Wednesday 14 April 2021
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Want private life? Don’t be a public servant!


Governance can broadly be defined as the political, economic and administrative authority to manage the affairs of the state. It involves establishment of effective institutions, systems and processes necessary to facilitate participatory public policy development and mechanisms to facilitate citizenry participation in the decisions that affect their lives. The objective of citizenry participation is to contribute to public policy agenda setting and aspiration and interest articulation and thereby influencing public policies. Functional democracies are about participation and  contestation of ideas, hence the need to create effective institutions, systems and processes to manage differences that might arise. The aspirations of interest groups are sometimes conflicting and might be diverse in scope and nature, hence the need for organs of the state to develop skills and capabilities to manage differences. Ideological perspectives might influence interest group articulation. Business and labour for example, might look at issues from the perspectives of profit maximisation and working class interests. Different interest articulation, if managed properly, enhances the quality of public policymaking as it gives options and enables policymakers to select the best alternative or alternatives to address a problem or to take advantage of a situation. Administrative governance refers to the implementation of public policies.

This is normally the realm of civil and public servants at the various levels of the spheres of the state namely, central, regional, local and state-owned enterprises. Governance in the broader sense of the world, and in modern states, is not only the domain of public policymakers and the  administrative arm of the state, but is increasingly involving civil society organisations, intellectuals and diverse interests groups in society. We are also witnessing a shift in the language of governance from government to governance. Taking into account the shift, governance in modern states requires different types and styles of leadership. Africa has experienced and has experimented with different governance systems. The continent cannot afford in the context of a globalised world with global values and expectations to go where others are coming from.  Colonialism or what I would call  selective democracy, dictatorship and one-party state governance systems are some of the experiences. In these experiences, the views of the leader and the inner circle elites were always right and could not be questioned. These styles of leadership are not appropriate in managing the affairs of a modern state both politically, economically and administratively. The fact that someone for example, is a Minister, Permanent Secretary or Chief Executive Officer does not necessarily mean that that person possesses all the wisdom, knowledge, capabilities and experiences to lead or manage the affairs of the state. Leadership in a democratic state requires leaders who are authentic (value and principle based-leadership), inspires, motivates and influences others to achieve long-term visions instead of short-term individual interests and political expediencies.

Titled authority or coercion is not a sufficient quality to lead a modern state. The notion of the leader who knows everything and is always right is not appropriate in the context of a democratic society where citizens have the right to participate in the affairs of the state and where this right is a basic fundamental human right. The Constitution of the Republic of Namibia under fundamental freedoms states that all persons shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief, which shall include academic freedom in institutions of higher learning. There should have been a compelling reason why the fathers and mothers of our constitution enshrined the right to freedom of thought in the Namibian Constitution, taking into account the past apartheid governance and administrative experiences. I assume, as stated under the principles of state policy in the Namibian Constitution that it was to encourage the mass of the population through education and other activities and through their organizations to influence Government policy by debating its decisions, hence the right to freedom of thought to contribute to informed participation.

This is also the context under which the demand for access to information legislation should be understood in Namibia. One lesson that human beings have not learned and mastered is the ability not to repeat past dehumanizing experiences when in power. States cannot afford in a democracy to control thought and promote the notion of one view only – the view of the state – as it was the case during the apartheid era or the George W. Bush doctrine of either with us or against us. What the state and civil society organizations should do is to educate the citizens that rights are not absolute, but can be limited when they impinge on the rights of others, hence the need to exercise rights with responsibilities. Unfortunately, the doctrine of ‘with us or against us’ has been taking root in Namibia. We should thus encourage engagement in debate in Namibia with utmost respect for divergent views. The advantage of differences is the likelihood of looking at issues from different perspectives. We should always acknowledge that our background, experiences and ideological orientations inform our worldviews, and diversity – including in thinking – is a resource in effective public policymaking.

To give real meaning to the constitutional imperatives of participation in public policy and debating government decisions, public office bearers and public servants in addition to promoting moral and ethical leadership must enhance accountability and transparency. In the era of new communication and information technologies, governments can be more transparent and effective in bringing government services closer to the people and in enhancing  citizenry participation. Unfortunately and despite the arrival of E-governance opportunities,  Namibia has not done enough to take advantage of the opportunities offered by ICTs to ensure effective service delivery and citizenry participation. Most of the government ministries are still stuck in the paper push world. Regarding accountability, those who have consciously decided to serve the public should know that the line between public and private life is very thin. Serving the public means being at all times open to public scrutiny. My best advice to those who want a private life is not to be public office bearers. It is also important to emphasise that having a constitution does not necessarily mean the existence of constitutionalism. Some scholars have advanced the thesis of constitution without constitutionalism. Constitutionalism is defined as internationalisation and practice of the values and principles contained in the constitution. In the case of Namibia, transparency and accountability are constitutional dictates. Members of the National Assembly, National Council and other office bearers have made oaths or affirmations to be faithful to the Republic of Namibia and its people and to uphold and defend the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Namibia to the best of their abilities.

The oath as affirmation of  accountability is significant in three aspects. Firstly, public office bearers have promised to uphold and defend the Namibian Constitution. Any private or public articulation or conduct that does not reflect the value and principles of the Constitution is a breach of the contract. Secondly, parliamentarians have promised to be faithful to the people of Namibia. Thirdly, they have brought God in the equation by stating, so help me God when taking the accountability oath. I am highlighting these three points to remind our public office bearers that the accountability that citizens insist upon in a democracy is what they have promised – to be humble servants of the people. In the case of Cabinet Ministers and Deputy Ministers, they have further promised the citizens to hold their offices with honour and dignity and perform the duties of their offices consciously and to the best of their abilities. The transparency that the citizens demands from the public office bearers flow from the constitutional accountability and transparency requirements and their promise to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution and serve the people of Namibia to the best of their abilities. Any breach of this covenant despite human weaknesses should result in two consequences – resignation or to be dismissed by the appointing authority. Twenty-six years after  independence, and as part of our collective reflections while celebrating 26 years of independence, we need to pose and objectively ask ourselves the following questions. Is Namibia still on the right track with regards to good governance and accountability as per the principles and values of our Constitution? Are our office bearers always conscious of the oath that they have made to be faithful to the Republic of Namibia, uphold, protect and defend the Constitution and perform their duties consciously and to the best of their abilities? What should the organs of state, civil society organizations and intellectuals do to entrench constitutionalism and active citizen participation in Namibia?

Marius Kudumo is the Director of International Relations at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. He holds a Master of Policy Studies  degrees specializing in International Relations from the Southern African Regional Institute for Policy Studies in Zimbabwe.

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