columnBy Gwen Lister
A STATEMENT made this week by the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Health and Social Services, Andrew Ndishishi, struck me like a sledgehammer between the eyes. Reacting to complaints about lack of provision of staff uniforms for hospital staff, Ndishishi urged patience, "as it is very difficult to find people with appropriate skills in Namibia to be able to meet our demands".
What is astounding here is the admission by the PS that this country does not have people with even the rudimentary skills required to make uniforms or sheets for that matter. This surely begs the question: what the heck CAN we do in this country?
SO Ndishishi then goes on to say that the ministry is going through a "learning process" (yes, you heard me right!) and that it would put measures in place to "enable it to attend to minor repairs and replacements" at state health institutions. The ministry would also now buy fabric in bulk following a request to the Tender Board, and would train its own staff to manufacture uniforms and other materials. Meanwhile the staff are supposed to buy their own 'lookalike' uniforms for which they may or may not be compensated; and patients at state hospitals (although not in all cases) must continue to bring their own bedding!
I recently wrote a column suggesting that the National Planning Commission (NPC) with due haste and a sense of urgency, should compile a list of job categories in which we cannot source appropriately skilled Namibians. This could serve as a guide to schoolchildren and tertiary students as to what areas of study or vocational training to undertake in order to be gainfully employed. We have a high rate of unemployment but we also have plenty of jobs that cannot be filled by qualified Namibians and even more opportunities in the entrepreneurial sector (and Ndishishi's admission proves that this is so).
We don't need scores of young adults graduating from local universities with no jobs to go to.
We need hands-on, practical people, like plumbers and carpenters and electricians and dressmakers and technicians of all kinds, and not, as the saying goes, 'jacks of all trades and masters of nothing'.
I fail to understand why such a list has not already been made available to the nation at large. The research has been done, and largely proves the point I'm making, and it could have been completed in time for registration for the current academic/vocational year, to give guidance to those who want to be productive members of society driving our progress as a competent and qualified nation in all fields, and not breed more bloodsuckers who are simply after the nearest tender or better still, exemption, to join the ranks of the exploiters and become rich overnight without having to work to get there.
But we're not going to change our trajectory as a nation (which is currently a very depressing one) if those holding the reins in various ministries or parastatals, or anywhere else for that matter, can't do their jobs properly and never have to face the consequences of their own failures. How, for example, does our Cabinet react to news such as the abovementioned apart from shrugging their shoulders? Someone, somewhere must be responsible for the fact that there are no uniforms available for our nursing personnel. Staff walking round a hospital in civilian garb (and I have seen this myself) is not conducive to a professional working environment where one is unable to tell staff from patients. Someone, somewhere must be responsible for the year-end passport debacle at Home Affairs. The examples are too numerous to list here. But these are all really very basic issues which we need to address, and no one appears to be doing it.
It is criminal that we can admit as a nation that we do not have people with the most basic skills and competencies - we are not talking about rocket science here - to keep the wheels of our economy turning and in order to attract at least a modicum of foreign investment. We need a good and qualified workforce to make things work for ourselves. Without it, we will end up with thousands unskilled and unemployed, a largely incompetent civil service and private sector, and a few hundred rich parasites with connections on top of the heap. Let's get real for once and for all as to what really matters.