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Ministries prepare for a reduced 2017/18 budget

Sat, 18 February 2017 00:01
by Villager reporters
News Flash

Nothing has been left uncut from education to the courts, health to fisheries. With more and more ministries coming up to announce what they will do and not do, the effect of these cuts are most likely to be felt this year. The plans being laid down now by the ministries are not based on the 2016/17 financial year but the 2017/18. This means that they already know that their budgets will be less than what they used to get in the past.

The announcements the ministers have made and are making in their annual addresses to their staff come even after finance minister Calle Schlettwein said there will be no more budget cuts. Addressing the media in January when he announced how people can apply for reprieve, Schlettwein said he was confident that the budget has now been rebalanced to sustainable levels. “The commitment is to keep public finances at sustainable levels and we will do that with the least possible pain. I think we can be cautiously optimistic that we are on the improving side again,” Schlettwein said.

Despite this, some ministers are already preparing for the inevitable by announcing plans to do more with less. Fisheries and Marine Resources The budget cuts expected by the fisheries ministry, according to minister Bernhardt Esau will affect research and spur fish poaching especially in the Zambezi region.

Esau said he expects that his ministry will be 42, 26% short on budget as compared to the 2016/17 financial year. He said this when he addressed his staff last week in Windhoek to mark the New Year. The vessels used to carry out research to determine the total allowable catch will most likely not be used because of lack of fuel, he said. Even the fisheries inspectors will not be able to monitor and patrol the sea checking on marine resources. “Even with the illegal fishing, those areas in Zambezi will be difficult to go out to and protect our resources as we want them to be protected,” he said. Although Esau said they would be compromising, he believes giving up is not a solution. Above all, Esau said his ministry will not be in a position to develop several fisheries projects among them managing hake. Plans, he said, to manage monk, rock lobster and the depleting mackerel will mostly likely not materialize because of the budget cuts.

“We are in the process of getting a horse mackerel fishing plan. We are looking at pilchards, the very one which is under stress,” he said. “The question is also money, because now we cannot come up with a plan if we do not consult the industry. That’s another stumbling block for us.” Aquaculture projects in the Omaheke and //Karas regions will not be spared by the budget cuts. The ministry has an N$8 million aquaculture project that was opened in 2008 at Leonardville, about 170km from Gobabis.

Last year, the ministry had to shelve the construction of a N$140 million aquaculture project at Onakalunga in Ohangwena because there was no money. In 2015, Esau admitted that there were problems already with aquaculture in Namibia. The government, in 2014, set aside N$38 million for the aquaculture sector but still the performance, Esau said, was below average. At the time, the aquaculture sector harvested 740 metric tons. Pilchard stocks are again said to be very low and scientists have recommended that the ministry should ban any harvests.

Thee budget cuts are most likely going to worsen the situation that appears to have already been gloomy.

Home affairs

Although home affairs will not be as hard hit as others, still the progress made over the years in speeding up the processes is likely to be affected because minister Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana told her staff last week that there will not be any recruitment. Iivula-Ithana also suspended overtime, another move that could slow down the speedy processing of documents.

The ministry also stopped the construction of two regional offices as well as houses for immigration officials at Katwitwi border post. “We are reminded to realign our activities with the available allocated budget. Most capital projects had to be suspended, workshops and retreats should be limited and hosted in Windhoek to reduce costs, including S&T,” she said. In 2015, Iivula-Ithana said a turnaround strategy her ministry had implemented had worked such that backlogs in passports, birth certifi cates and permits had been reduced.

She told the National Assembly that over a period of three months, her ministry managed to clear a passport backlog of 3 342 and an ID backlog of 45 861. Mobile registration stations too will be affected because of the budget cuts. Iivula-Ithana’s wish that there should be a home affairs in every constituency office across the country has been dashed because of the budget cuts. Villagers will have to walk long distances to register death or birth because there are no resources.

Education

Namibia has a big problem with its education. The pass rate has not been improving over the years. And the government has introduced free education. The budget cuts will have a devastating impact on education more than on any other ministry. Although the education minister Katrina Hanse-Himarwa has not said how much she expects her budget would be, several measures announced last year and early this year show how bad the situation could be.

Education permanent secretary Sanet Steenkamp has admitted in the recent past that the budget cuts will definitely impact negatively on free education. She told the media early January that her ministry had met finance ministry officials concerning the issue of priority areas in education but nothing much came out of it. One thing was certain after the meeting though, she said, the grants will be affected by the budget cuts. “There will certainly be an impact and therefore we are appealing that parents should meet us halfway,” she told one English daily.

