SONA 2016 – a recap

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WINDHOEK, 09 December 2016 - President Hage Geingob speaks during a meeting with representatives of the Shambyu Traditional Authority headed by Senior Headman Edward Sikerete Mutero at State House. (Photo by: Joseph Nekaya) NAMPA

• Dr Hage Geingob

I stand before you today to proclaim that the Namibian House is in great shape. The State of the Nation is sound. Let our national pride continue driving us towards the full realization of our dream, One Namibia, One Nation.
We have developed the Harambee Prosperity Plan as the implementation roadmap to fast-track the achievement of our development goals. The Prosperity mandate will not be easy, but, with all Namibians working together in the spirit of Harambee, it is possible.

Most Namibians are hopeful because they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

People who are hopeless remain quiet and suffer in silence. People who have lost hope do not engage. It is people with hope who engage. I would be worried the day our people stop engaging, because it would imply that the situation has become hopeless. It is blatantly untrue that a gag was placed on the questions that Parliamentarians may ask after my SONA address. This not only goes against my demonstrated commitment of encouraging open and frank dialogue, it also fails the basic test of honest engagement. Rumour-mongering, blatant lies and innuendo are a stumbling block to informed and factual analysis and I implore the media to act reasonably when faced with unverified reports lest they themselves be accused of fabricating stories as many media reports are blatantly untrue and report events and discussions which are clearly a figment of somebody’s imagination.

It has been said that, “Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.” The Namibian people are those birds of faith. We are up at dawn while it is still dark because we can already feel the light drawing nearer and nearer.

You will recall that during my Independence Day Statement, I mentioned that “there are some – a very small but vocal minority – who use every opportunity to create the impression that nothing positive is happening in Namibia, and that Government’s spending priorities are misplaced”. This negative narrative is not supported by the empirical evidence and our national statistics which paint a picture of a responsible, transparent Government which respects the rights of its citizens and is making developmental inroads in its governance and macro-economic architecture. That is why our international ratings on Governance and Transparency continue to improve upwards.
I also stated that I will, during this State of the Nation Address, present a comprehensive rebuttal that will affirm that Namibia at Independence and Namibia today are miles apart. Anyone who denies this fact has donned the hat of unreasonable pessimism.

I would like to give a brief account on some of the key commitments made during my maiden State of the Nation address in 2015. A year is a short period in national implementation terms and it is a proud moment to report that our delivery rate on promises had been exceptional.

I promised, despite there being no legal obligation to do so, that I would publicly declare my assets and health records. I delivered on that promise. My wife voluntarily joined me and also disclosed her personal assets for public scrutiny.

I directed that the practice of asset declarations cascade to Members of Parliament and the entire civil service. Both houses of our Parliament have delivered on this important action. Moreover, the Right-Honourable Prime Minister has ensured that all civil servants, Permanent Secretaries included, have submitted their declaration forms which are being scrutinized by the Office of the Prime Minister. Regulations under the Public Service Act were also amended to make the declaration of financial interests compulsory. I commend the Right Honourable Prime Minister for successfully carrying out this difficult assignment.

I directed that Ministers compile Declarations of Intent. Despite this being a new initiative, all Ministers obliged and submitted their Declarations of Intent within the required time frame. We, therefore, delivered on this promise and I thank Ministers for complying with this request.

I promised that we would introduce Performance Agreements at Ministerial level and that these Agreements would be made available for public scrutiny. We delivered on both accounts. Moreover, the results of the first quarterly reviews of Ministerial Performance Agreements have been very encouraging. Ministers have embraced performance contracting and are on track towards meeting their targets. Admittedly, this is a system that is still evolving and we will continue to refine goals and targets to lead us towards a high performance administration. Accountability of performance is key from the top to bottom and Harambee will only succeed if those tasked to implement are assigned key performance indicators which can be monitored and measured.

I directed that the Public Procurement Bill be brought back to Parliament for enactment before September 2015. We have delivered on this promise. This Act will inject more transparency in the way we undertake state procurement in Namibia and will significantly enhance the participation of our SME sector.

I promised to be a consultative President and to hold Town Hall Meetings. I am very proud that we have consulted all fourteen regions of Namibia and engaged communities in, approximately, 93 hours of dialogue. I would like to use this opportunity to congratulate the people of Namibia for the excellent manner in which they participated in these meetings. Namibians came out in large numbers to show appreciation for progress made and to raise their concerns. Namibians also proposed solutions to challenges that they encounter on a daily basis.

We have taken note of all suggestions made at the Town Hall Meetings and at other consultative fora, and have, where possible, factored them into the development of the Harambee Prosperity Plan. In addition, we released a comprehensive report at the end of last year on national issues raised during the Town Hall Meetings. Ministers have been requested to follow up on issues raised by our citizens and provide feedback to them via the regional Governors.

