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Geingob's wakeup call should be heeded, but more meat is needed on the bones

By Nkrumah Mushelenga
This was one of the cautionary messages by Prime Minister, Dr Hage Geingob, who is also the Vice President of the SWAPO Party, during the recent permanent secretaries retreat workshop at Mokuti Lodge.

He directed the permanent secretaries to play an effective role in implementing government policies and ensuring good governance. He further emphasized that "good governance is directly proportional to the extent of inclusivity, accountability, transparency and effectiveness which according to him, translates to public trust.

"He then reminded the permanent secretaries that through their commitment to adhere to the norms of inclusivity, accountability, transparency and effectiveness, public trust will develop towards the political system, and thus make the task of building a better Namibia for all easily achievable.

He talked about increasing public complaints and cautioned the permanent secretaries not to take the current situation for granted, due to the increasing public complaints against the quality of service delivery. He predicted that "if the situation of public complaints is not addressed, people will lose confidence in the political leadership and the whole public service system" In his Press Statement dated 04/12/2012, President Hifikepunye Pohamba pointed out that he wanted to see a speedy implementation of the Congress resolutions, especially those which are aimed at addressing "poverty and unemployment".

He then talked about the importance of hard work and of having an "inclusive Government where every citizen can play a positive role in the affairs of our country."

For one to understand the reasons why such a message to the permanent secretaries, it is worth it to look at the job description of a permanent secretary as compared to that of a minister. In terms of part (1) section 11 of the Public Service Act no. 13 of 1995, a permanent secretary is accountable for;

(1) the efficient management and administration of his or her office or ministry or agency;

(2) the proper functional training and utilisation of staff members in his or her office, ministry or agency

(3) the maintenance of discipline in his or her office, ministry or agency; and

(4) the proper use and care of all property under the control of his or her office, ministry or agency

Let me then look at the ministerial accountability. According to Article 41 of the Constitution of Namibia "all ministers shall be accountable individually for the administration of their own ministries and collectively for the administration of the work of the Cabinet both to the President and to Parliament."

My concern is about the overlapping of job descriptions and responsibilities. The Constitution mandates the Minister to be "accountable individually for the administration of their own ministries".

This, in my view, can be tantamount to overlapping of responsibility, whereby decreasing the core element of transparency and accountability and the ability to monitor and evaluate the effective performances of the two principal heads in the ministry. No wonder why some time you hear that some permanent secretaries do not consult their ministers on some of the issues. The issue of permanent secretaries being accountable to secretary to Cabinet, also sometimes negatively contributes to poor coordination between some permanent secretaries and their ministers.

The other issues, Comrade Prime Minister, is about the relevance of having a position of a permanent secretary, a deputy permanent secretary, undersecretaries and directors in one ministry. From the point of practical reality, someone somewhere, is being paid without necessarily doing quantity and quality work.

The reality indicates that most of the operational work in any establishment is carried out by the middle managers. Comrade Prime Minister, would it be illegal or contrary to the governing norms if the governing system creates an establishment and management of public service system with the only positions of permanent secretary, undersecretary, and director with the undertaking that such officers would be better remunerated just as government parastatals' chief executive officers? The other confusing classification is that of an "accounting officer." It appears that some accounting officers are not aware as to where their accounting authority starts and where it ends.

This current state of affairs, if not addressed, can lead to poor performance management system, not only due lack of effective monitoring and evaluation system, but also because of the absence of a clear definition of what is expected from these colleagues. Not only that, such a system can also negatively impact on the processes of efficiency, transparency and accountability and as such, it is in fact promoting bureaucracy through bottlenecks in the system. It is a fact that for effectiveness to be realised, there has to be clearly defined areas of jurisdiction, job descriptions, implementable action plan, and clear strategic objectives. Inclusivity is a core requirement for peace and stability, which is a pre-requisite for economic development and remains a challenge to those who believe in individualism.

What exactly is meant by inclusivity? Does it mean inclusive policies, decisions-making processes, planning, implementation, coordination or in employment procedures? Comrade President is clear on this, to have a Government consisting or made up of the diversity of all sections of the population of this country. That is what is called inclusive government.

Accountability, it is worth to mention that it is only in an inclusive governing political system where one can freely exercise the principles of transparency and accountability. Why so? Because transparency and accountability are the ingredients of good governances.

Apart from cautionary statement, I was happy to hear the Prime Minister talking about the issue of some permanent secretaries who do not have healthy working relationship with their ministers, because this state of affairs has serious negative impact not only on the confidence and moral of staff, but also the expected quantity and quality production. It is obvious that one does not expect effectiveness in the implementation of government policies if and when the two principal advisors do not liaise and coordinate their ministry's affairs as one team.

The other most important directive to the permanent secretaries was the task to reduce public complaints to ensure public trust in the political leadership and the whole public service system. The question is how are they going to do it? Well, "where there is a will, there is always a way".

Do they all have the will? This to me was a clarion call not only to permanent secretaries, but also to other managers, including parastatals' chief executive officers. Well, the ball is in your court as permanent secretaries to build a strong diversified team of managers and middle managers capable of inspiring others to deliver to the best of their ability and in the interests of members of the public.

It is humane to think this way. In public service, there is something called career development. This concept was devised based on human eagerness. There is nothing wrong for a Minister to dream to become a president or a prime minister. Equally, I see nothing wrong for a permanent secretary to dream to become a deputy minister, or minister one day in his or her life time.

Comrade Prime Minister, don't you thing that although it is going to be in contradiction with the classification and the definition of the word "permanent secretary which means "amushanga takalelele." It is time to reward those permanent secretaries who deserve to be rewarded for having performed exceptionally well for the last 23 years of independence as permanent secretaries with the salary equivalent to that of government Parastatals' chiefs, alternatively, for deputy ministers position. It is interesting to read Article 29 sub-article (3), of the Constitution, which reads as follows:

"A person shall hold office as President for not more than two terms." ( a person ) For curiosity sake, why is that the same limitation is not entrenched under Article 41 to deal with the terms of office of ministers?

The essence of career development is built in the process to develop the much needed skills and expertise to ensure sustainable national pool of expertise, which is a pre-requisite to sustainable social economic growth for the benefit of our people. In fact, if ministers who have been in government as ministers for more than 20 years, are released from their ministerial positions, this will mean diversification of business opportunity.

The President shall obviously appoint the current deputy ministers to ministerial positions, then we will see new deputy ministers being appointed as part of inclusive government. It will certainly reduce unemployment rate because retired ministers are in positions to create job opportunity by establishing new businesses ventures throughout the country.

This may sound unpatriotic to those in positions of power, but reality is reality - hence the need to embark upon the reform process. It is a fact, Comrade Prime Minister, that career development is a core ingredient of inclusivity, effectiveness, transparency and accountability and an assurance of effective service delivery. I am motivated by the desire to succeed, the desire to "deliver and deliver" as a way of ensuring sustainable public trust.

In conclusion, allow me to suggest the following. In order to determine the issues that causes public complaints, the Office of the Prime Minister should carry out a research on the following issues.

1. What are the issues that form part of public complaints?

2. The differences between the job description of permanent secretaries, deputy permanent secretaries and us as directors?

3. To what extend is inclusivity in government?

May God Bless Namibia, the land of the brave


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Windhoek, Katutura