Good times for public office holders that used to make a fortune from Subsistence and Travel Allowances are over as the finance minister chopped the S&Ts budget from a whopping N$634.3 million in financial year 2015/16 to a paltry N$221.8 million in financial year 2018/19.
The allowances have been a subject of contempt given the unholy culture of extravagance they brought on civil servants and the state, and this week, analyst welcomed Schlettwein’s move to sweep off a huge portion of them from the budget as in-keeping with fiscal discipline.
However, Action Coalition chairperson and associate researcher, Frederico Links, cautioned that government needed to do a robust follow up with proper management of the N$221.8 million to reap back good results.
“Besides the cuts, there has to be overall better management of these travel allowances. You can cut something because you do not have money but what happens when you have money again? So the problem is not in cutting, the issue is proper management of the S&Ts. If we have this then this would work, it would be good. We have to look at a time when there will be a lot of money again. Do we have the same issues then when that happens?” said Links.
University of Namibia based economist and social commentator, Roman Grynberg, has penned a strong criticism in line with the S&Ts abuse and speaking to The Villager, he lauded the finance minister for the cuts.
“It’s a move he probably had to make given that the subsistence allowances for government officials is one of the main distortions of their behavior. So many public officials find trips to go on because of the amounts they get. Cutting it will force them to sit at their desks and that would be really beneficial for Namibia,” said the outspoken academic.
Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila last year cracked the whip against meaningless trips that cost tax-payers hundreds of millions.
This was not before a complaint was two years ago handed before the corruption watch-dog, ACC to investigate a case in which acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Erica Akuenje, was said to have received a cheque of N$35 111 from the Namibia Tourism Board in 2010 as S&T for a two-week trip to Europe for a World Travel Market Trade Fair.
Akuenje was quoted in a local daily saying that of the close to N$50 000 in S&T payments for a 14-day trip, it was nothing given the position she held as well as the destinations to which she travelled.
The Villager reported in 2015 that the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation had gulped N$1.4 million on S&Ts alone in the first quarter of its budget.
This was 8% out of the total budgeted N$18.3 million for S&T.
Given the sobering realities around this history of extravagance, Grynberg said, “The minister is to be congratulated”.
However, he warned that there is no doubt that when the budget situation rebalances then they will return to their previous patterns of behaviour.
“You can imagine how much money they get. If you get a trip to Europe, you can make a month’s salary for three days. If you share your room with a friend, in four days you make a month’s salary. It’s a lot of money. So these guys have enormous commercial personal interests in duty travel,” Grynberg explained.
Efforts to get hold of the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister to get the overall figure of how much was spent on S&Ts alone in the last financial year were futile and both did not pick up their phones when contacted by The Villager.
However, on top of the cuts on allowances while announcing the budget, the finance minister said, “I welcome the administrative cost saving measures instituted by the Office the Prime Minister to curb wastage and unnecessary expenditure.”