New Era had the rare privilege last week to accompany President Hage Geingob to London where he met investors, British government officials and the secretary-general of the Commonwealth, amongst others.
The President is often labelled as someone who loves grit and glam, and many imagine that his foreign trips are an opportunity for pomp and fanfare. Quite the contrary, actually.
We might not have accompanied Geingob on each one of his foreign trips, but our observation last week provides a crucial insight of what goes on during such tours.
What we witnessed was a good commitment to austerity, in recognition of how the current global financial squeeze affects Namibia and the fact that public money is not to be thrown around aimlessly as though political leaders personally own it.
For starters, we noted that of all travelling ministers, only Deputy Prime Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah was allowed to travel with a personal assistant. The rest of the ministers had to do all clerical work on their own.
In France, some senior members of the delegation were not booked into the cosy hotels of Paris. Many slept at the Namibian embassy’s official residence, a practice that was replicated in Cuba when the President flew there for the funeral of fallen revolutionary Fidel Castro.
All those who travelled to Havana were squeezed into the presidential jet, when they could have been booked onto chartered flights to the Caribbean nation. It was a working trip, not extravagance.
In London, some members of the delegation had to leave for Namibia as soon as their work there was done. Presidential economic advisor, Dr John Steytler, was among those who had to leave before the trip officially ended.
It came as a bit of a shock when we saw the ‘hotel’ in which ministers such as John Mutorwa were booked. The facility, which charges a paltry £75 per night, is as bad as they come.
Poorly insulated, the facility, owned by Middle East merchants, is as cold as ice and does not cut it as a hospitality establishment based in London, dubbed by its faithful residents as a global financial capital.
Mutorwa was often seen up as early as 4 o’clock in the morning – with working documents in his hand. The agriculture minister is known to be a workaholic and hands-on, but the unbearable cold in his room could also have had a bearing on why he was often up so early.
There were no murmurs of discontent among the travelling entourage as to the conditions they were operating from because everyone seemed to understand fully that they were not in Europe for leisure but to represent the aspirations of this great nation.
Meetings with investors were held in small, affordable venues to the extent that when one Namibian businessman arrived at one of the events a minute late, there was no seat for him. He followed the proceedings from outside the official venue.
Such measures form part of the austerity steps taken by the Geingob administration which undeniably is sailing the rough seas of financial difficulties experienced in the entire region.
True, there is a lot that needs to be done in order to save public money. But when such savings occur at the highest end of the spectrum, such as the Office of the President, our hopes for the future remain intact with the belief that if this momentum is maintained, Namibia remains on the trajectory to recover from the current slump.