In addition, Steenkamp said operations across the country will be hit hard because of directives to control expenditure. All capital projects that were being done by the ministry have been suspended. These include all planned of fice buildings and other construction such as libraries, community development centres and national monuments. “Inevitably, this has resulted in the reduced scope of work as per our annual management plan 2016/17 and as a result, it will impact negatively on service delivery as it related to the provision of teaching and learning and the general delivery of education and the promotion of arts and culture,” Steenkamp was quoted saying.

Namibia was working on a new curriculum, which Steenkamp said would fall victim to the budget cuts. The new curriculum required the construction of physical education facilities and the procurement of services and technical educational tools. In addition, the ministry said it will not be able to pay teachers who take study leave and their replacements.

The burden is left on the schools to make sure that classes that belong to a teacher on study are being taught at the no cost to the ministry. Steenkamp’s directive means that school heads will be left with no option but to turn down any teacher’s request for going on study leave. Instead, Steenkamp urged those who want to study to do it via online because the world has changed and the government cannot pay a teacher who is on a four-year leave.

“The world is changing and e-learning is taking over, so those who are eager to study can do so and still do their work,” she said. Steenkamp said that over the years, the ministry had been empowering staff members and had paid for their studies. “We have invested millions into staff development, paying in full for those who wanted to study,” she said. This has been criticised by the Namibia National Teachers Union, whose secretary general Basilius Haingura told a media conference that they would revolt against such decisions. “What will happen to people who had already planned and had their study leave approved? These teachers might end up revolting and taking legal action,” he said.

Namibia already has a shortage of teachers such that in some cases, schools have a 1:100 teacher pupil ration, Haingura said. “Relief teachers are very important and we are going to request the regions to provide data on whether there are teachers still needed,” he said. Even higher education has been hit hard with minister Itah Kandjii-Murangi saying her ministry will accept a N$1, 5 billion cut. Kandjii-Murangi admitted during a press conference that this would affect various institutions her ministry funds although no programmes will be shut down.

“To respond to the budget cut, the ministry will be forced to make difficult choices, including stopping some programmes,” she said, adding that to improve governance, the Acts of the various institutions under the ministry will be reviewed. Unam, one of the institutions that get money from higher education has condemned the budget cuts saying they will affect its mandate. In his speech when he officially opened Unam’s year on Tuesday in Windhoek, vice chancellor Lazarus Hangula said the systematic regressive cuts of up to 40% are tantamount to killing by asphyxia the national university. Where are we expected to go from here?

Have we rescinded on our national promises of Vision 2030? Or how can a national university be repeatedly urged to make visceral cuts on programmes that are fundamental to setting the enabling stage for the human and material resources for Vision 2030? He asked. Unam has announced that it has frozen recruitment and banned all international trips that would eat into its budget. Although Kandjii-Murangi did not say whether the vocational training colleges will be affected, there is no doubt that if Unam can feel the pinch, then smaller colleges will be worse off.

Courts also concerned

Chief Justice Peter Shivute is also afraid that the anticipated budgets cuts will affect the payment of court fees and other fees for witnesses and interpreters in criminal trials in both the high court and magistrates’ courts. Speaking during the opening of the 2017 legal year in Windhoek last week, Shivute said: “The self-imposed austerity measures have adversely affected the operations of the courts.” If additional resources are not allocated to the judiciary, he said, they will not be able to appoint additional officers and will be forced to not promote within the magistracy and periodical courts.

Lack of money to pay mediators, he said, is likely to cause the discontinuation of the mediation process at the high court. This, he said, will affect the disposal of cases outside court without the need to go through the costly and lengthy trials. Shivute said they will be forced to shut down court offices for extended periods because they won’t able to cover water and electricity expenses. Namibia adopted the mediation process to save both time and money. The process involved a case management system that is controlled by judges and not lawyers. The system was introduced in 2011 and since then, according to Judge President Petrus Damaseb, millions of dollars in litigations fees have been saved.

This system is now under threat because the budget cuts. If nothing is done, the days of long backlogs at the High Court will return. Even the most impressive record achieved last year when the Magistrate Courts cleared 12 700 cases out of more than 25,700 will not be repeated. Already, the justice ministry has failed to pay private lawyers under the Legal Aid Directorate.

