We must prevent wasting scarce public resources

By Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah

I do not know how many of you have observed what I shall term as wastage of scarce resources. This article shall deal with the contradiction between prudent utilisation of scarce resources and wastage of resources, with specific reference to financial resources.

From a financial and economic viewpoint, there is always need to plan and prudently utilise scarce resources in order to gain value for money. Before I continue, I deem it necessary to define the following four key words here. These four key words are prudent, utilise, scarce and resources.

I understand the word prudent to mean, judicious, sensible, careful and cautious. Utilise means to use, exploit and employ. Scarce is an expression of being rare and not readily available. Resources may be construed as assets, funds and means. Tying all these together would mean how best one would judiciously employ whatever limited assets available and achieve more with less.

There are people who used to fold their hands when faced with a situation of scarcity of resources. That is so because people will find it very difficult if not impossible to strike a balance on how to employ those scarce resources. But one thing they may not have realised is that there will be no time when resources will be readily available in abundance.

I for one do not pray that one morning I must wake up having abundant resources to use. It is my understanding that it is scarce resources that give me an opportunity to plan in order to satisfy the wants in life. If you give me abundant resources, that would mean carte blanche to squander the unlimited resources knowing well that there is more than enough to eke out a living tomorrow. Planning based on scarce resources is therefore critical if we are to achieve our planned goals and objectives.

In this discourse, I shall make an attempt at a small scale to bring out what I have observed as a wastage of scarce resources by the government. It is my understanding that we are all aware that money is a scarce commodity. It is also my conviction that, if wrongly utilised, there will be a diminishing return or no return at all on that money.

We must bear in mind that there are always unlimited wants as opposed to the available financial resources. In order to ensure effective utilisation of scarce resources for efficiency, there is need to quantify on how best and when money can be spent for what good reasons. That technique demands weighing, balancing and trading-off, based on what we want against what we can afford.

It is after the technique of weighing, balancing and trading-off that one must be able to make an informed decision as to how much money is available and how much will be spent on what and when. That must be the yardstick that will help us to avoid wastage of scarce resources. The guiding principle here, which is worth understanding, is that once a certain amount of money had been spent for something, it will be a foregone conclusion that the same money will never be used for anything else.

I shall in this regard discuss two specific aspects that I have observed as wastage of scarce resources.

Those who regularly pass at Oshivelo between Tsumeb and Ondangwa will know there are police officers manning that police checkpoint day and night. To my surprise, there was a time years back when the government decided to install traffic lights at the same checkpoint manned by the police. From the time I have seen the installation of those traffic lights, I have been asking myself, would it be possible to permanently combine police officers and traffic lights to man a permanent police checkpoint at the same time?

In my reasoned judgement and logic, police officers can only be temporary combined with traffic lights should there be a need for a police officer to regulate traffic at whatever given time for a specific reason and not to permanently combine human beings with traffic lights. In other words, combining them permanently is illogical and totally unheard of.

Prove me wrong, as we are speaking now, it has been years now since those traffic lights have been abandoned, even before they were fully utilised. A simple question: was that money recovered after the government realised that it was a wrong combination of human beings with traffic lights? There is no doubt there was no money recovered. The bottom line is, whoever came up with that idea has wasted scarce resources.

Take it from a different direction, as I use to crisscross this country like many do, I have observed yet more wastage of scarce resources in the form of installation of solar powered yellow poles on our national roads. I do surmise that the decision to install those solar powered yellow poles were to serve as speed catchers of those drivers who over speed, for them to be brought to book.

In this context, there are four things that are worth noting before we make our informed judgements. One, it is my presupposition that the decision to install those stationary poles was to deter crazy drivers from driving at high speed.

Two, in the final analysis, those stationary poles were known and so the moment our crazy drivers approach those poles, they will slow down just to start speeding again after passing that point.

Three, while some of the poles were operational and now dysfunctional, there were some that were never operational. I want only to prove the point of wastage scarce resource that if that dream could be realised and effectively served the purpose, I shall be the first to demand a guillotine to have my head cut off.

Let us all be in agreement that the Oshivelo traffic lights and solar powered yellow poles were all wastage of scarce resources until someone proves us wrong. As there are those who were responsible for those projects, can anyone take courage and inform the nation as to how much money was spent on both these unnecessary projects to stop me from referring to those projects as wastage of scarce resources? As of now, that taxpayers’ money was wasted instead of used on something of economic and financial value.

Against that backdrop, time is now to account for wrong actions. This year is a year of accountability, coupled with economic downturn, it is therefore extremely important that the President calls some people to order and to account for their ill-conceived actions. Time is now that scarce resources should be prudently utilised to ensure value addition.

* Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah is a former Chief of the Defence Force. He is HOD and senior lecturer at IUM, and holder of a Mas- ter’s degree in Strategic Stud- ies. The views expressed here are his own.