Well Done, Mr President! But…?

Hage Geingob

The health of an individual is a private matter often for good reason. But blanket secrecy over the state president’s health is unacceptable because of the far-reaching implications for millions of people.

It is, therefore, commendable that president Hage Geingob has routinely made public his health status as it helps demystify what is generally a taboo topic.

Some might have felt it’s ‘TMI’ (too much information) or covered their ears when the Presidency announced on 8 January that Geingob undertook “colonoscopy and gastroscopy tests”. It was followed last week by confirmation that cancer cells were discovered.

Geingob’s spokesperson, Alfredo Hengari, emphasised that the president has, from the onset of occupying the highest office, made the state of his health public “out of conviction that transparency plus accountability equals trust”.

Too often, African politicians undertake luxury medical tours abroad (especially to Asia, Europe, Russia and the United States) amid lies about their ailments.

Robert Mugabe was known to disappear to Singapore for weeks and months claiming he was undergoing minor treatment for conditions like a cataract that his state-funded ophthalmologist could perform in Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile, people not elected for the role or officially entrusted by the public with leading the country usurp state functions for their selfish ends. Ailing leaders end up being misled while the public is kept in the dark about their capacity to do what voters entrusted them with.

We trust that Geingob’s public announcement will go a long way towards avoiding a vacuum that will be occupied by self-serving bureaucrats and other unelected public officials.

In addition to encouraging Namibians to undergo routine tests aimed at the early detection of diseases, the president’s public announcements should be geared towards improving public health facilities.

There is nothing worse than getting tested only to be left hanging in long queues hoping to get treated before the disease gets worse. Too often, state hospitals are not able to treat people timeously because public health facilities have been mismanaged.

It is disgraceful that the Katutura State Hospital, to which patients are referred from all over Namibia, is regularly in a dilapidated state. Embarrassingly, private companies chip in to repair state institutions while government employees collect hundreds of millions in obscene travel allowances that they spend on luxury consumption for themselves and relatives.

In fact, about 100 000 government employees (and their families), including the president, have a private medical scheme of about N$3 billion a year compared to about N$8 billion allocated in the budget to cater for two million Namibians who depend on state health facilities.

Scepticism about an announcement on Wednesday that Geingob flew to the United States (US) for medical treatment raises questions about whether the Presidency is deploying selective transparency.

We say this as the Presidency does not provide details about the “leading scientists and medical professionals in Los Angeles, California”, who offered to cover his treatment.

Eyebrows should be raised over the statement that “the travel, medical and accommodation expenses of the president will not be incurred by the government”.

Who will pay for the costs? The public has the right to know because the adage that “nothing is free” has time and again proven to be true.

Besides, a wheeler dealer by the name of Knowledge Katti, who amassed billions off Namibia’s oil resources because of connections to government officials, is a well documented benefactor of Geingob.

The Presidency should not have us fooled that our Geingob is being taken care of by private individuals for mahala.

Why would the state not cover the president’s treatment, especially if the US is the only place for such specialisation?

We urge Geingob to be vigilant and avoid falling prey to hangers-on as seems to have happened in the past.

More than that, The Namibian wishes president Geingob successful treatment and a speedy recovery.

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