PRESIDENT Hage Geingob’s Economic Advisor, Dr John Steytler, has reaffirmed that the Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP) is not only working, it is impacting and transforming the lives of many previously disadvantaged Namibians. In this interview, Dr Steytler gives a snapshot of the main activities achieved under the HPP.
“We wanted to prevent hunger and poverty and within one year we have managed to operationalise the concept of a Food Bank, and we did it without erecting a building,” says Dr Steytler said. “With the assistance of communities, we are delivering food parcels to the doorstep of needy households. This year we have distributed food parcels to 20 000 households each and every month”. According to 2016 figures on food poverty, released by the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA), 5.6 percent of the population suffered from malnutrition. “This means that 160 000 Namibians didn’t have enough to eat. By distributing food parcels to 88 000 people, the HPP Food Bank has halved this number in less than a year. That is a fantastic result,” Dr Steytler said. The presidential advisor is “pleased” with the impact the Food Bank is making in Namibia and plans to improve on the concept. “Perhaps in the future we will not necessarily give out food parcels, but hand out food vouchers. This way we cut significantly on distribution costs. If we can reduce such inefficiencies, we can cover even more people.”
Old age pension
Since President Geingob took office, the old age pension has doubled. Whereas in 2014, pensioners received N$600 per month, currently they receive N$1 200. “Even the number of pensioners has also increased,” adds Dr Steytler. “Currently 160 000 to 170 000 pensioners are receiving a monthly pension.” Dr Steytler explains that the decision to increase the old age pension was taken with the future in mind.
“Many pensioners are the primary caregivers for their grandchildren. If we want to eradicate poverty at childhood level, we have to enable these elderly people to provide for the children, so that they can grow and do not fall into the vicious cycle of poverty. Our data indicated that the old age pension is the single most important buffer against childhood poverty,” he underlined. “In addition to buying food for the household, pensioners will tell you that with this huge increase in the pension fund they also put some money away and buy school shoes for the kids, so they can walk the long distances to school. Some pensioners also say they can now afford some luxury goods, like cheap cellphones and airtime. This is transformational in the lives of the pensioners and the children in their care.”
Vocational education and training
Dr Steytler said that societies like Germany were not built by PhD holders, but by craftsmen and plumbers; people that can work with their hands. In Namibia, the need for artisans is huge and boosting vocational and educational training (VET) is one of the most successful outcomes of Harambee. “Our target in the first year was to enrol 18 000 people in VET centres. Instead, we managed to enrol close to 25 000 students, while simultaneously preparing more trainers. We are working on improving the quality even further, and we look forward to these students graduating in the remaining three years of the Harambee Prosperity Plan,” he said.
“But graduating is not enough. We have done a needs analysis to determine how we can turn graduates into economic contributors. Some may require appropriate apprenticeships, mentorship or coaching, while others may want to start their own business and require start-up funding. We are looking into linking our graduates to the industry and facilitate that transition from vocational training to becoming productive members of society.”
Maternal and infant mortality
With regard to reducing the mortality rate of mothers and children, Dr Steytler said, “We started by identifying the causes of maternal and infant mortality and discovered that the vast distances in Namibia mean that mothers do not access healthcare on time. We have now equipped all the regions with ambulances that have dual functionality, meaning that they can cater for both mother and child in the first hours after birth. In some of the very remote regions we have introduced air ambulances to get mothers to health centres on time and its working, Harambee is saving lives.” “We have also trained Community Health Workers (CHW) that are certified midwives. They interact with the communities and identify who should give birth in hospital. So they serve as an early warning system. The CHW continue interacting after delivery and include the fathers in these engagements.”
Transparency, accountability and effective government
“One of the pillars of Harambee is creating a transparent and accountable government for all citizens,” says Dr Steytler. “For the first time since independence we have instituted performance management at ministerial level. All the ministers have declared their assets, which is a major step in achieving more transparency. We also evaluate performance and this yields results. Last year was better than the year before.” The economic advisor stated that President Geingob has taken a hard stance on accountability and driving transparency. The fact that we see many cases before court is not because corruption has increased, but because corruption is no longer tolerated and scandals like the airport tender, the oil storage construction and the SME bank saga are dealt with openly.
“So we have made progress, but more is needed. For the President, the presence of transparency and accountability equals trust in government. One of the key measures we use to track transparency is press freedom. This year, one of the targets of Harambee Prosperity Plan is to be the most transparent on the African continent. Yes, there has been a slight drop in our ranking globally, but if you look at our overall score, it is unchanged. With some of the initiatives that we still have in the pipeline, we will improve our score. Namibia is a beacon of press freedom.
The Windhoek Declaration was conceived here and it has set the trend for Africa and for the world. We will continue to build on that that. The president said we want to be number one, I don’t see why we can’t be number one.”
“We realised the problems plaguing public procurement, so we promulgated a new Public Procurement Act, which became operational April. This was later than we envisaged, and we do know that sometimes we don’t hit the targets exactly as planned. For instance, we have a target to be the most competitive economy in Africa, but we really didn’t move. That’s frustrating, but it doesn’t mean that behind the scenes we are not doing everything we can. We have established the Namibia Industrial Development Agency and we also have the Business Intellectual Property Act, which is very important for the registration of businesses. It’s now possible to register a company name in one day. Such leaps forward will be reflected in our ratings next year,” Dr Steytler emphasised.
Despite the economic slowdown, Dr Steytler says he is “pleased” that Namibia has managed to navigate the economic headwinds. “It was not easy. Like many other African countries, we have been battered last year. We also suffered from reduced South African Customs Union (SACU) inflow. All this put Namibia in a very tight spot. However, we have instituted the biggest expenditure cuts since independence and that showed the commitment of the government to prudent economic management. Although this affected the performance of the economy, it was a necessary measure to reach a sustainable debt trajectory, which brings confidence for future growth and investment,” he said. Way forward
“During the downturn it became evident how much the economy depends on GRN spending and how this makes us vulnerable as a country. The focus of Harambee is to really open the economy to private sector participation. We need to streamline the business environment, to make it easier for private sector to do business. The new Public Private Partnership legislation outlines the rules of engagement between the private sector and the public sector, and will be a big stimulant for priv
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015