Want some insight in Namibian politics? I am no expert but have 16 years (1995-2011) of writing on Namibian politics in The Namibian newspaper and can probably offer you a bit more than you know about the who's who in the Namibian political zoo. You will also find a few articles commenting on other issues of concern in the country. Hope you find it interesting. - Christof

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Human Cost Of Poor Management

FOR a month in January this year I visited the Intensive Care Unit at the Windhoek Central Hospital on a regular basis and was in awe at the dedication of the staff towards their patients.

Almost daily I saw different shifts of health personnel taking turns as they cared for patients, some of whom arrived in a coma and left wide awake.
This group of personnel took time to explain to relatives what they were doing and advised them on how the families should take care of their kin after they had been discharged.
And then the story broke about the power cuts and the deaths of two patients - both of whom I had seen - in the same ICU.
Godwin Jones (40) and young mother Magrith Somaes (19) – neither a relative of mine - died after the electricity outage cut off their oxygen supply. Both had relied on ventilators to breathe.
The event was heartbreaking for the group of health personnel, to say the least.
They spent hours fighting for the same lives which were lost in an instant because someone else out there is not taking his or her job seriously!
Last week I read about Minister Richard Kamwi’s stance on such happenings. He was furious and talked about “something ... smelly” about the way in which tenders are awarded as well as about the commitment of some staff members.
For me the most crucial issue was his concern about the Cabinet directive that line ministries should set up their own maintenance units, which has yet to be implemented.
For long, health officials have been complaining that the Ministry of Works was not doing a good job maintaining their facilities. Yet, when a directive is finally given for them to set up their own maintenance department, they are fast asleep.
Can one than conclude that such sluggishness is a measure of where the ministry’s white-collar officials are?
Worst of all, when deaths occurred in the ICU, none of the people who are supposed to own up to this have done so.
In fact, for the past two weeks reporters were sent from pillar to post as they tried to obtain information about what went wrong and what steps had been taken to remedy the situation. In three instances a colleague of mine had the telephone slammed down in his ears by people who are supposed to shed light on the issue.
Of course, we know that it is a sensitive case, but sensitive for whom? Are the families not entitled to answers? Would it not be good if the Ministry of Health dealt transparently with the case?
I wonder what the reaction would have been if such electricity outage had occurred while a VIP was being treated in the ICU. Would we have seen a major public outcry and demonstrations demanding answers? Would Minister Kamwi have called a media briefing to explain what had happened?
The incident was not limited to the Windhoek Central Hospital.
Earlier this month the Outjo State Hospital had to rely on a generator for almost a week because its electricity bill had not been paid. We have had such cases at other health institutions before.
When this kind of problem is treated in the manner it has been, the future impact can be profound.
Health staff are likely to take their jobs for granted and, gradually, vital services will no longer be a priority.
There are lots of hardworking nurses and doctors who sweat buckets on a daily basis as they fight for the lives of thousands, but they can only do their job effectively if they have the support from other staff in the ministry.
Incidents such as the deaths of Jones and Somaes should not happen again.
All it would take is for a handful of on-the-fence personnel to do the right thing. Here’s hoping!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lessons from a free Egypt

ONE of the signs in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, where much of the action to remove that country’s long-standing dictator Hosni Mubarak, was centred, read: “Mubarak, if you are Pharaoh, we are all Moses.’’

Within 18 days Mubarak met his Moses and left town under military escort for the seaside.
As someone said it was a total do-it-yourself revolution led by youth with the quest to bring their country “back from the dead.”
When Mubarak went on state television to deliver a veiled threat, several hundred thousand Egyptians in Tahrir Square responded by waving their shoes and shouting “go away, go away”.
I do not doubt that, if they were in the same venue with him, they would have thrown their shoes at Mubarak.
Egyptians and the world knew that, if there was to be change, it would have come from the youth at grassroots level. For once, the country’s democracy revolution was a homegrown one!
Ordinary people who were seen as having no real access to the corridors of power while elected officials listen only when the corporates speak, have turned the tables on the leaders.
For us there are a few lessons.
First, Mubarak’s greatest crime against his people was not to listen to them.
Egypt’s unemployment is reportedly around 30 or 31 per cent and a lot of young people remain in the doldrums; people struggle to make ends meet while senior government officials and their kin have lavish lives; and they still refused to listen as small pockets of unhappiness started simmering.
In that country it didn’t matter much what ordinary people wanted. The wealthy called the tune, and the politicians danced.
This week in Windhoek ordinary disgruntled workers wanted President Hifikepunye Pohamba to hear them out but were snubbed.
According to Presidential Affairs Minister, Albert Kawana, the country’s leader had more urgent constitutional matters to attend to – like opening Parliament.
I fail to understand why the President could not take at most three minutes to receive the petition from the workers.
That would have shown that he was on the same page with them with regard to the Government Institutions Pension Fund fiasco.
In any case, an hour or so before the President opened Parliament, Cabinet had very serious discussions around GIPF. His presence at the demo would have emphasised the importance they reportedly attach to solving the issue.
Worse even is the fact that the person he delegated to receive the petition did not bother to indicate to the group that Cabinet had indeed discussed the issue earlier and that action was on the cards. It would have allayed some concerns about the sluggish attitude from Government.
But now a seed of resistance has been planted among the demonstrators.
Why should everything be a secret? What’s the phobia about?
As Egypt, and previously Tunisia proved, demonstrations start small but can easily snowball into something that unseats monarchs, personal kingdoms or autocrats who are surrounded by supposedly powerful armies.
I am not saying that I advocate a coup d’tat but it is best to move away from the wildly exaggerated sense of untouchability soon. Mubarak learnt this too late and we had better take it seriously.
Tunisia was awakened by the unemployed youth and masses who claimed their dignity back. Other Arab states like Egypt have started emulating it.
The anger boiling here among young people like the ones who remain idle after training at Berg Aukas, for instance, needs to be addressed with urgency.
Our leaders need to get down to the people’s level to ensure that the simmering discontent does not boil over into unrest that will unseat them.
What makes the events in Tunisia and Egypt so powerful is their legitimacy! Democracy at its best.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Parastatals are no milk cows

