• Dr Hage Geingob
Since assuming office on the 21st of March 2015, we have endeavoured to keep communication channels open, as is attested to by the numerous media conferences hosted here at State House and media statements issued over the 28-month period. In addition, I personally interact with the public through my Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Moreover, the media is invited to all public engagements held here at State House – of which there have been many – as well as other engagements at different locations.
There has literally not been a single day gone by, without some form of engagement between State House and media actors, through the mentioned channels of engagement. These engagements form part of our unwavering commitment towards transparency and keeping the nation informed, in what has been described by Matthew D’Ancona to be a post-truth era. We have passed the era of truth and now we are sitting in another era. In this era, fake news or simply put, the spreading of lies to create disharmony and speculation, has become the order of the day. It is therefore, very necessary and important for citizens to critically analyze what is being given to them, by consulting the original source.
I have cautioned on previous occasions that peace and stability may seem boring to some, but let us not forget that without them, any form of sustained development will simply not be possible. Peace and stability are also the cornerstones of our democracy.
I am delighted that our democracy is vibrant and alive, as attested to by the unhindered expression of views by all Namibians. Political leaders in particular are under the spotlight, sometimes rightly so and at other times, not.
In politics that is the nature of the game. Let us however be reminded that politicians have been elected into office by those we refer to as the ultimate sovereigns, to fulfill a specific mandate. In our case, the SWAPO Party received over 80 percent of the popular vote in the last general election, while Yours Truly, I received 87 percent of all votes in the presidential election. We, therefore, have a strong mandate to govern. Moreover, we value our bosses who have put us in power and we are committed in remaining in touch with them through various feedback mechanisms. We observe that those who are most vocal in expressing views do not have such a clear mandate and represent a small minority, yet use the media as the conveyor belt to influence the public. We are, therefore, happy also, using the same media to account to our electorate, our bosses.
The vibrancy of our democracy is further buttressed by the fact that we remain the country on the continent with the freest press. As stated during press freedom day, as long as I am President, the freedom of the press is guaranteed. This includes the emergence of social media, as a large and fast growing online medium of communication. Indeed social and digital media provide us the platform to swiftly and effectively engage online communities. We are, therefore, committed to protect these freedoms and we see no reason why Namibia cannot be the country with the freest press in the world. Not only Africa, in the world.
In this regard, legislation such as the Access to Information Bill and Whistle Blower’s Protection Act, are at advanced stages. These freedoms, should, however, be used responsibly. We know that even in the game of football, the whistle may be blown in an unfair manner. As an ardent fan of football and having experienced unfair punishment of my favourite team by referees, who for instance give unfair penalties against them, which determine the outcome of the game, I say this is not good and I would not like to see this happening in our society.
Leaders are essentially there to dream and cast their vision. Therefore, as a leader I have dreamt about the Namibian House and started a narrative of a strong, united, inclusive Namibian House, where no one must feel left out, with all stakeholders holding hands in the spirit of Harambee. This narrative was informed by our past achievements and extensive town hall consultations conducted throughout the country, and ultimately culminated in the adoption of the Harambee Prosperity Plan in 2016.
We have not only dreamt during the past two years, we have also taken bold decisions to demonstrate that we mean business. These decisions, some of which, were taken even before the Harambee Prosperity Plan, include the following:
• The cancellation of the Hosea Kutako International Airport upgrade tender;
• The re-evaluation of the Xaris power plant;
• Investigation into the oil storage facility;
• Cancellation of crude oil purchase from Angola, for further scrutiny;
• Drastic action to rein in wasteful public expenditure;
• The immediate increase in old age social grants by 66 percent in year one and subsequent doubling over the next two years. That is a big. Go and ask the old people. Bold decision.
• Meeting with land activists to avert a potentially eruptive turn of events which could have destabilized Namibia. A big, brave decision; and,
• Mediation with the National Teachers Union to avert a prolonged and potentially devastating industrial action, that would have negatively impacted our children, Namibia’s most important national asset. Moreover, such action could have led to the disruption of our society and affected all of us.
