Extreme Inequality Amid Extravagance [column]

Latest figures from the World Bank with a Gini index of 61.3 for Namibia have revealed a widening gap between Namibia’s rich and poor, making our country the second most unequal country in the world.

The Gini index measures the extent to which the distribution of income or consumption expenditure among individuals or households within an economy deviates from a perfectly equal distribution.

This revelation comes at a time when our no-nonsense President has publicly disclosed his assets, and those of the First Lady this week, in a move to eradicate corruption, instil accountability through the prudent use of State funds and ensure service delivery to the Namibian people. What is worrying about the classification of Namibia as the second most unequal country in the world is that equality was the clarion call of the liberation struggle and is one of the core founding values of our Constitution. Promises of equal opportunities and equitable society have been made since independence.

Without commitment to these ideals, they have remained mere hopes for the poor.

Commitment to the principles of equality is not embodied in the slogans we shout and the songs we sing. It should become the natural life of our leaders, those entrusted with the responsibility to make Namibia a better place for all.

Our leaders should take a leaf from the humility of Mr Lucky Mulusa, Special Assistant to the President of the Republic of Zambia for Project Implementation and Monitoring. Recently, while visiting Ngabwe district, he was moved to tears when he met the district commissioner, whose team was working under trees and tents as permanent offices. The deplorable working conditions and the appalling destitution of the people in the district made him cry. He declared, “I don’t think it’s acceptable that people are going to be served in this manner and we are driving luxurious vehicles and yet a quarter of the price of that vehicle can build a hospital. I will not accept that vehicle.

Surely, I can drive a Toyota Corolla and get to work.” Within a week, the Zambian government released K24 million for the construction of new offices, and a private company donated materials to further construct offices in order to enhance service delivery. How many Lucky Mulusas do we have in Namibia?

The extravagance of government spending on luxury, since independence, is not helping bridge the gap between the rich and poor. Basic necessities such as ambulances, clinics, hospitals, schools and water utilities are after-thoughts in relation to expenses on luxurious vehicles and travel allowances, among others. It baffles the mind why government officials should be paid travel allowances when travelling within the country to deliver services. Surely, payment of their air-ticket (or fuel), accommodation and food is sufficient for them to deliver the services to the communities. For the last 25 years, travel allowances have become a source of income for public workers. Some officers are hardly in offices, permanently on the move to make money to build their houses.

Namibians have heard more about what is going to be done for them than actually seeing it. There has been very little effective action to respond to the suffering of the people. If only our leaders can have a little compassion, like Mr Mulusa, we could afford every Namibian an opportunity (not privilege) to have a share in the national cake. One hopes that President Geingob’s recent pronouncements on prudent usage of national resources and enhanced service delivery would be embraced by the entire political leadership. That has always been the missing link – putting together a leadership that can set the necessary standards of honesty and selflessness.

It is important to remember that one’s greed is directly linked to the deprivation of another. The more you amass wealth, the more you deprive the vast majority of the nation from accessing that wealth. This truism has manifested itself in the glaring inequality in our country.

What compounds the problem is that many of our politicians became politicians for the wrong reasons – to amass wealth and not necessarily to serve the people. To make matters worse, our leaders, as Citizen Nahas Angula recently confessed, are aware that the trend had emerged among young Namibians where they support politicians not based on principles, but as a quick way out of poverty. One may wish to caution our leaders that an empty stomach is not a good political aiser. It can be very misleading.

*Dr Charles Mubita holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of Southern California.

Source : New Era