As of 15 December last year, according to a letter written by the justice permanent secretary Issaskar Ndjoze, the government was able to make partial payments until 31 March this year. The letter was written to the direc tor of the Law Society, Retha Steinmann. Ndjoze said the ministry was aware of the outstanding invoices and had consulted with the finance ministry to release the necessary funds. He also said they were committing to making full payments once the money was available. One good example of how bad things are and can get is that of Ondangwa Magistrate’s Court where the case of the Congolese pastor had to be postponed seven times because there is only one sound system.

The magistrates are using one courtroom where there is a sound system and this has seen several cases postponed. Last week, Magistrate Jurina Hochobes had to postpone pastor Pedro Marcelino Moussongela’s bail hearing case because others had to use the same courtroom. Hochobes said the sole functioning courtroom had too many cases because the recording device at the other court was not working. She also said when the pastor returns to court on 23 February, more cases will have to be postponed so that they can finalise this one case.

Police grounded

The police have a taken a number of measures to cope with the budget cuts. Among these is suspending paying for those studying. They will also not be buying any new vehicles for the next three years and have put on hold any new recruitment. Inspector general Sebastian Ndeitunga told The Villager this week that there will be no recruitment’s this year. “The training will be for 12 months when we have everything in place like sufficient resources to train, but for now as there are no enough resources to train everything is put on hold,” he said.

He also said they are using the minimum resources at their disposal to ensure the safety and security of the people. “Therefore, if there is no money there is nothing we can do but the resources we have we will utilise them optimally to ensure that we render the services required by the public,” he said.

In earlier interviews, Ndeitunga said that if they don’t buy vehicles, there will be problems because some police services will be paralysed for three consecutive years. Ndeitunga has also said before that the force will find it difficult to retain or attract competent investigators or detectives, forensic scientists. Mobility in the force was curtailed when transport services for police officers was terminated, while feeding suspects that average 3 500 per week across the country will be not easy, Ndeitunga was quoted saying. In addition, the construction of the regional police head offices in nine regions has been suspended.

Youth Ministry

Charged with training of youth in various vocational courses and creating jobs, the youth ministry has enrolled fewer students compared to the recent past. Minister Jerry Ekandjo said they decided to enroll fewer students because the machinery is outdated and cannot be replaced due to the budgets cuts. There are 16 operational multi-purpose youth resource centres that provide short courses such as basic computer literacy, tailoring and dressmaking, as well as hospitality and catering for six months.

The ministry also has the youth credit scheme facility that finances enterprising youth to start businesses. So far, 10 925 youth have benefited from this scheme while 1 080 received training in various fields. The National Youth Service, one of the beneficiaries of the youth ministry budget has had to suspend the training of 700 youths who were supposed to attend Rietfontein Training Centre. In January, NYS commissioner Onesmus Upindi said the training programmes were suspended as a safeguard measure.

Upindi said they were postponing the training until they were sure that the resources were available. “We went as far as being unable to pay salaries this month, meaning the situation has become serious, but we are working on a solution and we hope the salary issue will be sorted by the end of this month,” Upindi said then. In 2016, Upindi further said, they had to scale down on some programmes such as hospitality training. “But this year, even the essentials are being affected, this means there is really a problem,” he said.

Health

Early this month, some private doctors shut their doors to members of the Public Service Emergency Medical Assistant Scheme (PSEMAS) because the government had not paid them more than N$180 million since last year. PSEMAS caters for government workers. One of the companies that manage private doctors and hospitals payments from the government, Consult Care, wrote to its members late January informing them about the non-payment. The company also advised the members that if they accept treating the government workers, there will not be paid for the services. “Information received regarding payment shows that the Ministry has N$180 million outstanding to doctors, hospitals contracted by PSEMAS since December,” the letter dated 26 January 2017 read. Although minister Bernard Haufiku told The Villager this week that they are ready to deal with the budget cuts, his ministry was forced to suspend the training of more than 500 extension workers. There are currently 1 649 extension workers under the programme that started in 2012. The suspension has affected training activities in nine regions - Erongo, Kavango East and West, //Karas, Ohangwena, Omaheke, Omusati, Oshana and Otjozondjupa. In the notice of the suspension he sent out on 18 January, the health permanent secretary Andreas Mwoombola cited budget cuts. “Due to unforeseen financial circumstances, these trainings are put on hold. The regions currently involved in the training of extension workers are requested to suspend these trainings until the situation improves,” Mwoombola wrote. Haufiku said as a ministry they were looking at ways of dealing with budget cuts, which he said should create opportunities for innovation. “We are also looking at other sources such as transporting medicine where we need public private partnerships to assist with transport,” he said.