of winning are all the more very rare.
Therefore, the money put into the lottery by poor families gets distributed to families who mostly do not need financial help in the form of the targeted government programmes. In general, poor citizens pay the middle-class and the rich to benefit from such government programmes while they wallow in abject poverty. Over time, this accentuates the income gap between the poor and rich, making the improvement of socio-economic status from generation to generation extremely difficult.
In a nutshell, a state lottery will destroy the Harambee Prosperity Plan by taxing the poor and giving to the rich. A state lottery will promote gambling and infuse gambling addiction among the poor. A walk to any of the local gambling houses proves this fact beyond any doubt.
- Dr Charles Mubita holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of Southern California.