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Wednesday 16 January 2019
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Knowledge management in a developing Namibia

Namibia is part of the global world. Countries that have developed and continue to develop economically and socially invest in human capital and knowledge management. Knowledge management in this article refers to gathering, sharing and leveraging knowledge to enhance organisational effectiveness. The world is moving from information to knowledge and learning societies. I am deeply concerned that Namibia seems to be moving backwards regarding knowledge management. As the late Professor Masipula Sithole would argue, Namibia cannot afford to go where others are coming from. We are witnessing increased information availability and speed of its transmission due to technological advancements. Increased information and knowledge availability dictate that governments have to rethink their methods of transacting government business and interactions with the citizenry.
The control of information, secrecy and knowledge being in the exclusive domain of the circles of “wise men and women” is inappropriate in knowledge societies. Citizens use knowledge to demand transparency and accountability from the representatives who manage the affairs of the state. Respect in knowledge societies is earned and not demanded. In the case of Namibia, Article 18 of the Constitution puts an obligation on administrative bodies and administrative officials to act fairly and reasonably and to comply with the requirements imposed upon them by common law and any relevant legislation. It also provides redress as a right when citizens are aggrieved by the exercise of acts and decisions of administrative bodies and administrative officials. The 2005 UNESCO World Report: “Towards Knowledge Societies” emphasizes that access to information is not necessarily the source of additional knowledge. Likewise, occupying a public office or having a qualification is not necessary an indication of being knowledgeable.
In my view, knowledge is only useful when it promotes critical thinking, solve challenges and advance the common good of humanity. The Report advances that in knowledge societies, everyone must be able to move easily through the flow of information and develop cognitive and critical thinking skills to distinguish between “useful” and “useless” information. This understanding has serious implications on governance in Namibia. In knowledge societies ministers and government bureaucrats spend most of their times on describing, analysing, interpreting, predicting and anticipating the implications of policy and administrative actions. It includes packaging messages and developing coherent communication strategies. Unfortunately, public office holders and bureaucrats in Namibia seem to spend precious time on reacting and defending policy actions after damages have already been done instead of being proactive.
This is the case, because they do not properly think through the implications of policy decisions and pronouncements. Evidence-based policy making is not an integral part of decision making processes. Absence of evidence-based policy making is indicative of governance systems where knowledge management is not valued and therefore, is not an integral part of systems and processes. In these cases, policy and administrative decisions are made on the basis of feelings and not evidence. This is not sustainable. Let me use one example to bring my point across, although this example represents the practice in most ministries. The Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture has announced that 16 June 2016 was not a school holiday this year as it has been the practice. In my view, the Ministry did not use knowledge management to arrive at the pronouncement. Secondly, the legal basis of the decision both in terms of law and convention/practice was not determined and validated. In terms of legality, the Education Act 2001(Act No. 16 of 2001) states:
“The Minister, after consultation with the Advisory Council, must determine the annual school calendar. The Minister may approve a deviation from the school calendar determined under this section, either generally or for any particular case.” The language use of “may approve” is important and suggests that deviation cannot be an arbitrary action without following due process. It appeared from an observer’s stand that the Ministry has not provided convincing arguments for the decision. The Ministry was at the same time inviting public comments regarding the 2017 school calendar with 16 June as a school holiday while making it redundant in 2016. Conspiracy theories and speculation take centre stage when policy decisions and pronouncements are not logical and coherent. The question that arises is: Where are technocrats to analyse anticipate and predict implications when public office holders make fatal policy decisions and pronouncements?  What should be done to address this situation that is taking root in the country? I suggest that the first action is for public office holders to realise that real professionals are there to help them to succeed. If their views are valued and appreciated, public office holders will make sound judgements. If not, they will help them to fail.
Secondly, public office holders are human beings with strengths and weaknesses. They are not supernatural beings. They should therefore, facilitate the appointments of high-level expertise in their offices and ministries to complement their weaknesses.
Thirdly, public office holders should avoid surrounding themselves with “village boys and girls” who promote patronage and cannot add expert value to their work. Against this background, the observation of 1995 Wage and Salary Commission is worth recalling: ”It is the cardinal responsibility of the higher levels of a civil service in any country to tell their Ministers what they do not want to hear: it is their job.”




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