Economists, senior and former government leaders have voiced that consolidation some government offices, ministries and agencies has become an imminent option given the economic crunch. Several ministers are shy to comment on the matter, it has come emerged.
President Hage Geingob has on a various occasions been criticised for having contributed to the current economic crisis by having a bloated cabinet, which experts point to as a financial burden on its own.
Critics believe that it is also indirectly responsible for the huge wage bill where duties have been duplicated and certain positions have become redundant in “some unnecessary ministries”.
The expansion of the Cabinet came with new ministries being introduced and others such as the education ministry being split into two.
Redundant Ministries, Offices and Agencies
Retired politician Nahas Angula has said that consolidation of certain government offices, ministries is now long overdue as some of them should even just be reduced to directorates or departments in other ministries.
Angula, who served in several portfolios including that of the third Prime Minister of the country, said that if the government wants to get out of the current dire economic climate, there is a need for prioritising which ministries are to stay and which should go.
He said that the splitting of the education ministries and the creation of the Ministry of Poverty Eradication is one of the areas that have to be re-visited.
He said they ought to be merged into other ministries, organisations or agencies.
“I can tell you now that there is no need for the Ministry of Higher Education.
I don’t think the minister has a plan as to where she intends to go with the office doing nothing, apart from doing ground breakings for new institutions,” Angula said.
He argues that there are institutions such as the National Training Authority (NTA) and the Namibia Student Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) that deal with higher education level matters and creating a ministry for it, is a duplication of duties and asking for more resources.
His views are also that the Ministry of Poverty Eradication is also redundant and should be eradicated as its duties can be extended to churches and social welfare organisations such as the Red Cross.
Ministry of Poverty Eradication received N$3,4 billion. Angula said these are “bil-lions to hand out food”.
“How does that make any sense ?,” Angula queried.
“Government is just like a household. If the family income is shrinking or has reduced, you have to prioritise.
Where you used to eat meat every day, you may have to reduce to only two times a week in order to keep the family alive,” Angula said.
He added that if President Geingob is comfortable with a bloated government and schools with no books, then that is his decision.
An economist who chose to not be named, said that cutting and saving measures will mean nothing if it is not done in the right places such as directing resources towards duplicated duties, especially with the many ministries that come with bloated civil servant profiles which eats up a huge part of the national budget.
“We must not only focus on the ordinary civil servants, talk about the salaries of the ministers. Do we really need all of them?” the economist said.
We don’t decide
Minister in the Office of the presidency Martin Andjaba, Minister of Higher Education Dr Itah Kandji-Murangi, Minister of Education, Arts and Culture Katrina Hanse-Himarwa all expressed discomfort in discussing the matter.
The education ministry received N$13,7 billion for this financial year while higher education got N$3,3 billion, and the youth ministry N$286 million.
The three ministries started during former President Sam Nujoma’s time as the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture which was then split into Basic Education and Higher Education.
Namibia’s second President, Hifikepunye Pohamba then shifted the sports portfolio from the Basic Education Ministry, to create the Ministry of Youth and Sports, and combined the two education ministries.
President Geingob again split the two ministries as they are now and left Sports Ministry on its own.
Critics said that the addition of a higher education ministry was not necessary as associations and authorities already existed to serve higher education.
“Why not have a ministry of education then place basic education as a department and then high-er education as another department.
Do we really need two different billion dollar budget alloca-tions for these ministries that are supposed to work together?” one of the critics asked.
He added that there are several ministries and even departments that need to be questioned whether they are truly relevant as a standalone.
The ministers all said that because the President is the appointing authority when it comes to his Cabinet, thus they could not comment.
Kandji-Murangi said she believes that the President’s decision and reasons for splitting the education ministry into two are as valid now as they were back then.
She added that there is constant consultation between her and Hanse-Himarwa’s ministry and that the split of the two ministries does not mean that they do not work with each other.
Hanse-Himarwa also refused to comment on whether it is time to have a conversation around the possible consolidation of OMAs in the current economic troubles.
She said it was up to the President to decide what he wants his administration to look like.
“I respect my President, I respect his intellect so I am sorry, I will not be part of such a conversation about how the President decides how big or small his administration should be,” Hanse-Himarwa said.
Consolidation a necessity
While he did not comment on the consolidation of ministries, Minister of Information and Communication Technology Stanley Simataa said that the conversation within his ministry is a necessary one in order to ease the financial burden on the ministry.
He said that while the Namibia Broadcasting Corporation, New Era Publication Corporation and Namibia Press Agency all have different mandates, there are certain dimensions they have to revisit in order to ensure they are better coordinated to avoid duplication of work.
“We need to make sure that resources are not directed to the same place such as NAMPA and NBC going to the same event and producing the same news.There is a need to harmonise so that we use our resources properly and smarter,” Simataa said.
Angula said that the ministers and many government officials did not want to discuss the possible consolidation of offices, ministries and agencies because they know that this would mean some of their positions would have to be done away with.
The Patriot last year reported that the South African-based Economic advisor, Russel Lambert, said that the big size of the Namibian government is a disadvantage to economic development.
He was speaking on investment, growth and social development by drawing comparative country lessons from developed and developing nations at an event in Namibia last year.
Director of Inter-Governmental Coordination, Mateus Kaholongo lately disclosed that Government had identified at least 3000 redundant positions in the public service.
This resulted in the workers being employed as staff additional to the establishment.
Geingob has on a number of occasions defended the size of his government and at one point even said that people were failing to see the bigger picture.
Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, who at the time was Minister of Finance, in 2014, also raised concerns over the ballooning of the civil service wage bill as it increased with about N$14 billion in five years, to stand at N$22 billion this year.
Many, including the late business icon Harold Pupkewitz have in the past criticised governments bloated service as being in direct contrast with the Wages and Salary Commission (Wascom).
Wascom recommended that Government should consist of an efficient public service that is smaller, better paid and more professional.