Saturday, June 08, 2019

Namibian Government Insists on Zero Salary Hike
by Shinovene Immanuel
and Arlana Shikongo
The Namibian

The finance ministry has instructed its officials ,who are negotiating with the unions over salary increases for more than100 000 civil servants, to insist that there is no money.

Senior government and trade unions officials were mum last night over the outcome of a meeting to discuss the salary increases. The meeting was called after representatives of civil servants threatened to go on strike if the government does not increase their salaries.

The unions are reportedly demanding a 12% increase, but the government is digging in, saying there is no money for that.

Efforts to get comment from senior government officials involved in these talks proved futile since their meeting dragged on until after 18h00 yesterday.

Secretary to Cabinet George Simataa yesterday confirmed writing to the Namibia National Teachers' Union (Nantu) and the Namibia Public Workers Union (Napwu) on 7 May regarding the matter.

Nantu secretary general Basilius Haingura and his Napwu counterpart, Peter Nevonga, declined to comment, saying they will make an announcement soon.

Simaata declined to comment further, but a letter seen by The Namibian paints a picture of a government that is being forced into a corner by the unions.

He told the two biggest unions that he has taken note of their decision to declare a dispute after the government offered a zero salary increase.

Simataa reminded the unions about a meeting they had with prime minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila on 8 April 2019, where the unions were told that government's financial difficulties due to the economic downturn were negatively impacting on its ability to increase expenditure and accommodate remunerative improvements.

He also said in the letter titled “re: Declaration of an internal dispute on negotiations for salaries” that “In view the [of current] economic and financial situation, the government is not able to grant the salary and fringe benefit increases as you have proposed”.

The government could be paying a higher price for increasing its workforce over the years, however.

Budget documents show that more than 100 000 civil servants cost the government around N$30 billion a year.

Weekly newspaper Confidénte reported last week that the 12% wage demand would amount to around N$3,5 billion.

Even though the Trade Union Congress of Namibia (Tucna) is not part of the negotiations, the union complained about possible collusion between the government and the negotiating unions.

“The negotiations are a secret between the 'cahoots' unions and the government,” said Tucna secretary general Mahongora Kavihuha.

“We have observed the strategy of both recognised unions and government: whenever public servants raise their voice, they come and comfort us as if there is something in the pipeline, while there is nothing,” he stated.

A government study called the Wages and Salary Commission (Wascom) in 1996 recommended that Namibia should have a smaller, better-paid, more professional and more efficient public service.

Budget documents show that the government ignored that advice, and continued to increase the number of civil servants.

In fact, documents show that the cost of paying civil servants increased from N$7,8 billion in 2009 to almost N$30 billion in 2019.

The last salary increase for civil servants was in 2016 when they received 5%, but the government made promises of a 9% increase the following year.

The government gave in at the time after the teachers went on an indefinite strike, which rocked schools across the country.

In 2017, the government had announced that it was looking at offering early retirement packages for civil servants who wished to retire before the age of 60 as one of the solutions to cut the wage bill.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), however, warned last year that the plan might lead to the Government Institutions Pension Fund (GIPF)'s inability to pay out benefits when the number of beneficiaries increases.

The fund has about 23 000 beneficiaries, with about 106 000 active members.

The IMF said there will be an unsustainable mismatch between the outflows and inflows from the fraud-hit pension fund if the government retrenches and fails to employ.

President Hage Geingob has shown mixed signals over the years about how he will tackle the increasing government wage bill.

He, for instance, defended the wage bill earlier this year, claiming that the military and teachers are normally not classified as part of the public service.

Geingob also cautioned against retrenching workers when the country is facing the worst recession. Namibia's third president was, however, a key figure in increasing the salaries of politicians and pushing up the number of parliamentarians by about 34 in both the National Assembly and the National Council.

He vaguely admitted that he was rewarding fellow politicians. “The current Cabinet is too big, and there's a reason for it,” he said earlier this year during an interview with New Era.

“President Sam Nujoma, being the founding father and liberation hero, has natural authority. President Pohamba was a bit relaxed. But with me, I am dealing with my peers – where anybody could have taken over as president. The pressure on me to have a bigger Cabinet is bigger because all these people are my peers who want to be accommodated. It could have been worse if I didn't do that [appoint them].”

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