It is the right of every Namibian to have access to education but while the quality remains debatable, access and funding thereof is non-negotiable.
And from the onset, it is important to state that NSFAF is an important organisation that has opened the doors of higher education to many who would otherwise have been left out, hence the jaundiced views.
The beleaguered institution has been haunted by maladministration, monies not accounted for and for raising the blood pressure of many a student at a time that they had no need for it.
Board members have diverted their energies fighting management while the student plights remain unattended.
This week, the institution announced the suspension of its Chief Executive Officer, Hilya Nghiwete.
NSFAF’s core vision is to provide financial assistance to students in order to enable them to study; and more specifically, but without limiting the foregoing, to facilitate the training of students in prescribed courses or fields of study at approved tertiary institutions.
Boardroom fights at the fund have demonstrated the unwillingness of the leaders’ to live up to their values of excellence, commitment, integrity, teamwork, ethics and diversity.
But while the big guns are in the boxing ring, students are the hardest hit. The institution has pronounced that it will not fund for non-tuition student needs. This now means that students have to foot for their bill for hostel and meals. It is of great concern considering that majority of students locally and those studying abroad heavily depend on the fund.
The institution claims it does not have money to continue funding more students. It will be ignorant to claim surprise when one considers that track record of the fund.
In 2016, the fund’s board members were paid over N$2.2 million in sitting fees, un-taxed. The same year, this figure included hefty fees of N$120 000 paid to board chairperson.
Last year, the board met over 16 times, raking in over N$600 000 in the process. The chairperson at the time was entitled to claim N$10 580 for chairing a meeting while other board directors claimed N$5 983. Board members at the fund also claimed full sitting fees for board continuation meetings. It goes without mention that the more the leaders of the institution meet, the more they pocket in the process.
So why then should it be a surprise when those at the helm of NSFAF pronounce that there is no longer money to carry out their mandate? It common knowledge that the fund has squandered funds in so many ways.
This year alone, some students had to return to their respective homes after not getting any confirmation with regards to their application for funding from NSFAF.
It is high time the country starts mobilising private sector funds through various tax incentives. Loan recovery mechanisms should also be improved through direct deductions by tax authorities.
In Namibia, considering the trend and attractive perks that come with sitting on a board, Namibians have developed a trend of being more interested on board fees than delivering on their mandate.
NSFAF, despite its challenges, has played a critical role in opening the doors of higher education to the poor. It has been one of success stories of the post-1990 commitment to access to tertiary education and redress of past inequalities. NSFAF cannot be wished away by the whims of Cabinet which seems have little or no understanding of the social and political context that gave rise to it.
Has Cabinet already forgotten why it decided to move NSFAF out of the ministry, what has changed that requires it to move back?
All the challenges NSFAF is facing points to leadership and questionable human resources, so we should be looking at human resources and not the institution itself.