21 February 2018

Namibia: Minister Pushes for NSFAF Downgrade

Higher education minister Itah Kandjii-Murangi is pushing ahead with plans to turn the Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) into a department in her ministry, despite concerns that Cabinet has not endorsed the move.

The ministry placed adverts in newspapers two weeks ago, inviting consultancies to "assess the status of NSFAF".

Kandjii-Murangi told The Namibian last week that they want a consultant to assess the parastatal before merging it into her ministry.

"In order to guide the process, it is necessary to understand all aspects and challenges of NSFAF. A report will be compiled and discussed with stakeholders," she said. She added that NSFAF is engaging stakeholders to ensure that there is a smooth transition and intergration to the higher education ministry.

NSFAF was created to assist poor students with study loans, and has funded 73 400 university students over the past five years. The fund has, however, been consistently tainted by allegations of rife corruption and infighting over control of the students' fund, which at one point handled over N$4 billion of taxpayers' money.

People familiar with the NSFAF's woes said the fund was not briefed about plans to bring it under the higher education ministry.

Kandjii-Murangi said she was only able to respond today.

However, three ministers who declined to be named confirmed to The Namibian that Cabinet has not resolved to dismantle NSFAF and turn it into a department under the higher education ministry.

"Ask her to give you information on when Cabinet decided to move NSFAF to her ministry," said a source.

The source said Kandjii-Murangi should explain the benefits of putting NSFAF under her ministry, and explained that Cabinet should first decide the future of the fund.

President Hage Geingob said at his year-end media briefing last year that he had proposed to Cabinet that NSFAF be dissolved. However, he did not explain why.

Kandjii-Murangi, nevertheless, appears to have interpreted Geingob's comments as a green light to bring NSFAF under her ministry because of continued reports of mismanagement of the fund.

She said the reports prompted the ministry to investigate the fund, and how it would work better.

"As someone who is overseeing NSFAF, there was indeed a need for investigation and introspection. I believe it came out that it was better for it to revert to the parent ministry," she noted.

The Namibian asked Kandjii-Murangi after the presidential media briefing how she had decided to dissolve the fund.

"Well, the President decided," she said outside the hall at State House.

Secretary to cabinet George Simataa yesterday referred The Namibian's questions to the higher education ministry.

Presidential spokesperson Alfredo Hengari has not clarified whether Cabinet had agreed to give Kandjii-Murangi the green light to put NSFAF under her ministry.

Hengari said Kandjii-Murangi was dealing with the matter, and that consultations were still ongoing.

NSFAF board chairperson Jerome Mutumba could not say much either, since they still did not have much historical management information about the fund.

Kandjii-Murangi's attempt to make NSFAF a ministerial department could drag the fund into deeper problems.

NSFAF had a history of rife cronyism and unaccountability when it was under the ministry, as opposed to having a board which can be taken to task for failing to account for missing funds.

It was when the NSFAF was under the ministry of education that around N$1,7 billion in students fees for the period 1997 to 2013 was not properly accounted for.

The fund is also struggling to recover money owed by former beneficiaries. New Era reported in January this year that NSFAF has only recovered about N$77 million of N$698 million owed.

It is not clear whether moving NSFAF back to the ministry would improve financial management and debt collection.

The move to dismantle the fund also exposes the lack of implementation of Cabinet decisions. Cabinet resolved in 2016 to move the funding aspect of NSFAF to the finance ministry, but this was never implemented.

The Geingob administration has not shied away from shutting down poorly run and mismanaged state entities, including closing the SME Bank and the Roads Contractor Company, and abandoning the mass housing project, which was created to build 180 000 houses between 2013 and 2030.

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