Next, let me turn to the state of the Namibian economy. While there is a lot of public discourse on the state of the economy, the actual state of our economy is better than currently portrayed in the public domain. As a matter of fact, the underpinning fundamentals of the economy are stronger today than they were a year ago. Opinions and perceptions on the state of the Namibian economy are in wide circulation. It is our view that the Minister of
Finance and the Economic Advisor to the President have tried their level best to provide clarity on the state of the economy and to project a positive trajectory and narrative of economic recovery. I thank them both for that. You have been struggling really during a difficult situation. Thank you very much. Following my statement, the Minister of Finance will, once again in detail, explain the evolution of the country’s economic and financial situation over the past few years.
We have realized that one key factor fueling discontent and opinion is the occurrence of unsettled invoices. We deeply regret the accumulation of unsettled invoices that came about as a result of weak revenue collection, due to the economic downturn. We understand the serious impact this has on business operations, in particular, on small and medium sized enterprises. We empathize with those businesses that had to close down as a result of the economic downturn and those employees who lost jobs as a result of such foreclosures.
We believe the economy has been through the brunt of the downturn and is now on a recovery path. This view is supported by the facts, such as that:
• Namibia received good rainfalls during the just ended rainy season. We observe recovery in the agricultural sectors, both in crop production where a bumper harvest is expected and in livestock farming, where there has been an uptick in meat prices.
• Consumer price inflation has been on a downward trajectory during the past six months and hit a low of 6.1 percent in June 2017. Most important is the fact that food price inflation is much lower than it was during the same period last year. This means low-income earners who spend relatively more of their income on food, are relatively shielded from the full impact of inflation compared to the same period last year.
• The central areas of Namibia have water supply security, even in a “no-rain” scenario up to the end of 2018. This is a significant improvement compared to the same period last year, when citizens of Windhoek faced the possibility of taps running dry by August of 2016. We were accused of not taking adequate remedial action at the time, however the undesirable situation was successfully averted in the end and taps in the capital city remained open, because of our intervention. We have experts, many experts. I had to call on Pedro Maritz to come back from retirement to assist.
Moreover, a medium term plan to secure water supply up to the year 2020 is also in place. There is also electricity supply security in the medium term, with the number of independent renewable energy producers increasing.
• Some demand indicators such as monthly credit extension by commercial banks, monthly motor vehicle sales and monthly statistics on building plans approved and completed are starting to show and confirm a modest recovery.
• Liquidity conditions have improved remarkably. A credit facility with the African Development Bank, denominated in South African Rand and at favourable terms has immensely contributed to the improved liquidity situation in the country.
• There has been notable improvement in the trade deficit. Our international reserve position remains strong enough to support the currency peg to the South African Rand.
• The exchange rate of the Namibia Dollar has been fairly strong and stable during the first 6 months of 2017 compared to the corresponding period last year. As a result, recently, pump prices have been adjusted downward by 50 cents, which provides an additional boost to citizens’ consumption during a period when government resources are stretched.
• There are encouraging signs of economic recovery in Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular in South Africa and Angola, two key trading partners. South Africa has reduced its lead interest rate by 25 basis points, citing an improved inflationary outlook and the need to stimulate economic activities. Similarly, the Angolan authorities are cautiously optimistic about recovery and have been servicing their outstanding loan obligations to Namibia.
It is true that 2016 was one of the most challenging years for Namibia from an economic growth point of view. However, it was also one of the hardest years globally and with the exception of eastern Africa, most other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa experienced flat or negative growth. This notwithstanding, Namibia’s consolidation plan is deemed to be credible and is acknowledged by independent observers such as rating agencies. We instituted some of the deepest fiscal cuts since independence to rescue the economy and put it on a sustainable long-term growth trajectory. These include the shelving of big expenditure items such as:
• The Kudu gas to power project;
• The construction of Hosea Kutako International Airport; and we need to do something about that but we had to stop it;
• The construction of a new parliament; and,
• The construction of a second office building for the Office of the Prime Minister.
Had these projects proceeded as planned, the cost incurred could have crippled the economy. Some of these projects were also shelved as a result of poor governance in the tender awarding process.
* Dr Hage Geingob is the president of Namibia. This is a shortened version of the speech he delivered on Monday at State House.