22 February 2013

Namibia: More Regions Will Not Improve Service Delivery


NAMIBIA is a unitary state, according to the Constitution, but at the rate we are going with the latest suggestions that the country could add one or more regions and even more constituencies, it might well become a quasi-federal state based on ethnic groupings. The country has more than 15 language, cultural and tribal groups. Its 13 regions almost pander to the contours of ethnic regions.

The delimitation commission that President Pohamba announced in January is already inundated with requests to divide the Kavango Region into two, with the Caprivi likely to be affected too. The advocates of further division of the Kavango say the region is vast and only by having smaller geographical areas can services be delivered effectively.

The Constitution dictates that the country should have no fewer than six constituencies per region and should not exceed 12. The Constitution also states that the boundaries of regions and local authorities be "geographical only, without any reference to the race, colour or ethnic origin of the inhabitants". Slicing up the country further might well lead to the unintended consequence of deepening tribal divisions rather than improving services or "bringing the government closer to the people".

But tribal identities are not the biggest concern of Namibia being divided into more and smaller administrative divisions. The very people asking that government be brought closer to them might suffer from not getting that, or the effective delivery of services. It might very well work for political reasons but not practically if the aim is to get citizens to participate in the socio-economic affairs of the country.

The economic pie (GDP) will not increase simply because the regions or constituencies are more. Many countries are bigger than Namibia (South Africa, Brazil, China, USA), both in physical size and population, yet they have on average fewer regions if population is taken into account. Carving up Namibia further could simply rob the people at the bottom of the food chain of much-needed services (both quality and quantity) as well as investments in infrastructure or other capital goods. Having 13 regions should have made it obvious to all by now that a lot of resources get stuck or are depleted in the bureaucracy, especially at the top levels, and that little is left for the bread and butter.

Nearly every structure is duplicated to "show" people that something is being done, instead of authorities finding the most effective way to deliver what is needed. The result is that resources are spread thinly and thus become ineffective. The allocation of government revenue at the moment will show that it is nowhere near equitably divided among all citizens. The calculation may be simplistic and impractical but it is an indication that the problem of poor service delivery lies somewhere else than the vastness of regions and constituencies.

One starting point will be to get back on track the stalled decentralisation process through which different leaders at the grassroots level (regional, constituency and town councillors) take responsibility for delivering the services from start to finish and not only to depend on the mercy of the central government leaders in Windhoek, whose main incentive is to keep the leash on politicians in regions.

Having more regions and more constituencies will not build a road network, for instance, that will stop a councillor in Caprivi from first travelling into Zambia in order to get to another part of the constituency because the terrain is impassable. Expanding the bureaucracy will not solve the structural problems that are the cause of ineffective or even non-existent service delivery.

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