Namibia has crafted a Vision and national developmental plans to achieve the aspirations of “a prosperous and industrialised Namibia developed by her human resources, enjoying peace, harmony and political stability.” Five-year development plans beginning with the first National Development Plan (NDP1) for the period 1995 to 2000 are the strategic policy tools that government has been utilising to achieve the aspirations of Vision 2030. It is important to contextualise that national development planning in accordance with Article 129 of the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia vests in the National Planning Commission. Article 129 of the Constitution states: “There shall be established in the Office of the President a National Planning Commission, whose task shall be to plan the priorities and direction of national development.” It is common knowledge that despite national development priority setting and planning, extreme poverty, high unemployment rates, especially among the youth and high levels of income inequalities and unequal distribution of wealth and social services persist in Namibia twenty-six years after political independence.
This is perhaps the reason and out of desperation that government has introduced additional intervention strategies such as the Targeted Intervention Programme for Employment and Economic growth (TIPEEG) in addition to the national development plans. TIPEEG seems to have come as a result of the scientifically incorrect 51, 2% unemployment rate reported in the Namibia Labour Survey Report of 2008. By any public policy assessment technique, TIPEEG was a reactive public policy response, which was not well- thought- through. The Mass Housing Programe is another major public policy project pronouncement in Namibia. The results of both have been disastrous thus far. The new administration under President Hage Geingob is about to launch the Harambee Prosperity Plan. The content and details are sketchy at the moment. From what we have heard and read in the media, the Plan is built around the themes of effective governance and service delivery, social, economic and infrastructure developments. This article asks whether the government and country have learned valuable lessons from past national development plans and intervention programes in terms of public policy conceptualisation, implementation and monitoring and evaluation that the Harambee Prosperity Plan should not repeat. In attempting to answer this question from an outsider perspective, we first have to conceptualise the purpose of public policies. James Anderson, one of the authorities on public policy defines public policy as “a purposive course of action followed by an actor or set of actors in dealing with a problem or matter of concern.”
The first lesson that government and the country should learn from past experiences is that public policies should clearly understand the nature of the problem to be addressed or the opportunity that they would like to take advantage of. In the case of Namibia, the developmental challenges have been clearly articulated by the Namibia Statistics Agency and the National Planning Commission and have reliable data confirming the magnitude of extreme poverty, high unemployment rates and inequalities in income and wealth distribution in the country. The second important stage in policy formulation is generation of possible solutions to address the identified problems. Namibia has not been doing well in this aspect.
In a democratic state, public policymaking should guinenly involve the citizenry, especially through their organizations. The purpose is to contribute to solution generation. Public policies should also be scientifically grounded and not be based on populism and opportunism. Public policymaking should therefore not be for symbolic reasons, hence the theory of symbolism in public policy-making. The people through their organizations such as the churches, traditional authorities, the labour movement, students’ organizations, civil society, professional bodies and the academia are critical in generating possible solutions to address developmental challenges. In many instances, Namibia has and continues to solely rely on government bureaucrats and international experts who are in many instances not experts per se and sometimes lack contextual knowledge of the problems. If Namibia is to succeed in addressing developmental challenges, genuine, inclusive and scientifically grounded public policy-making should be the preferred option.
Inclusivity enables policymakers to obtain different problem solutions that are necessary conditions for selecting the best policy option or options. The extent to which the Harambee Prosperity Plan was inclusively conceptualised by involving of various government ministries, especially the National Planning Commission, civil society organisations, development partners and other stakeholders in defining its developmental thrusts would ultimately determine whether its implementation, and thus achievement of intended objectives would be realised. Public policies address the common public good, and they can therefore, not be personal policies. Public policies are about choices.
The choices to be made are informed by availability of both human and financial resources to implement programes and activities derived from the policy choices. You cannot select a public policy option when you do not have the human capital/expertise and financial resources to implement the policy choices. Public policies in addition to clearly understanding the problem to be solved, generation of problem solutions and selecting the best policy choice or choices on the basis of available expertise and financial resources, also requires ability to implement and robust monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. Monitoring and evaluation takes place at every policy stage and not necessarily at the end after implementation. Robust monitoring and evaluation mechanisms and policy coherence are some of the major shortcomings of public policies in Namibia. The Harambee Prosperity Plan has to ensure policy coherence and strong monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, if it is to succeed. I am concerned about policy coherence and overall coordination of the Harambee Prosperity Plan and how it relates to the national development plans. Is the National Planning Commission, as per the Constitution still the overall coordinator of national development or the Presidency?
To what extent have government ministries been involved in conceptualisation of the Harambee Prosperity Plan to ensure that strategic plans of government ministries are aligned to the Plan? The Plan like previous interventions is likely not to achieve the intended strategic objectives, if best policy choices, coordination mechanisms and inclusive public policy developments have not been well- though- through. The notion that seems to take root in Namibia even among public policy commentators that the policies are good, and the problem is implementation is misleading both from semantic and study of public policy perspectives. Semantically, there is nothing good about a public policy than cannot be implemented. If the intention of a housing policy is to build houses, then there is nothing good about such policy when houses have not been built. From a public policymaking perspective, the public policymaker in selecting the best option should have understood that the selected option is in most instances informed by availability of financial and human resources. The Harambee Prosperity Plan without having seen the Plan has identified critical developmental challenges it intends to address. To succeed and achieve the intended objectives, the Plan should ensure inclusive public policy formulation and implementation and establish robust coordination and monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.
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.