AS I alluded to in an earlier column, President Hifikepunye Pohamba needs to leave a mark with his second term and it will do wonders for his efforts if he takes time to give serious consideration to the (re)appointment of all parastatal boards before he departs with much fanfare in 2015.

Although I was initially opposed to the constitutional changes giving him powers to appoint regional governors, I have since become a reluctant supporter of the move after seeing what the young man in the Karas region, Clinton Swartbooi, has achieved in a relatively short time.
He has proven that, given the right appointments, some of the social dilemmas facing our people can change dramatically.
It is also the reason why I hope that some of the sleeping governors will have received infused fire in their bellies during the past week’s induction/workshop in Windhoek.
While the President is showing some true mettle he could also turn his attention to the parastatals or State-owned enterprises, SOEs as they are known.
This week Cabinet announced the names of those who will serve on the NamWater and Meatco boards - both very important parastatals in the country.
Parastatals have become milk cows for many in the past as has been frequently revealed in a number of financial scandals.
In many instances in the past, the knowledge, experience and expertise of people were almost not considered at all when appointing boards and this in turn affected their output negatively.
This was worsened by the fact that chief executives and managing directors were also handpicked based on their allegiances either to State House, certain ministers or other influential characters.
This ultimately affected production and, while some parastatals were supposed to pay dividends, Government kept on pumping money into their running costs.
This despite the fact that some heads of such parastatals were raking in millions through salaries, bonuses and other benefits.
Under Pohamba Government seems to have started intervening in the affairs of the SOEs for the right reasons.
Although many believe that the plan may backfire, Cabinet has already decided to restrain the excesses at parastatals through putting a cap on salaries and other perks.
This means that the Namibia Wildlife Resorts will no longer be able to pay its Managing Director N$1,7 million as it used to give Tobie Aupindi, and Air Namibia will be forced to reduce theirs to N$1,5 million from the N$2,4 million Kosmos Egumbo was reportedly collecting.
The Cabinet’s cap not only affects heads of parastatals but also their senior managers. Board directors are also not excluded.
We have had reports and stories about some directors who stay in Windhoek yet submit their residential addresses as their farms in order to claim travel allowances. Others would ensure they had long drawn-out meetings because they are paid hourly.
Perhaps to put a cap on the salaries is too simplistic a solution, because it implies that the massive losses to the parastatals can be ascribed to overpaid CEOs and boards but there is a combination of both very high salaries as well as board members who are not knowledgeable enough - and neither is acceptable.
So while President Pohamba is on a serious drive to leave State House with a bang, key to the changes he wishes to undertake will be the question of ‘jobs for comrades’ or ‘tested cadres’.
Although the Swapo Party Think-Tank is a matter for internal discussion, it should have, by now, given an indication of the level of knowledge and dedication of some of those serving on it.
I am not advocating for Cabinet to only recruit people who have served on the party Think-Tank but it can be used as a platform to test the dedication of the party cadres instead of throwing them into the lions’ den at parastatals and expecting them to deliver.
It is time for our parastatals to become revenue-generating institutions for the country. So far there are a few key exceptions which have known stable and consistent management and lack of interference, while most of them simply don’t get on with the job.
This despite the fact the board members take home thousands and the heads of parastatals continue operating with hardly any serious consequences if they fail to deliver.
Parastatals should stop being milk cows and President Pohamba remains the key to positive change in this regard.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pohamba’s Dilemma:Whether To Support Angula Or Geingob

OK, I’ve been paying a disproportionate amount of attention to Swapo and its internal politicking, but it’s not my fault.

