Govt to Pay N$1 Billion in Office Rent [analysis]

THE government will spend over N$4 billion on the construction of ministerial head offices, while at the same time splashing over N$1 billion in office rent for the next three years.

The State will pay N$360 million this year alone on rent.

According to the 201516 budget, government could spend about N$1 billion for renting space within the next three years if the planned construction of several ministerial offices is delayed.

The list of office projects entails N$274 million for the environment ministry N$290 million for the information ministry N$400 million for the industrialisation ministry while the home affairs, which currently spends over N$30 million on rent per year, will fork out N$770 million for its head office.

Over N$600 million will go into the new headquarters of the Ministry of Defence. The army will pay over N$60 million on renting offices this year. A secret N$6,7 billion allocated to the ministry is for research and development for the defence force.

An integrated parliament building will cost the government over N$1 billion since the extension of the National Council building – which is underway – will cost N$300 million, while there is a plan to construct a new parliament building for over N$650 million.

Construction of the Office of the Prime Minister will cost taxpayers N$640 million. The OPM is currently paying N$7 million on rent annually.

The erection of regional offices for the ministry of agriculture will cost N$480 million, while the ministry of international affairs and the attorney general’s office have requested that government provides them with new offices.

Upgrading of police stations will cost N$980 million, with construction of police accommodation taking N$851 million, while N$1,4 billion is set to be spent on purchasing, constructing and renovating diplomatic premises abroad.

Finance minister Calle Schlettwein told The Namibian yesterday that new offices are needed to create a better working environment for civil servants.

He, however, warned that the government should not build offices just because there is a need to do so but that the decision should be made considering whether the construction will reduce poverty, a priority for the State or it will create enough jobs.

According to him, if those three factors are not met then the government should not invest in those buildings. Schlettwein also said that the government should be shrewd negotiators when it comes to rents in order to avoid paying over the odds.

CIVIL SERVICE

The government currently faces high costs of maintaining the public service with over N$23 billion going to salaries of more than 100 000 civil servants per year, which is a third of the total national budget of N$67 billion.

Budget documents show that the salaries for all civil servants made up about N$7,8 billion in 2009 but increased massively to N$21billion in 2014. This year, civil servants will gobble up N$23,4 billion in salaries.

A research associate at the Institute for Public Policy Research said the current scramble by most ministries to build head offices appears to be self-serving, of less priority and is making the maintenance of the public service more expensive.

Rowland Brown, an associate researcher at IPPR, made the remarks when asked by The Namibian about the recent rush for ministerial offices in Windhoek and the ballooning civil service.

Around N$4 billion is set to be spent on building ministerial offices in the next few years. Government will also spend over N$360 million this year on renting of offices.

Brown said the need for new office space is driven by the ballooning size of the civil service, whose growth requires additional floor space, vehicles, utilities, travel and subsistence and other support funding.

“This growth is thus perniciously eating away at the funds of government, leaving little capital for the development needs of the rest of the population,” Brown added.

The researcher said it is not clear if the desired design specifications align to the needs of ministries.

“Lavish individual offices are simply not required, with open plan systems being far more spacious and cost-effective, as well as the norm in much of the private sector,” Brown added.

He said, while there is no fundamental issue with government building offices, it is difficult to conclude that this is the best and most-urgent use of limited funds.

“With housing, energy generation and transmission, water provision, rural and urban settlement upgrading and many other developmental issues deeply in need of greater resources from government it seems hugely self-serving for government to prioritise the construction of more office space,” he said.

“Many of these buildings do not come cheap, and very much break the mould of government buildings, often being excessively lavish and extravagant, considering their role and purpose,” Brown said.

Government continues to expand the civil service, despite a study in 1996 entitled Wages and Salary Commission (Wascom) that recommended Namibia should have a smaller, better paid, more professional and more efficient public service.

“Let politicians govern or misgovern. We have given too much emphasis and value on what politicians do to solve national problems since independence. We need more Namibians to be like Bill Gates (inventor) to be innovators and not tenderpreneurs,” former Premier Nahas Angula said.

Angula admitted that government has become more of a recruitment agency because it has resorted to employing people due to the high unemployment rate in the county since the economy is more about extraction of raw materials instead of innovations and entrepreneurs.

He gave an example on how woeful it is that Namibia, after 25 years of independence, still imports chicken from Brazil while there are possibilities of producing them on a small and large scale in the country. “Our mindsets need to change,” he said.

Source : The Namibian