By: Megameno Shinana
President Hage Geingob has drawn strong criticism from several quarters for hastily jetting to Qatar to watch the final FIFA World Cup match between Argentina and France soon after he arrived from a U.S-Africa Leaders’ Summit on Digital Connectivity.
Geingob’s trip was announced by the Presidency over the weekend just about the time that the Argentine president, Alberto Fernandez announced on Twitter that he would watching his home-team from the privacy of his home.
Leading the charge against the trip is lawmaker and deputy leader of the Namibia Economic Freedom Fighters, Kalimbo Iipumbu. He described the trip as “useless, ill-advised” and an “immoral display of luxury”.
However, Geingob’s communications team, which described his visit as mere “sports diplomacy”, took to social media saying that he was merely a “guest” of the Qatari government.
“Sadly, some influential citizens peddle lies and ignorance. President Geingob is attending the Fifa World Cup finals at the invitation of the government of Qatar and Fifa. In fact, there are other heads of state and government in attendance and whose countries are not playing in the finals.”
“However, those who understand diplomacy and development know too well that all the interactions of the president with the outside world are aimed at advancing Namibia’s development and interests,” the presidency said.
The president cut on expensive international travels during the pandemic period after a slow decline in travel expenses from 2015 during which time he racked in N$2,4 million in just eight months, travelling to 19 cities.
Iipumbu on yesterday said Geingob would have done better had he opted to watch the highly anticipated match on his television screen.
“The Argentine president is more qualified to use his country’s resources to attend this event in person because it has a strong bearing on his country’s international image unlike Geingob. For a whole president to choose to travel all the way to Qatar just for a football event which everyone else is watching on television shows the sickening degree to which Geingob is willing to go to waste taxpayers’ money.”
“One wonders whether the president’s TV set is broken, or what exactly is the real motive of exerting pressure on state coffers and burdening the taxpayer. There is a serious lack of concern in the higher levels of power as well as a desire to fight harder for economic recovery and financial savings,” Iipumbu said in a statement.
But the presidency has said attending the world cup in the wake of his participation in the U.S-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington DC made his attendance cost effective.
“The presidential plane and pilots are as per aviation rules obliged to rest for 10 hours after a trip of 9 to 10 hours. Moreover, the aircraft needs refueling, which makes the stop-over in Qatar logical from a technical point of view. The plane has to be refueled and the pilots need ten hours rest before undertaking the second leg of the journey,” the presidency said.
In the meantime, the president joined his French counterpart Immanuel Macron whose home team also qualified for the finals while the likes of Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Liberia’s George Weah and Senegal’s Macky Sallshowed their faces in the opening round of the world cup.
Geingob has over the years not hidden his love for international organised football.
In 2014, businessman Desmond Amunyela disclosed that he had paid for the then prime minister Geingob’s trip to the World Cup final in Brazil.
However, Iipumbu said, “It is quite sensible for the French president Immanuel Macron to attend the event because at least his country is playing in the finals, and his country is doing well economically relative to Namibia.”
“Although France is caught up in the global challenges of supply chain disruptions, but at least France has been more resilient, is a first world economic powerhouse which rebounded by 6.8% in 2021, while its real GDP is set to expand by 2.6% in 2022.”
The NEFF deputy leader also said the president travelled to 16 countries, spent 64 days abroad and qualified for an estimated N$850 000 in travel allowances.
He added that two years prior, Geingob qualified for around N$700 000 in travel allowances for undertaking foreign trips to 12 cities.
“The year prior to this, he blew out on a massive N$2,4 million in just eight months, travelling to 19 cities, which shows that his sense of excitement in taking on expensive trips is beyond normal bounds.During the time of Covid-19, Geingob saw himself grounded and chose to attend international events on live stream platforms,” Ipumbu said.
“His recent trip this weekend is further indication that the presidency’s cutting down on his international trips during the pandemic period had nothing to do with saving the state coffers, but was out of fear of getting sick more than anything,” he charged.