Press secretary in the Namibia presidency Albertus Aochamub believes President Hage Geingob has done enough for both the country and the ruling party Swapo to win hearts at this month’s elective congress. He spoke to Managing Editor Toivo Ndjebela.
Toivo Ndjebela (TN): How is the mood in the presidency ahead of this month’s Swapo congress?
Albertus Aochamub (AA): Wherever President Geingob finds himself, there is always laughter, debate and hard work. The office mood is electric and upbeat.
TN: How does the President rate his chances against a team calling itself ‘Team Swapo’?
AA: It is an insult of the highest order to diminish the value of President Geingob’s contribution to the struggle for freedom and his efforts at building the SWAPO Party before and after independence. For some to pretend that they are more SWAPO than him speaks of a sad state of affairs in our party. Be that as it may, we are supremely upbeat about his chances at a sweeping victory.
TN: His congress rivals have poked holes in some of his blueprints, such as the food bank initiative. Is this a project worth keeping?
AA: It is most unfortunate that a government programme aimed at feeding the hungry, as part of a myriad of other efforts to arrest hunger, becomes a campaign platform. This was never presented by government as the panacea to all our social ills but part of a package of solutions aimed at poverty eradication. To further underscore the fact that Namibia is on the correct trajectory, we recently received positive endorsement from Oxfam International, amongst others, of Namibia’s policy mix in dealing with issues of poverty eradication. Of course some of our citizenry remain ultra-pessimistic about our country’s future in the face of overwhelming evidence of progress. It is democracy at play, one supposes.
TN: President Geingob visited some infrastructure projects recently, but was criticised by some who felt he was using this as a campaign tool. What was the context of such visits?
AA: President Geingob remains Head of State and Government until the next national elections with or without a Swapo Party Congress that is being planned. The nearly ninety percent of Namibians who voted him into power are therefore expecting him to continue to serve them and report back to them periodically. The groundbreaking ceremony for the road construction projects in question was done by him as Prime Minister at the time and are also key part of the Harambee Prosperity Plan. He is simply doing his job by reporting back to our bosses, the Namibian electorate.
TN: What is the likely aftermath of this congress, especially if President Geingob wins? Would there be a Cabinet reshuffle and how does the President intend on uniting Swapo which is evidently divided at the moment?
AA: President Geingob is a fervent believer in democracy and an ardent unifier. He is a man with a big heart who has always been able to afford a second chance to even those that declared themselves his arch-enemies. However, in all fairness, he is also human with human emotions.
So let us wait and see what happens to those that continue to play the man and not the ball. Time will tell.
TN: How will the President balance his campaigning activities with his state functions in the coming weeks and does being Head of State give him an upper hand in terms of resources to campaign?
AA: The President has to continue to perform his functions as the father of the Namibian House in spite of the Swapo Party Congress. At the same time he also has to fulfill his duties as the leader of the Swapo Party. That reality cannot unfortunately be wished away. It is a tall order for a very tall and capable man indeed.
TN: The appointment of advisors for the President, such as yourself, has also been often criticised. How critical are these positions, and do they pay so well that there is often criticism that they contribute heavily to the draining of national coffers?
AA: Firstly these positions are not new on the establishment of the Presidency and are a critical part of the support infrastructure for the President to effectively execute his mandate. Previous presidents had advisors too. So there is nothing new on that front. Secondly, and to your point on costs, the Presidency, including the previous presidents, represents a mere 0.02% of total public service wage bill. With those being the facts I cannot see how that can be a drain on national
TN: One of the mysteries around the current advisors to the President is how some of them, such as Inge Zaamwani-Kamwi who was CEO of Namdeb and probably yourself, left their cushy jobs to become advisors. What would you say was the motivation to accept these jobs?
AA: Most of us who form the core team of advisors of the President made significant sacrifices in terms of earnings and related perks to join government. All of us subscribe to the core Swapo Party traditions of service above self and working for the greater good of all Namibians. To that end, when the President called us to serve the country we all love, it wasn’t a very difficult decision to make. There is no glory being sought here or riches to be gained in these jobs. We take many insults and abuse at all times but are all driven by the intrinsic desire to make a small contribution to better the lives of all our people.
TN: Let’s talk about the country’s economic situation. To what do you attribute the current downturn?
AA: The economic crisis we are emerging from had a number of key external shocks to our small and open economy. The first set came from a downturn in commodity prices globally. We also took a serious knock from a reduction in SACU revenue to our coffers. Drought was a third exogenous shock we had to contend with. Most Namibian businesses really felt the impact when government responded to these realities beyond our control with a fiscal consolidation that brought a new reality to bear on those in any value chain that solely depended on public sector contracts. Part of the anger and blame games in some quarters come from the loss of that gravy train.
TN: Oftentimes, the financial crunch we find ourselves in as a country is attributed to heavy social spending such as the free primary and secondary education and doubling old-age pension. What do you say to that?
AA: Free education and other related social sector investments can never be done away with if we are to achieve the developmental state that is envisaged in the Swapo Party manifesto, Harambee Prosperity Plan and all our national development plans. Government, however, continues to balance all national priorities by also making significant investments in the productive sectors of the economy. It isn’t a case of one sector above another but striking a healthy balance between them all. A healthy, educated nation is needed to drive the business sector and grow the economy.
TN: How does President Geingob take criticism regarding the so-called bloated executive and the 2014 constitutional amendments that led to the increase of seats in parliament?
AA: The three branches of the State are independent and President Geingob doesn’t have oversight of the legislature. The decision to expand parliament was made in that house and the MPs are therefore best placed to deal with that matter. On the cost aspects, the public office-bearers (including both houses of parliament) represent a mere 0.4 percent of total expense budget of the State. Again, I am not too sure how that is a bloated expense.
TN: What was the President’s thinking around having two deputy ministers for some ministries, especially at the time when there are calls to make government leaner?
AA: As I explained earlier, the public office-bearers (including both houses of parliament) represent a mere 0.4 percent of total expense budget of the State. So reducing Cabinet will not account for much by way of significant savings to be realised. What we should be worried about is wasteful expenditure which government is tackling head-on. We have some way to go before we can see a complete change in attitudes and habits in the public service but the signs are good going forward.
TN: What is the true story about North Korea’s involvement in Namibia, especially in light of international media allegations that the country is defying a UN directive to sever ties with that country?
AA: Namibia is on record as having done its level best to comply with all provisions of the UN Security Council sanctions regime against DPRK. We have severed all formal ties and even sent the Deputy PM to personally deliver that message to the leader of North Korea. Other than filing various reports as required to report on how we are disengaging with the North Korean government, President Geingob also personally met the Secretary General of the UN to present our case. Namibia is a child of the UN and will never willingly defy any resolutions of that august body.