Thursday 22 March 2018
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PS, ministers fight for supremacy

There’s an ongoing storm at various ministries, one which has seen ministers and their permanent secretaries at loggerheads over operational matters.
For sometime now, Namibians have been in denial as to who really pulls strings at the ministries. But its clear now: Permanent Secretaries (PS) are the real bosses at the ministries, and that is not up for debate.
Whether it is a mere press statement, a response to media queries, ministry strategic plans and annual budget, the permanent secretary are well-versed and acquainted about the day-to-day operations in any ministry.
They are the go to person in the ministry. They run the show. The same cannot be said about Ministers, with exception of a few who are really hands on. Others have opted to take the back seat and watch the permanent secretary’s show.
To make matters worse, some ministers barely know what is happening in their ministries apart from what their accounting officers feed them, and yet claim to be running those ministry.
Individual ministers are responsible for a ministry, but collectively the Cabinet makes decisions on behalf of the Government, decides what legislation to introduce, and is responsible to Parliament for the conduct of the government. The permanent secretary on the other hand is the administrative head of a ministry.
The disconnect becomes even deeper when one looks at who the appointing authority is for both the ministers and a permanent secretaries. The minister is appointed by and reports to the Head of State. Whereas, as per the Public Service Act 13 of 1995, the permanent secretary is appointed by and reports to the Prime Minister.
Imagine having someone running the day-to-day activities of an organization that you lead but does not report to you.
A case in point is the recent rift between health minister Dr. Bernard Haufiku and his PS, Dr. Andreas Mwoombola.
From the highest office in the land (State House), it is crystal clear that Mwoombola calls the shots at the health ministry and not Haufiku.
The breakdown between the two, mainly premised on ego and allegations of corruption without doubt has had negative repercussions on the operations of the ministry and sadly the majority of the Namibian populace who rely on the State of healthcare and social services.
The situation has left President Hage Geingob with no option but to suggest that between the two, one has to vacate his office.
Realistically, Geingob was referring to Haufiku who reports directly to him.
“How can a permanent secretary control you[Haufiku]? I (as the appointing authority) will never allow you[Haufiku] to control,” said Geingob in what seemed like a message directed to Haufiku.
Earlier this year, defence minister Penda Ya Ndakolo presented a well-crafted budget for his ministry for the 2017/18 year. However, what astonished me was when Ya Ndakolo could not defend his well-furnished budged statement when questions flocked in from opposition leaders. It clearly speaks to the notion that ministers barely know a dime about their ministries, but are merely poster boys for those ministries. Another example is that of works permanent secretary Willem Goeiemann who in recent times has drawn attention and for all the wrong reasons. Supremely, Goeiemann came under fire from the Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein for his role in the awarding of the N$7 billion dubious airport tender.
The straightforward Schlettwein unequivocally demanded reasons from Goeiemann why he should be trusted with State funds. To put this into perspective, had Goeiemann (the PS) not been in charge of the works ministry, Schlettwein would have directed his warnings and threats to works minister, Alpheus !Naruseb. But since it is not the case, Goeiemann is the one in the firing line. So the time is ripe for the system to be revisited and improved to enable ministers to hold PS’ accountable for their actions.  Because under the current format, PS’ do as they please and walk away unscathed. In the end ministers are left embarrassed in front of the public eye for actions that they are not liable for.

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