Last week I raised the need for a concerted discussion on Namibia’s development challenges with our development agenda, Vision 2030 in perspective and I received some interesting comments. One asked why we should meddle in government affairs. It is the responsibility of the government to develop the country and it is best we do not meddle. One critic said that the government knows what they are doing and when they need the public’s views they will ask.
The other held that Vision 2030 is too learned and too complicated for the public to understand and that is why the public is not involved. Some comments were well disposed towards a discussion of the development agenda, much as they were ambivalent about the format and leadership for the debate. One said that it would be better left to the churches, because no one will agree if any political interests were involved, while others felt that the initiative must be the work of labour unions, if only they were not as divided as they are. What was instructive though, is that of all who commented, none has read the Vision 2030 document, as they believed that it was either not in circulation or too much of a government document.
The responses explicate the extent to which there are misgivings about the development of our nation-state. Namibia battles with a number of social challenges, most threatening of which are apathy and resignation. As one listens to some of the critics of government, one wonders whether there is broad understanding of the construct of the state called Namibia. Many in the public lack the knowledge of how the executive fits into parliament and where the judiciary gets involved in the milieu of things. Against this backdrop, it is understandable that people may see a call for public debate on national development as interference in the business of state. In this column last week I called for an open debate on Vision 2030. In that call I argued that many in society do not know the content of this development agenda and raised the doubt that even the members of the legislature were possibly not conversant with this Policy Framework for long-term National Development. I further argued that in the converse there is a need for the nation, not only parliament, to get to grips with the goals and strategies for its implementation. The critics of Vision 2030 intimate that there is no chance of realising this plan, because all its pre-requisites are out of tune with obtaining realities and this leaves no chance for its realisation. But you see, that is all we have and we cannot therefore relegate Vision 2030. The central question is: are we on course towards Vision 2030 in 2030 or will it be realised later? What must happen for Vision 2030 to materialise in the year 2030 or even in 2025?
The public has the right to engage in debates about Vision 2030 or any development plan. This right is protected by the law of state and there should be no controversy about this. Not only that, to the extent that the legislature of this country is a product of public choice, to that extent there should be no doubt about the right to discuss the development of policies and laws of the land.
In fact the laws of this land were based on the views of the public. The supreme legislative framework, the development of the national budget, is made open to the public by law and whereas the public only knows about the budget when the Minister of Finance presents same in parliament, the development of the national budget starts eight months before it is presented to parliament.
It starts with the discussions on the macro-economic framework of the country, spearheaded by the Director General of the National Planning Commission and makes provision along the way for input by the public. The Namibia National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) in 1997 already published a document titled: Understanding the National budget, with a grant from USAID. This book details the process of developing the national budget and the way in which the public through advocacy groups can influence the process. The process starts in July of each year with a discussion on the policy framework: outlining current and expected macro-economic conditions and their effect on the budget, availability of resources, budget objectives, and expenditure ceilings, leading to submission of the policy framework to Cabinet by the Minister of Finance. Key players at this level are the Ministry of Finance, National Planning Commission, Bank of Namibia and Office of the Prime Minister. Then the Minister of Finance makes preliminary estimates of requests and ceilings on recurrent expenditure and development capital. This leads to the Minister of Finance consulting with the different ministries on their needs.
In August the estimates are presented to the Cabinet Committee on Treasury for review and to Cabinet for scrutiny. In September the submissions are circularised to line ministries for preparation of final estimates.
Note that this framework is explicit about the need for public input in the development of the budget, long before it gets to parliament. The only constraining factor to this is the public’s own ignorance about the fact that there is a need for communities out there to organise themselves and advocate for their respective needs on this national plan called the budget. I think that it suits the respective Ministers and more so the Minister of Finance, when there is so little input from the public, because then the budget preparations promise to be a smooth exercise. This in itself goes to explain why most of the interventions during the budget debates consist of prepared speeches not necessarily addressing the budget lines, but the macro-political situation in the country and the bucket toilet systems in parts of the country.
There is therefore a case for the nation to be enticed into debating the political, social and economic development of Namibia without necessarily stagnating at the level of who is right and who is wrong, but focusing on what is the right thing to do for Namibia to move from point A to point B by year D, and not necessarily by year X. But equally, what must obtain for that to happen? I submit that perhaps the best placed medium for facilitating public debate on Vision 2030 is the media and to this end, the media must not be found wanting.