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      Geingob dribbles strike

      by

      President Hage Geingob

      • SHELLEYGAN PETERSEN, DONALD MATTHYS and MERCY KARUUOMBE

      THE Namibian government has made a U-turn on its 'no money' stance, and has struck a deal that will see N$924 million flowing from its coffers to the country's civil servants.

      The deal averts a national strike over 42 000 civil servants voted in favour of last week.

      President Hage Geingob was praised by Swapo-affilated negotiating unions for cancelling overseas trips to Jamaica and Cuba earlier this week to deal with the impending strike.

      The general secretary of the Namibia Public Workers Union (Napwu), Petrus Nevonga, this week said Geingob showed leadership with the move.

      Civil servants will get a 3% increase on their basic salaries, an 11% increase on their housing benefit for non-management, and a 14% increase in their transport benefit.

      Their employer's contribution to their pension fund, which is the Government Institutions Pension Fund (GIPF), will increase with 3%.

      The government yesterday struck this deal with Napwu and the Namibia National Teachers Union (Nantu).

      The deal applies for one financial year.

      The government's last offer was N$334 million on 23 May, which it said was all it could afford with the ailing economy.

      The actual demands of the union would have cost the government N$3,5 billion in 2021.

      This included a 10% increment on salaries, a 10% increase on transport for civil servants below management level, a 9% increase on housing allowances, a 25% increase in the qualifying amounts on housing subsidies, as well as a N$7/kilometre tariff increase.

      The secretary to the Cabinet and the head of the government's negotiating team, George Simataa, yesterday said the U-turn came after the government realised the cost of peace and what potential harm the strike could bring.

      "We don't know what striking is. We are talking about peaceful demonstrations, picketing and all those things, but we don't know what will materialise.

      “It can get violent, people can break schools, kids aren't going to school . . . it's terrible,” he said.

      “The N$924 million you may lose now would be in billions to repair what people would lose.

      “That's why I am saying forget about the money, look at the peace angle, it's very important,” Simataa said.

      The Namibian Presidency in a press statement issued yesterday said if the drought and the pandemic, which cost the government N$1,5 million and N$2 billion respectively, did not take place, there would have been money for civil servants.

      “These are resources that could have been used to effect the necessary salary and benefit adjustments for the public service, the president emphasised,” the statement reads.

      However, as the strike loomed, Geingob said finding a solution to the dilemma was a priority.

      “And it is for that reason that an agreement was in the best interests of the workers and the country,” it states.

      DISAPPOINTED

      Trade Union Congress of Namibia (Tucna) general secretary Mahongora Kavihuha yesterday expressed his disappointment in the outcome of the agreement, saying the negotiating unions bamboozled their members.

      “When you are negotiating with a weak side, you make sure you destroy it, and that is what they (the government) have done. They must be congratulated,” he said.

      Kavihuha said public servants should be disappointed with the entire agreement. He said the outcome reveals that both Nantu and Napwu are losers and have betrayed civil servants.

      He, however, said he was not surprised at the outcome.

      He accused the two unions of being 'yellow unions', with influence from the government.

      “It will not help for you to give the bargaining mandate to yellow unions. You will always get a bad deal,” he said.

      Kavihuha said public servants should give a 'genuine' trade union the mandate to negotiate on their behalf.

      “If we get the mandate, we are going to end the honeymoon of the government. It is a lesson learnt,” he said.

      He said the agreed upon increments are bad for all levels of income, adding that those with a higher income will pay a higher amount of income tax.

      Kavihuha further accused the unions of colluding with the government by bringing up the initial cost of the increments to N$3,5 billion, and then settling on N$924 million.

      “It means it was deliberate. They were caucusing on how best to confuse the public by inflating the amount and bringing it all the way down to seem as if the government has made an effort,” Kavihuha said.

      In an update by Eagle FM, political analyst Joseph Diescho said the two trade unions have disregarded the mandate of their members by not striking.

      “It is fair to conclude that the mandate that was given through the voting that took place over two days was unambiguous: to strike.

      “This mandate was very clear. If the union leaders were convinced that because the president cancelled his overseas trips the strike was no longer necessary, the leaders needed another mandate,” Diescho said.

      He wanted to know when civil servants gave the unions the mandate to accept the government's offer.

      Diescho said he initially understood that the main reason for civil servants' unhappiness was the fact that their salaries stayed the same for more than five years, while the cost of living went up.

      “Something is not adding up quite well here. 1 April 2022 is only four months ago. Not four or five years ago,” he said.

      He said the next time there is talk about wage adjustments, the president just has to cancel his travels and invite union leaders to dinner.

      “Then everything is settled. Now that the dispute is over, can the president travel again and stop providing leadership? We have a strange union culture in the Land of the Brave,” he said.

      FISCAL POSITION

      The Bank of Namibia last Friday said the country would borrow another N$900 million for use at the end of the year, adjusting the nation's borrowing plan further upward.

      This would bring the country's total borrowing requirement to N$19,4 billion, and comes at the time when the country has been slapped with a credit downgrade from Moody's Investor Service.

      According to the central bank, the N$900 million to be borrowed at the end of the year will be “to cater for the extra budgetary cash requirement at the end of the fiscal year”.

      The central bank borrows on behalf of the government.

      At the release of the country's borrowing strategy early last month, it was indicated that the 2022/23 borrowing requirement of N$18,5 billion will push national debt to N$140 billion.

      On Tuesday, economist Theo Klein said the country's financial situation is currently not favourable.

      “Tax revenue is under pressure as the economy is not growing at required growth rates to see a material improvement in job creation and new businesses being established.

      “Southern African Customs Union revenue will be lower this year due to Namibia being overcompensated in the previous financial year,” he said.

      Klein said this implies it will be very difficult for the government to accommodate higher salaries in its budget going forward.

      A further implication is that we may see certain sacrifices on other services or priorities that form part of the government's expenditure bill,” he said.


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