1 June 2012

Namibia: Gambling and Hoping to Win


Old Habits Die Hard, or So the Adage Goes.

That is particularly true about the bad habit of taking shortcuts. Sadly, most of our leaders have got so used to taking them that every decision is based on such practices and the country's moral fibre is close to snapping as a result.

In announcing that permanent secretaries in 11 ministries will be changed, Prime Minister Nahas Angula named the move a "reassignment, redeployment and realignment of key accounting officers/permanent secretaries".

The rest of civilisation called the spade a spade - a reshuffle. For that's really what it is. The move was apparently aimed at coaxing the permanent secretaries into new thinking and fresh action.

But as the word reshuffle suggests, the government's decision is nothing short of a wild and hopeful gamble to stimulate damp wood to stoke the fire of 'efficient and effective service delivery'. It should be viewed in the gambling sense of shuffling cards at a casino or a shebeen poker table.

President Hifikepunye Pohamba, Prime Minister Nahas Angula and their Cabinet colleagues have decided to reshuffle the permanent secretaries, hoping they will deal themselves a winning hand.

Surprise, surprise! You have used a limited number of cards, and with the same non-performing and shady faces on the cards the outcome is most likely to be the same - poor cards equal a losing hand.

It is not the first time that the Swapo-led government used "reassignment, redeployment and realignment" [the belief that any comrade is great at any job] to carry out the massive and complicated bureaucratic tasks of the State. It is a habit that was entrenched during the liberation struggle, especially in the comfort zones of donor-funded refugee camps.

Last week, the secretary general of the African National Congress, Gwede Mantashe, admitted that the mess the ANC was facing in South Africa was partly of its own making. He identified the culture of "redeploying" struggle cadres into positions they are ill-qualified to occupy as key to the poor running of the state. He went as far as to suggest that they took people "from the bush" and put them in charge hoping they'd succeed.

The sooner Swapo comes to the same realisation as the ANC, the better the ruling party's chances of staying in power much longer and the less likely that Namibia descends into the chaos that beset many African countries after the masses have become tired of their liberators' excuses and lies for failing to deliver.

Instead of "reshuffling" permanent secretaries, the politicians must go back to basics and examine whether the structures work, not just for the ruling party, but more crucially so for the voters.

As it is, the permanent secretaries are an autonomous bunch who can afford to ignore their political masters. For instance within a ministry, the permanent secretary is not administratively accountable to the minister but to the Secretary to Cabinet, first and foremost, and then to the Prime Minister and the President.

So why would permanent secretaries care much about ministers' instructions seeing that ministers can't fire them for incompetence and other transgressions; actions that can be effected easier in any non-government organisation or a business?

As it is the Office of the Prime Minister with the Public Service Commission supposedly has performance agreements with the PSes. But how will the Prime Minister hold a permanent secretary to those agreements when they are so far removed from the day-to-day functions of the individual whose work must be monitored.

Small wonder then that across the government, ministers and PSes in the same ministry are often at loggerheads. They can afford to fight with one another because each reports to a different master. When it comes to power games (which are normal in any organisation) a minister and a permanent secretary in the ministry have no incentive to work together.

If a minister had the power to appoint (and also fire) the permanent secretary, there will be better cohesion and both can equally shoulder the blame rather than is the case with the current situation of one pointing the finger at the other.

Call the latest exercise all the names you want - reassignment, redeployment, realignment, reshuffle - the changes will not stimulate "effective and efficient service delivery". Management skills and industry knowledge cannot be substituted by blind loyalty to the party.

Swapo leaders need to think long term. By continuing on the same path the party will only dig itself into a deep grave, because when the masses eventually tire, Namibians will take many years to trust and take back their erstwhile liberators. Ask Kenneth Kaunda and his UNIP party in Zambia or ask former ruling parties all over the world.

You can't win at gambling by reshuffling yet constantly dealing yourself a bad hand

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