It is to be recalled that President Isaias Afwerki conducted an extensive interview on the occasion of New Year with national media outlets on 28th and 29th of December 2012. The interview focused on national development programs, political and diplomatic developments in the Horn and Eritrea’s stance and outlook on different scenarios as well as other local, regional and global issues. Sixth part of the excerpts of the interview follows:
In an attempt to alleviate people’s living standard, the government has been making subsidies on food and basic consumer items, with intermittent shortages and problems. What plans are there to ensure adequate provision of basic necessities? The government has also been providing members of the Defense Forces and national service with material assistance. How will the government handle these subsidies and assistances in the new stage we are entering?
One needs to know the difference between desires and emotions and actual resources. What we have been doing so far is not limited to Defense members and public servants only. We can safely say that programs that we have implemented have brought us to a secure stage but not totally solved our food shortage problems. Basic consumer goods need to be omnipresent, and this is the nation’s responsibility and not that of the private or public sector. The government should be able to supply these basic goods, not as aid but as a means of livelihood support, and not to anyone but to the neediest segments. There is the issue of salaries but it’s not that significant and I don’t want to talk about it.
Changing the living standards of the people and the quality of life along with the nation’s economic progress doesn’t come overnight. Pragmatically basic food supplies are vital for changing people’s living standards. And one can hardly say that these basic supplies were provided in sufficient quantity, although they did alleviate some problems. There should be adequate provision of wheat, maize, taff, corn, lentils, oil, sugar and other different consumer goods. You need to provide the needy, the majority of the population, with its daily food at low or affordable prices. And the government has been trying to alleviate these livelihood problems, not out of generosity but because it is its obligation. And as the demand grows, the challenges also increase accordingly.
The government has the responsibility and obligation to provide the basic consumer items, whether from domestic or foreign markets. Without the provision of these basic things, you can hardly talk about economic progress or implementation development endeavors.
There are also other important services like transportation (fuel), energy (electricity)… None of these services are charged in foreign currency but the government incurs heavy costs in providing these services almost free of charge. The government might make priorities but it does subsidize to alleviate the problems in people’s living conditions if not all. The recent problems in electricity were only technical and not because of fuel shortages.
A government cannot be deemed functional if it cannot provide these basic but important social services. The subsidy will persist but is not sustainable. Only when there is economic growth and boost in productivity and agricultural output can we become totally free from dependence on the consumer items that are affecting the people’s livelihood. But we also need to have a time frame? We need to know how long that will take us. The subsidies need to decrease from time to time.
Our domestic market has its own challenges because it is easily influenced by global and regional markets. Most of our cattle are for instance exported illegally. Why? Because there is a high market demand at the global and regional levels…Why can’t we control that? Why is there no supply of meat at cheap or affordable prices during holidays or at any other time? There are many complications.
The most important thing is to boost productivity. We should be able to provide meat, dairy products, fruits and vegetables and others that we can produce at home to domestic markets at affordable prices and in sufficient quantity. This is another topic.
Even though the basic consumer items at present go beyond satisfying domestic demands, their prices are far from fair – for different reasons. But instead of resorting to control prices, we should rather focus on boosting productivity first. The controlling mechanisms can be introduced later.
Nevertheless, the provision of basic consumer goods by the government and the Red Sea Corporation institutions is not to be taken lightly as its significance is obvious to the naked eye.
As to remuneration, there have been several studies concerning salaries. There were measures taken by construction companies in line with the different infrastructural programs. The ministries of Education and Health, which are among the principal public institutions whose members are salary dependents, also had their own initiatives that served as a frame of reference. And studies based on that reference have been conducted to identify which were viable solutions and which were not. There is also the issue of the members of the Defense Forces and their dependents, who have been registered with Social Welfare and have been receiving some benefits. All these cannot be dealt with overnight as they demand thorough feasibility studies. There were plans to finalize the studies and introduce programs that address these concerns and bring changes systematically by 2012, but the studies were not conclusive enough to suggest viable solutions.
Supporting livelihood will continue and so will the feasibility study. The study needs to address all the pressing concerns and not be ruled by desires and emotions of individuals. There are distinct objective factors that it should consider.