Saturday 17 April 2021
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Ministers in deadlock


….As fight for NSFAF intensifies

•    Kandjii-Murangi wants NSFAF under her wings
•    Cabinet wants it under Finance Ministry
•    Jooste to order NSFAF probe

Cabinet ministers seem to be on opposite ends regarding the future of the Namibian Student’s Financial Aid Fund. On the one end, Minister of Higher Education, Training and Innovation, Dr Itah Kandjii-Murangi, is adamant that the fund should remain under the wings of her ministry, despite her Cabinet colleagues, namely, Leon Jooste (Public Enterprises) and Calle Schlettwein (Finance) indicating that consensus has been reached for all state enterprises operating in the financial sector to fall within the ambit of Treasury. “It must not be seen like we [ministries] work in silos because there are entities, like NSFAF that might require cross-cutting interventions to ensure that we improve whatever is happening there, one of such is the recovery aspect. It is true that there have been talks of the fund moving to finance, but what is critical is for everyone to realise that the formation of the fund was within the education ministry…never in finance,” asserted Kandjii-Murangi at a media conference to discuss wide-ranging NSFAF matters. She further built her case by saying: “The functions of the fund revolve around nothing but the human resource development of this nation. I leave it to you to actually unpack the functions of the different ministries to determine which has the thrust that focuses on human resource development, is it finance or this one [higher education]?” she questioned.

Although she admitted that there are areas where ministries need to put their heads together, the higher education’s anecdotal explanation regarding the fund’s ministerial home is clearly aligned to her ministry.A few weeks back, Schlettwein said his ministry had directed the NSFAF board not to make any appointments and indicated that a submission will soon be made in Cabinet to integrate NSFAF into the finance ministry. “We discussed that [integration into the ministry] possibility in some of the Cabinet committees but we must still formally submit it to Cabinet. The intention is to bring all state enterprises in the financial sector under Treasury, reason being that they are financial companies and they have an impact on the finance sector of the economy,” he said. The public enterprises minister has also confirmed to this newspaper in the past that a decision has been reached to move NSFAF to the finance ministry. Jooste, who met with the NSFAF senior leadership on Wednesday, also informed the leadership of the impending shift. “What is important is that these entities are legal and autonomous but they must know there is the parent ministry that is responsible for policies to drive their activities and control operations. Those are the things that speak to solid working relationships,” Kandjii-Murangi said. “As a ministry responsible for development, our take is that NSFAF should be where it can serve and deliver services to students. The functions of NSFAF require ministries to work together, especially when it comes to loan recovery,” she said. For now Kandjii-Murangi said: “In terms of what has been approved, those are Cabinet decisions, when the time comes we will deal with them, discuss and approve them at the level where they ought to be.”

NSFAF probe
Meanwhile, Jooste will order a probe to scrutinise several issues related to the Namibia Students Financial Aid Fund regarding the company’s remuneration policy, The Patriot can reveal. “The MPE will be looking into several issues related to the NSFAF, which will include the remuneration policy as well as other governance related matters,” Jooste responded in an email this week. The fund has been making headlines in the local media in recent weeks over its remuneration policy for board members as well an alleged breakdown between some board members and the chairperson. Jooste said the probe is not targeted at board chair Patty Karuaihe-Martin, as alleged by some quarters, but rather the entire board. Despite senior officials downplaying rifts in the board and defending the remuneration policy of the company, the situation in NSFAF tells a different tale. “This was prompted by various unconfirmed reports as well as the recent articles, which appeared in the local media. We will prefer to investigate a broad range of issues, not necessarily focusing on any one specific item,” he said.
Jooste said: “When these investigations are conducted, the MPE will always investigate the various governance layers as a collective – one would rather investigate an entire Board since the Chair is only one member of this collective.”

The probe will also investigate claims that NSFAF board members are paid according to the Tier 3 scale while it is in Tier 2. Tier 3 is reserved mainly for the flagship enterprises. “This will form part of our investigation and we will pronounce ourselves once we expose the actual facts,” Jooste said. He also said there are plans to reclassify some of the SOEs, adding that: “We are currently working on this as a priority and I hope to conclude the matter before the end of July.” The minister did not say whether the investigation will be done internally or an independent firm will be appointed. “We may decide to investigate certain aspects ourselves and appoint an independent for the rest,” he said. Regarding the board remuneration situation, Kandjii-Murangi said the NSFAF board received an instruction last year to review its board fee structure and to submit it to the ministry. “The review was done and we deliberated it, it is now back with NSFAF to finalise what we agreed on. It is not for me to disclose what we agreed, but I can say that the board is being remunerated within the set parameters of SOE boards,” she said.

She also said she is not aware of any rifts between board members and the chairperson when asked about it. “That [rift] is news to me, I do not want to speculate, if it is a problem that is fermenting it will come to light and we will address it,” she said. “We had to look at guidelines, and then engage them, after comparing with other SOEs, have to look at what we received to ensure it falls in line Kandjii-Murangi, however, maintained that NSFAF board members are remunerated according to the set guidelines. “They are receiving exactly what is outlined within the parameters of all other SOEs at their level,” she said. Kandjii-Murangi did not express concern with Jooste’s decision to probe NSFAF over issues relating to the board’s remuneration fees despite the fund falling under her ministry. “NSFAF falls under us [higher education], but when it comes to governance they [public enterprises] have a say, but central processes are the duty of this ministry,” she explained. NSFAF’s board has been under scrutiny in recent weeks after revelations that it cost taxpayers N$2.2 million to fund the board during its first year in office. Serving on boards in Namibia has become a lucrative way of making money, a trend used nowadays to fill the pockets instead of managing institutions. NSFAF’s remuneration policy makes provision for the directors to receive an annual retainer fee of N$76 649 for the chairperson and N$62 613 for the other directors. The chairperson is entitled to claim N$10 580 for chairing a meeting while other board directors claim N$5 983. This situation has irked staff members at the fund, and rumours of a strike over salaries have been circulating over the past few days.

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