Military Spending – Who Will Close the Black Hole?

THIS year’s budget brought out the usual contradictions of our society. Contradictions that are hardly seriously discussed because many have come to accept them as the order of things.

The government was ‘generous’ this year to increase the pensioners grant by N$400. This is better than nothing because we have over the years been putting the pensioners on a starving, petty-cash allowance because what could one do with N$600 in this country where everything is so expensive?

But many people in this country are still literally going hungry. Look no further because we have many people living on other people’s rubbish despite the so-called 11% decreasing in poverty rate in the country – that is if you believe their stats.

This has become a national shame now. And it seems the food-for-work programme did not work. And it also seems that the much talked about TIPEEG scheme did not make any dent in addressing the problem of unemployment nor will the mass housing scheme solve the problem because it is linked to the issue of land that we have failed to solve.

But at the same time, and as usual, the government has generously put the defence budget in the league of the ‘big three’ – education, defence and health in that order. Last year defence got a whopping N$6,6 billion and this year the military hawks were rewarded with N$7 billion and health, which is more critical, came in third.

Personally, I am not an exponent of the military and every time I write about and criticise the military budget, I receive quite some spirited responses from all and sundry.

The point is that there is no return by investing so heavily in the military. You hear from the exponents that the money is needed for research and development, etc. But what kind of research is done by our military sector really?

One hopes that the military is there to defend us against ‘foreign aggression’ and not ‘against ourselves’. But the question is: against whom are we being defended given our current geopolitical setting – being surrounded by fellow SADC countries?

I remember that when he was the minister of information, Joel Kaapanda said that the military was needed just in case there was internal revolt. Also in 2010 the former minister of finance, Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila justified the military budget because of “our enemies”.

But the point is that Namibia will never become a military power. Not even in the regional context. And not even for the coming 50 years. And maybe there is after all no need to strive for such a status. So the ever-increasing budgetary allocation to the military should instead be put to better use and channelled to other important sectors – the creation of knowledge for example. Because knowledge is the power resource of the future and not military might.

I have always maintained that we don’t need a standing army – there are other countries that don’t have them and none of those countries have been attacked by others.

Or is this the easiest way to create ‘jobs’ by government? What we need is a well-trained, well-equipped and well-paid police force because the greatest threat to our security is internal crime.

The minister of finance can spiritedly defend the defence budget because he has no choice. After all, the minister does not decide on the budget himself. This is decided by people higher up in the Swapo political hierarchy who have their own political agendas.

But as economists would remind us, there is always an opportunity cost in how we spend money.

The question we should be debating is whether we should first buy guns before we buy bread? Our priorities are in my view totally messed up. I argue therefore that we have been spending our precious national resources on things that have no immediate and positive impact on our development agenda.

But it seems our soldiers will soon get a new role. A headline in New Era newspaper read thus: “More soldiers to tackle poachers.” The article then goes on to say that: “Although Cabinet has given the green light to the country’s security forces to be involved in the fight against poaching and other crimes threatening wildlife, the number of the armed forces still needs to be intensified”.

This must be the easiest mission for our military unlike others that have to fight the likes of Boko Haram, al-Shaabab etc. Usually poaching of poachers is carried out by game rangers not soldiers. And the minister of finance, Calle Schlettwein chipped in saying: “Defence spending is good for Namibia and SADC”. The catchwords here are always peace, stability and security. I assume to defend ourselves against “imagined enemies” out there.

Thus, from the look of things, successive military budgets will not decrease but increase. This is an issue that must be discussed broadly and by all those concerned with the future of our society because as it stands now, we don’t seem to be making headway in some critical areas like the provision of decent housing, creation of employment, provision of water and electricity to each and every Namibian as well as building more schools and institutions of higher-learning.

Source : The Namibian