Most of the debate within the opposition parties is incredibly boring.
In fact, in some, like the United Democratic Front or the National Unity Democratic Organisation (Nudo), you do not even hear about a debate for succession.
A child born in 1990 has known only one leader of the UDF and can be pardoned for thinking that the party is the property of Justus //Garo√ęb. And the same goes for Nudo where we have not seen a contest for the presidency for some time now.
At the DTA, Katuutire Kaura has had challengers but they struggle to come up with a better candidate to take over from him.
So succession and opposition are two symmetrically opposed ideas.
With Swapo, there continues to be a lively debate, not only among members but even outsiders, about positions within the party.
This is because many see the party – at least for now – as a vehicle for the political hopes of many as well as a key player in the delivery of services.
There is no way you can talk about bread-and-butter issues without mentioning Swapo at the moment.
That is also why Swapo should stop telling others to mind about their own affairs.
And the latest affairs in Swapo deal with the succession debate.
While President Hifikepunye Pohamba is guaranteed to serve as the party’s and country’s leader for the next four years, the party approved rules and procedures in 2009 already for the election of its office-bearers, clearly outlining the line of succession.
The procedures state that the presidential candidate will come from the top four party leaders in order of seniority. Another line in the document states that if the incumbent President cannot be re-elected because of the two-term constraint, the ruling party’s vice president will be the automatic choice as presidential candidate.
Such rules and procedures were introduced to avoid a repetition of the 2004 Swapo extraordinary congress.
During that congress Pohamba came up against Hidipo Hamutenya (who has since left the party and formed the Rally for Democracy and Progress) and Prime Minister Nahas Angula in a three-cornered contest.
So the key to ascendancy to the party presidency is to become the vice president of Swapo at next year’s congress and that is why some in the Swapo Party Youth League and other levels have started campaigning for debate.
In fact, they have not only started campaigning for debate but moves such as the calls to disband the youth wing’s national executive committee are directly linked to getting people who will support a certain candidate.
Soon similar calls for changes will emerge from within the Swapo Party Women’s League.
For now, Hage Geingob faces Prime Minister Nahas Angula and the party’s secretary general, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana.
Both Geingob and Angula will have served the country for two terms as Prime Minister and both believe that the next step is to lead the country.
No one will admit it yet, but Angula’s machinery is well oiled with current and former Cabinet members as people who do the donkey-work (campaigning) and some of them have openly revealed that it is time for a Ndonga to take over.
Similarly, Geingob also has his backing with people such as Kazenambo Kazenambo who believes that Swapo is ready for a non-Oshiwambo-speaking leader. Geingob is a member of the minority Damara tribe.
With Angula having thrown his weight behind Pohamba after the fallout from the 2004 Swapo candidacy race, it will now be interesting to see who Pohamba will back next year.
Will he opt for Geingob, who is also favoured by former President Sam Nujoma, or will he throw his weight behind the man he handpicked as Prime Minister?
Should Pohamba’s decision be guided by favours from the 2004 congress or by who will best serve the nation as a leader and keep the ruling party intact?
That surely will create a mesmerising debate as discussions around the presidential race continue.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Councillors must heed Ekandjo’s warning

I AM glad Local Government Minister Jerry Ekandjo told regional councillors to keep politics out of their work.

He needs to do the same with local authority councillors who keep on meddling in the actual running of municipalities, town councils and villages.
This they do for own benefit and to advance certain political agendas to the detriment of such councils and villages.
Addressing regional councillors in Oshakati this week, Ekandjo called on them to put political differences aside since such wrangling has become “a terminal cancer that eats the core of the service delivery to the communities”.
He wants it curbed right at the onset as new regional councillors start their tenure.
I agree with the former teacher’s assertion that some of them use council meetings to advance their own agendas or to settle scores with administrative staff.
But these things happen even more at town and village council level.
Operations of councils such as Okahandja, Keetmanshoop, Usakos, Omaruru and Otavi in the past were crippled by political gangsterism, factionalism and interference in the running of the institutions by people who should only have oversight duties.
Their role is to guide management with policies but many kept on making daily appearances at such institutions and roaming the corridors aimlessly.
Ekandjo’s refreshing candour needs to be followed up with action.
He needs to get senior staff at head office to keep tabs on such councillors for timely interventions that will call them to order.
The past 10 to 15 years have been unbearable for many staff at such councils because of politicians who failed to act as overseers who should interrogate why certain projects fail and their decisions are not implemented.
They need to build expertise in local authority management.
In fact, that is why it is important for political parties to nominate candidates with at least a decent level of management or organisational skills to represent them on such councils instead of those who shout their slogans the loudest.
Once council operations are in full swing, political charm can no longer be the major asset. It is a fact that leadership can’t be faked for too long.
Therefore councillors must be able to challenge administrative staff to greater heights instead of employing bully tactics which will discourage them or force them out.
Ekandjo spoke of “bad apples”.
There were many in the previous councils but we hope last year’s election has somehow cleaned up the mess and that the next five years will be marked by people full of zeal and purpose.
Since Swapo secretary general Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana spoke of “recall” during the campaign last year, I hope that it still rings fresh in the party’s representatives. The opposition should also keep tabs on their representatives and withdraw those who fail to live up to expectations.
For now, it is still too early to say how things will turn out. They were only elected two months ago.
Interestingly, many have yet to start with their work.
If we want to avoid the scenes of protest, of young and old fed up with the running of local authorities, we need to move away from what have become failures - to give a well-deserved service to our people instead of own political gains.