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Politics | Society

Namibia discusses pension, gift for outgoing President

Misanet / The Namibian, 6 October - Namibia's outgoing President Sam Nujoma should receive his current official residence as a gift when he retires next year, an MP from the ruling SWAPO party, Doreen Sioka, said yesterday. The Windhoek parliament is also currently discussing whether to approve a special pension for President Nujoma to honour his achievements.

Ms Sioka, who was nominated as one of the President's 10 preferred National Assembly members at the party's electoral college over the weekend, told the parliament that President Nujoma deserved the Windhoek State House because he is "a great leader, hero and father of the nation." She proposed that it be handed to him as soon as the current multi-million-dollar new state house complex in Auasblick was completed.

President Nujoma is not standing for a forth re-election in Namibia's upcoming polls and is thus to retire as a new President takes office next year. Mr Nujoma led the SWAPO resistance movement while Namibia was ruled by apartheid South Africa and he became the republic's first - and so far only - President at independence in 1990. SWAPO and Mr Nujoma have since that totally dominated Namibian politics, winning one landslide election after the other.

As the country's first President soon is to retire, the debate on the "Former Presidents' Pension and Other Benefits Bill" started in Namibia's parliament yesterday. The bill was introduced by Justice Minister Albert Kawana almost two weeks ago.

SWAPO MP Sioka however felt the benefits proposed in the bill did not match up to what President Nujoma had done for the country. In terms of the bill, Mr Nujoma will receive a pension equal to a full salary, a tax-free gratuity equal to his current annual salary, medical aid benefits, housing or an allowance, three vehicles and about 30 household, security and office staff.

- The news media should not stop us from doing the right thing, Ms Sioka told 'The Namibian'. "Even though their prediction [of offering State House to President Nujoma] is to prevent us from giving the right gift to the former President," she added.

The bill under discussion is not only to provide for a retirement package for President Nujoma, but all future Namibian presidents once they step down. Ms Sioka however said Mr Nujoma had sacrificed getting an education and spent years in exile without receiving a salary or being able to contribute to a pension fund. She said that after three terms in office, the retiring President had hardly accumulated a large enough pension.

Ms Sioka appealed to the Namibian cabinet to consider her proposal and went as far as to suggest that it consider building houses for MPs such as retiring Prisons Minister Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, who were unable to accumulate a pension during the liberation years.

Kosie Pretorius from the Namibian civil society group "Monitor Action Group" commented that the language used in the bill gave him the impression that the bill was specifically designed to cater for President Nujoma, and not for all future former Namibian presidents.

Traditionally quick to point out when lawmakers have faulted in abiding by the law, Mr Pretorius once again brought to the attention of the parliament that it had failed over the years to adjust the President's salary by law, as required by the Constitution. According to Pretorius, the President's basic salary was still set at rand 180,000 (euro 22,500) in terms of an Act of 1990. He appealed for clarity on what exactly President Nujoma's basic salary is, to allow a better informed debate on the subject.

Mr Pretorius said he did not support a pension for a former president paid with taxpayers' money, because it served party-political purposes and was not in the national interest. He likened the situation to the state paying the salary of SWAPO Secretary General Ngarikutuke Tjiriange, who holds no government portfolio. Mr Pretorius said he was not sure whether a future former leader from another political party would receive the same benefits as those proposed for Mr Nujoma.

Deputy Basic Education Minister Buddy Wentworth, however, did not seem to think that President Nujoma's package would be excessive. He claimed it was "inferior" to what former South African presidents received 20 years ago. "On what basis do you feel the President of Namibia should receive an inferior package?" he asked Mr Pretorius.

Mr Pretorius said the President's salary package had to be revealed first and there had to be clarity on the legal status thereof, before he could comment. The debate continues today.

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