The dangers of underpaid politicians

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The cause of the so-called Jasmine Revolution, the Tunisian Revolution which eventually snowballed into the ‘Arab Spring’, was the age difference between youthful populations and grizzled political leaders.

Egypt, whose impact from this revolution was devastating, had a median age of 24 while its leader at the time, Hosni Mubarak, was the fifth-oldest leader in the world at the age of 82.

Namibia too has its fair share of aged leaders, but this is often blamed on perceptions, real or imaginary, that leaders are reluctant to loosen the grip on the throne.
In conversations related to gerontocracy, there often is no talk of attractions for a career in politics. This is particularly sad especially at a time when we most need the gene pool of our politicians to be varied, vibrant and vigorous.

The few young Namibians who are attracted to joining politics are tempted by the shortened path to quick riches, often attained through unorthodox means of patronage in tender processes and other non-transparent dealings.

Other than those supposed benefits, no well-educated young person, who stands to earn more in other career paths such as those offered by the private sector, would want to join politics. As a result, the political arena suffers. Apart from the uncertainty associated with a career in politics – given that one could get voted out of a position and therefore lose an income – the trade simply does not remunerate well.

Figures released by State House this week showed that public office-bearers trail the private and semi-private sector by a country mile in terms of wages.

Therein lies an array of dangerous outcomes. Without new and young faces joining politics, those currently in power of both government and all political parties would be justified to remain in their positions, lest they create a power vacuum.

Secondly, never underestimate the dangers of a hungry politician, especially when that politician is the custodian of both power and national resources. In the current debate, politicians are being labelled ‘overpaid’. How those arguing this way have arrived at that extreme conclusion is anyone’s guess.

We see it differently. When politicians’ wages take 0.4 percent of the national budget, it hardly qualifies as any of the nasty descriptions used this week. Unless it is argued that they should not get any increment at all, but then proponents of this idea must suggest how politicians are supposed to deal with recession and all inflation-induced problems of our society of which they are part like everyone else. Elementary wisdom suggests that when salaries are stagnant, workers become poorer with time.

We are worried that there was never a time when politicians got an increment, without facing the wrath of armchair critics. Every time the latest figures for public office-bearers are announced, they are leapt upon by the media. That, to a great extent, is right because it’s crucial that all our politicians are transparent and accountable in what they do with taxpayers’ money.

But the N$264 million for 326 public office-bearers – or 0.4 percent of the national budget – hardly qualifies as splurging public cash on posh and luxury, especially when many of these critics have themselves received pay hikes in their own jobs.
Politicians, like anyone else, deserve fair remuneration as long as such is done in an honest way. It is now up to all of us to keep a helicopter view on their work and hold them accountable when, and if, they don’t deliver on the respective mandates of their offices.

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