Looking at the national budget year in and year out suggests they don’t. A simple example is the contrast between the money allocated to air travel versus what has gone to roads and rail. More correctly, actually, is that the most important sections of our railways have been left to decay while our leaders have been simply too eager to fund their pet project – air travel.
It may not seem obvious to the politicians but the contrast in billions of dollars given to Air Namibia to keep “our flag flying high” and the half-hearted attempts to fix the all-important railroads from Walvis Bay and from Lüderitz into the hinterland is an indicator of their disconnectedness from the grassroots. They fly, while the citizenry is stranded and cannot even take a train ride from town to town.
For instance, nearly N$2 billion would have been used to bail out Air Namibia over three years until 2016 (recent history suggests the amount could go up even further next year). Believe it or not, only about N$80 million is budgeted for the “maintenance of railways” during the same period. And this is only one small example of the misplaced priorities.
TransNamib has stopped most, if not all, passenger services because not a month passes without a train derailing due to railway lines that are in too poor a state to carry the trains. We boast of a top-class harbour that can service many neighbouring countries. But of what use is the harbour if goods trains run off the tracks before the merchandise can be delivered? How can Namibia generate money if we don’t invest in the kind of infrastructure that makes economies grow?
Unless our leaders start to appreciate that you first have to invest in income-generation projects (railways) before having a good time (aeroplanes), the country will soon find itself going the opposite direction from achieving any vision for prosperity. We must simply learn to cut our losses, tighten our belts and work towards the future. Conspicuous consumption will take us nowhere.
Skirting Responsibilities, Minister?
MINISTER of Health and Social Services Richard Kamwi cannot possibly be serious in complaining that he has had enough of acting as a spokesperson for hospitals.
Kamwi was reported in the media saying that he had demanded that the head of the Windhoek Central Hospital, Sara Shalongo, should compile a report and herself “inform the nation” about a woman who died recently while giving birth. The family has complained that it was a case of negligence by the health workers.
“I want to instil accountability in the health sector in line with our strategic plan,” Kamwi was quoted as saying. Unless we miss something, Kamwi’s move seems like a case of the top trying to pass the buck, especially in cases that are controversial and difficult to handle. Or in what specific instance would the minister take the kind of step that essentially amounts to avoiding responsibility?
Many complaints about problems in state hospitals are similar countrywide, with those that reach the public domain only a microcosm of what citizens go through every day. Kamwi’s ministry, together with the Ministry of Education, are undoubtedly among the most difficult, with never-ending problems. But accepting to head up such a portfolio comes with its responsibilities.
Employees of the ministry, including the hospital chiefs, may only be able to deal with some queries. How then, with his latest attitude of absolving himself, will Kamwi address queries about common and systemic problems that the public experiences?
For a politician, Kamwi is letting his frustration get the better of him by giving the impression he is letting his staff, many of whom are over-worked and under-resourced, ‘hang out to dry’. The public can’t be expected to get piecemeal answers from government employees when dealing with systemic shortcomings.
The alternative, if Kamwi and other elected officials prefer not to deal with those difficult matters, is to step down.