The last two years have taught Namibians a crucial lesson, one that was always there but perhaps overlooked: the tabling of a budget in Parliament is neither a statement of how a government allocates money in a specific financial year; nor are the amounts of money allocated to specific causes, either millions or billions, to strictly serve as an indication of assurance of dealing with whatever social evil is confronting Namibia.
No, the Budget Statement by the Finance Minister in Parliament, is in its entirety, a fiscal stance backed up by a set of projections, with some arithmetic calculations of numbers and dollars, on how Namibia intends to survive, in 12 months and 36 months, as a sovereign in a globalised world. The N$65 billion price tag, and its allocation, is meaningless if the country’s fiscal policies are not well articulated or lack foundation.
And Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein made it clear this week that it would be a craven abdication of any finance minister’s moral obligation to simply keep throwing money at our problems. Schlettwein pointed at various lessons learnt from the previous two financial years, saying that going forward the focus is on addressing the long-term answer to Namibia’s problems through a host of structural policy reforms.
“Alongside expenditure-based measures, there are key structural policy reforms which are critical in their contribution to economic activity, reinforcing the impact of fiscal policy and contributing to the successful implementation of the fiscal consolidation measures,” emphasised the minister. Heaven knows there have been enough multibillion-dollar economic interventions that came short of everyone’s expectations.
And he went on to articulate a host of new structural policy reforms, many of which have been long overdue. The repeal of the Export Processing Zone Act, for instance, could not have come at a better time. And so is the implementation of public asset management.
British statesman William E Gladstone and Roman politician and lawyer Cicero were correct in observing that a budget must be used not as demonstration of arithmetic numbers but to help bring about prosperity to citizens; that politicians should not be as arrogant so as to point at numbers to get votes but ensure that they work to keep a country well fed, and far from bankruptcy.