President Hage Geingob has been blasted for saying he hopes to increase the current monthly old-age grant from N$1 400 to N$2 000 or even N$3 000 per month before he leaves office in March 2025.
Critics are saying he is lobbying for votes for Swapo.
This comes after Geingob’s New Year’s Eve speech on Sunday.
Both commentators and political parties have described his announcement as a typical move from a Swapo leader hoping to garner public trust during what is expected to be a bruising election year for the ruling party.
Both Swapo presidential candidate Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah and the party are expected to face continued fallout from the Fishrot corruption scandal as well as ongoing food insecurity, unemployment and other challenges which could potentially sweep votes into the opposition camp.
Alfredo Hengari, the president’s spokesperson, on Wednesday called Geingob’s decision “salutary”, saying critics do not care about the president’s commitment to the vulnerable sector and are “armchair analysts without solutions”.
“The critics clearly don’t care about the commitment of Geingob to cushion the vulnerable sectors of our population against the rising cost of living.
“President Geingob fully understands the needs of Namibians, especially the vulnerable, and will continue to act in their [best]interest,” he said.
WHAT ABOUT POLICIES?
Landless People’s Movement (LPM) spokesperson Lifalaza Simataa says Swapo tends to make haphazard decisions without considering the consequences, and this would not be the first time Geingob makes comments to lobby votes in an election year.
“The same president said that by the time his term ends there would be no shacks or informal settlements, and we can see he is nowhere close to achieving that, but these are just promises made to garner faith from the public,” he says.
Simataa says even though the LPM is not against the idea of pensioners getting an increase, the concern is about the policies to ensure its success.
“We saw the results of this haphazard decision with free education and the giving of free stationery, which caused a lot of problems,” he says.
Rally for Demooracy and Progress president Mike Kavekotora compares the situation to that of former president, Hifikepunye Pohamba, in 2014.
“When he realised he had nothing to sell as a Swapo achievement before the elections, he jumped and created the mass housing project, which ended up being a mess and a waste of resources.
“This is a continuation of the legacy of lip service and the manipulation of voters,” he says.
Kavekotora says if this was a sincere move it should have been reflected in the midterm expenditure framework.
Popular Democratic Movement president McHenry Venaani says the policy of increasing Namibia’s old-age pension to over N$2 000 a month has been one of his party’s policies “since time immemorial”, and it’s welcome if it is to materialise.
“The Sovereign Wealth Fund has not grown since its initial seed capital has been injected, therefore promising resources that are not anywhere in sight may not be sensible for an ailing economy.
“The Geingob Presidency promised prosperity that was never delivered, so he must tread carefully,” he says.
Political commentator Henning Melber says such an announcement is irresponsible in the absence of a clear financing strategy.
“Such an announcement is simply irresponsible and the opposite of good governance, creating expectations which are difficult, if not impossible, to fulfil,” he says.
Melber says since Geingob came into office, state debt has increased from 25% to 70%.
“He (Geingob) remains silent on how to finance such an increase, given the need for fiscal prudence to keep the state’s debt under control, which has increased since 2014,” he says.
“This is from the repertoire of populist promises to garner votes. It also falls in the category of wishful thinking to strengthen his self-constructed image of a statesman who, during his terms in office, could achieve gigantic steps towards collective prosperity, as he declared.”
Political analyst Rui Tyitende states the president’s ambition is a populist ploy.
“There are no coincidences in politics. It is not a coincidence that civil servants received back pay on their allowances right before Christmas and are set to receive their 5% increase in salaries effective April 2024,” he says.
Tyitende further questions where the state’s revenue for such an increase would come from.
“If the aim is merely to please voters, the decision is clearly not sustainable and will ultimately shift the mess onto the next administration.”
Tyitende cautions against the economic consequences of a significant pension grant increase, warning it could result in heightened government spending and a decrease in public savings.
Ndumba Kamwanyah, another political analyst, says: “While the intention is good, N$2 000 or N$3 000 is a drop in the ocean, given the cost of living.”
Kamwanyah says there is a need to address broader issues, such as poverty and economic hardships, preventing the elderly from fully benefiting from a pension grant.
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