Saturday 17 April 2021
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The missing fundamentals regarding SOE reforms in Namibia

Public enterprises reform in Namibia has been a matter of policy discussions over many years. Subsequently, His Excellency the President has established a dedicated ministry in 2015 namely, the Ministry of Public Enterprises.
The mandate of the Ministry is to reform the Namibian public enterprises to achieve quality service improvement and to expand business opportunities. The reform also focuses on policy and guidelines developments to facilitate achievement of intended objectives.
Against this background, the Ministry has developed policy documents such as the Hybrid Governance Model for Namibian Public Enterprises.
In the final analysis, the policy reforms aim to inculcate a new good corporate governance organizational culture, which include adherence to internalized respect for fiduciary responsibilities, efficiency and effectiveness, and transparency and accountability.
The purpose of this article is to contribute to the ongoing discourse on public enterprises reform in Namibia.
The particular focus is on what seems to be the missing fundamentals regarding public enterprises reform in the country. Firstly, there seems to be no clarified and shared ideological philosophy that underpins the establishment of public enterprises.
In other words, policymakers have not adequately interrogated the fundamental question why public enterprises should exist. Is it to make money for the State, to serve the common good or a job creation scheme?
The reasons for existence would inform the other processes, including policy development, managerial expertise required, and monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.
One of the fundamental questions is whether we still need the +- 72 public enterprises as currently configured.
The assumption at independence was that public enterprises would render quality services compared to government ministries, and reduction of the public service size.
Neoliberal economic philosophy of free market forces and privatization has primarily informed the decision.
We now know based on evidence and the Namibian experience that market forces are not necessarily always efficient.
Many public enterprises have become burdens on the State, and have not become efficient and effective as envisaged.
The second missing fundamental is the need for ethics in the management of state affairs, including at public enterprises.
Namibia will not achieve good corporate governance, if ethical behaviour is not a major consideration during the appointment of boards and managers.
Humphrey Gowar, business subject specialist at Monash, South Africa, argues that the time has come to make ethics a cornerstone of education.
He advances that the only effective form of corruption prevention, is ethical leaders, managers and workers.
It would appear in the case of Namibia, that the Minister of Public Enterprises has a clear vision of public enterprises reform.
I doubt, however, that all his cabinet colleagues, boards and management of public enterprises practically and genuinely share this vision.
This is in view that three years after the establishment of the Ministry, we continue to observe appointment of board members and chief executives based on political and economic expediencies rather than merit.
The question to ask is why incoherence between policy intentions and practice seem to be the order of the day.
Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz’s thought provoking book: “Africa Works: Disorder as political instrument’’, might help us to understand the problem.
I argue for the need of paying attention to inculcating ethical and moral values of public service and promoting the common good, if reform is to achieve its intended objectives.
The third missing fundamental is value for knowledge and skills.
We must be conscious that we are living in complex and global competitive world.
I continue to get the impression that Namibia does not value knowledge as a resource while other states are talking about knowledge societies.
The 2005 UNESCO World Report: “Towards Knowledge Societies” defines knowledge societies as about capabilities to identify, produce, process, transform, disseminate and use information to build and apply knowledge for human development.”
In small countries, like Namibia, you cannot afford not to utilize all the human resources that the country possesses to achieve human development.
Many people should not have been appointed on boards and as chief executives, if Namibia truly values knowledge and expertise.
We are also aware that the Ministry of Public Enterprises has a database of experts, but the Minister and other portfolio ministers are also aware that some citizens despite their expertise are persona non grata for appointments.

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