In addition to direct community engagement through Town Hall Meetings, we have engaged the digital town hall-like platforms of Facebook and Twitter to directly engage Namibians. We have also established a mechanism of regularly engaging the media through press conferences where they are free to engage on pertinent national issues. In addition, all meetings with outside stakeholders held at State House are open to the media with permission to stay throughout. We trust this will lead to responsible and informed reporting.

As you are all aware, I have declared an all-out war on poverty and created the Ministry of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare as the frontline Ministry to spearhead our combat plan. We have made it clear from the beginning that poverty is multifaceted and that it cannot be eradicated overnight. We therefore sought, to make an immediate impact on the livelihoods of our most vulnerable citizens, to opt to immediately increase the Old Age Social Grant. This means the Old Age Grant will reach one thousand, two hundred Namibia dollars in 2017 from the six hundred Namibia dollars paid in 2014. This represents an increase of one hundred percent (100%)! We are confident that this intervention will make a meaningful impact in reducing childhood poverty as many senior citizens take care of their grandchildren.

On other dimensions of poverty, we decided to engage the Nation through a public dialogue on wealth redistribution and poverty, from which, outcomes will culminate in a blueprint on how to eradicate poverty in Namibia by 2025. I personally participated in this national dialogue and I must commend the Honourable Bishop Kameeta and his team for having done an excellent job. The blueprint has been finalized and will be tabled in this august House for debate. Aspects of the blueprint have also been prioritized and incorporated into the Harambee Prosperity Plan, for accelerated intervention.

I would like to use this opportunity to expand on two issues pertaining to poverty eradication, namely: the role and organization of Food Banks; and the proposed Solidarity Wealth Tax introduced during the national dialogue on poverty.

Regarding Food Banks, the intention has always been for them to be managed and operated by unemployed youth, organized into Street Committees. Participating unemployed youth will receive some form of compensation for the work rendered. This particular activity will constitute a Conditional Income Grant as opposed to the Basic Income Grant of providing each citizen an allowance, regardless of their financial position. These unemployed youth will be tasked to identify the vulnerable afflicted by hunger poverty, keep the street clean and be trained in basic community policing.
Similar to Food Banks, the construction of rural toilets will be done primarily by unemployed rural youth in an effort to address rural hunger poverty, rural youth unemployment and sanitation, by creating this economic stimulus.

Regarding Solidarity Wealth Tax, none of us can be proud of the high GINI coefficient in Namibia which implies a significant gap between the rich and poor. Wealth disparities have reduced since independence but not at the required pace. Unfettered capitalism and social inequality is a global threat to social cohesion but is particularly pronounced in former settler colonies like Namibia, where wealth inequality has rural/urban and racial dimensions. All Namibians who can be reasonably categorized as wealthy, whether black or white, must recognise and act upon their vested interest in the maintenance of our socio-political stability.

With regard to Macro-Economic Stability, we will continue to consolidate the fiscal position to safeguard our fiscal sovereignty and to build up buffers for counter-cyclical policies during periods of economic downturns or global recessions. To achieve our target of reducing the debt to GDP ratio to less than 30 percent by the end of the Harambee period, we will introduce a range of expenditure, revenue and structural reform measures.

On the expenditure side, we will be strict on expenditure control and expenditure prioritization. Despite being a dominant procurer in the Namibian economy, Government does not benefit from discounts attributed to economies of scale. The Ministry of Finance will be tasked to ensure that Government gets value for money when it comes to the procurement of goods and services. The Ministry of Finance and the Minister of Economic Planning will also be tasked to review our expenditure priorities and ensure that they are aligned with national priorities, including the Harambee Plan. This review will also include the costs of waste in provision of critical utilities such as water and electricity.

On the revenue side, we will improve tax collection, through operationalizing the independent revenue authority in 2016 and by broadening the tax base to include the informal sector and investigate the establishment of a State Lottery. The objective of the State Lottery will be to supplement State revenue and ring-fence income for poverty eradication and social developmental programmes. Revenue collected through the State Lottery will therefore, like the Solidarity Wealth Tax, be strictly directed to poverty eradication activities under the supervision of a Special Tax Committee. Winning proceeds will be paid out to beneficiaries as a ratio of compulsory investment in housing or pension and a portion in cash.

Let us take this day to introspect and ask ourselves what our personal responsibility and contribution to Harambee will be.

Dr Hage Geingob is president of Namibia. This is an abridged version of his State of the Nation Address (SONA), delivered on April 5, 2016. This year’s SONA is slated for next week Wednesday, April 12.

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