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Opinion - The politics of fit in the recruitment process

2022-09-27  Staff Reporter

Opinion - The politics of fit in the recruitment process

Mpasi Katewa

Commentaries on Radio Wato’s Good morning programme Pindukadissected contemporary issues in the country. The weekly morning colloquial, aired a month ago, discussed the appointment of the would-be chief regional officer (CRO) of the Kavango East Regional Council (KERC). 

It was just a thought to generate regional views regarding the recruitment process of the CRO in the region. The presenters only expressed the articulation of the NBC policy of educate, inform and entertain. I give credit to these talented NBC personalities who triggered such insightful public debate. 

This discourse has in fact evoked a strong reaction among the listeners, and I was prompted to partake in this very important yet provocative discourse. This narrative is in sharp contrast with the trending conversations in circulation in recent weeks that have dominated the local radio chat shows, such as illegal fencing, the Mangettie debacle, etc. So peculiar to set the centre-stage on the bread-and- butter issue of the high levels of unemployment in Namibia – especially for the youth and women. 

Media houses report that deployments and promotions in government ministries have sparked a public outcry. Many political leaders, mainly in the opposition parties, always have disputed appointments in parliament where they seldom agree and disagree on those appointments, while the general public has discussed either their happiness or anger in shebeens or in office corridors.  Notable examples of the current elevation of senior government officials in the public service have overwhelmingly filled the public space with good news. While cherishing these appointments, Namibia experienced a sad story in which an aspirant soldier had perished in one region in the hope of securing employment in the army. There is a need to investigate the recruitment process vis-à-vis the best candidates.  This begs the question of what constitutes the best-fit candidates in the recruitment process? The relevance of this question is grounded in the rethinking of the politics of the fit, and hence the politics of the recruitment process. Recruitment by its nature is the process of attracting top talent to an organisation. In this sense, recruitment embodies the decision to hire a new employee who has the required skills, knowledge and experience. 

The article of Tooms, Lugg and Bogotch (2010) summarises the analogy of the mechanical ‘Fit Watch’. It compares the three elements of fit, which are the hours, minutes and seconds, and how they interact with each other. In simple terms, the hours represent the qualifications of candidates, minutes are the number of experiences one has, and seconds are the other additional requirements, which hinge on the social construction of reality, identity theory and hegemony. So, fit is best-understood as a recognition when all other qualifications are considered equal. 

The search for any appointment and promotion in Namibia poses many challenges. What we know is that Namibians have a lot of disagreements when it comes to employment opportunities. The recruitment process is thus purportedly based on tribalism, regionalism, sexism, etc. The fact remains that we are, in one way or another, engaging in the recruitment process where we seem to imbed in our own biases to advance our preferences. This is not allowed in pluralistic societies such as ours as it attracts the scourge of -isms and the likes. 

However, it is impractical to claim that everybody will celebrate one person’s employment or promotion at the expenses of the others, as an American adage says “only two relationships are possible – to be a friend or to be an enemy”, or “most of us do not look as handsome to others as we do to ourselves”. The reality is that the suitability of the candidate in the public sector is not only determined on how a candidate has fared in the interviews, but how the candidate is known by the would-be employers. 

The Namibian recruitment system is not free from controversy. This dark side of the fit is widespread in our system on how certain groups of people in our society get promoted at the expense of other qualified applicants. Most strategic positions are always targeting friends, family members, those from a certain political inclination – thus the famous slogan of “post reserved for comrades only”. It is the sense of being part of ‘comradeship’ that distinguishes the best fit from misfit applicants. It is, therefore, not surprising to see how the results of interviews are being challenged right after the process had been concluded. 

In recent months, the wheel has turned around. We have seen the hot debates by the parliamentarians on the vacant post of an electoral commissioner. The City of Windhoek and Walvis Bay are still wrestling to hire the best fit for the job of CEO. Moreover, we have witnessed the academic leadership squabbles between the two academics at NUST, a confrontation that ended in a court ruling. 

Some regional councils are up to now still in search of the best-fit CRO. The high wall between CROs and their bosses remains defiantly intact. There is the unspoken, pervasive tension between them, but there seemed to be little effort from the line ministry to bring the two parties together. Of late, we have learnt about the sudden resignation of a CRO owing to political interference.  The appointments of high commissioners and ambassadors a few years ago made some segment of the population to feel left out. All in all, poor service delivery in government institutions is attributed to the delayed appointments of these critical senior government officials. 

As the clock is ticking swiftly for the appointment of the third CRO of KERC, the process of recruitment has reached the complicated stage - selection of candidates. While the majority of candidates are spending limitless hours visiting libraries and accessing other depositories in search of knowledge to make themselves the best candidates, others are irrefutably preoccupied with sacred activities of the churches, where they are seeking blessings to secure this important post. 

And as the selection reaches its apex, everyone in the council sits with the small suitcases full of the names of the candidates of their choice. Politicians are seemingly in a serious political business for headhunting the best candidate. Other political gimmicks such as informal engagements and secret meetings are taking place to reach a quick consensus before the closure of the advert. The whole arrangement presupposes the perpetuation of the politicians’ micromanagement over the appointed CROs.  But for personnel officials, the recruitment process is within the realm of strictly the Regional Councils Act 22 of 1999, as amended, read in conjunction with the Public Service Act 2 of 1980. At this time, they are busy selecting and short-listing the potential candidates, proposing the names of the possible panellists, and eventually inviting candidates for the interviews. 

It is highly unlikely to predict the extent to which the outgoing CRO will play a role in the recruitment process, as some politicians would suspect that he might jeopardise the outcome of the interviews. His exclusion in the process is obvious. Hence, as some people say “people are not hired in the interview rooms; they are hired somewhere else’. 

With the closing date of the departing CRO’s post fast approaching the 11th hour, all eyes are there to see many candidates from different regions, different races, males, females, young, old, lesbian and gays vying for this position. The CRO-in waiting must be a vibrant civil servant, a well-qualified one with a strong academic background, a wealth of experience in local and regional governance, and with a clear vision for the region.  Regional councils need a radical recruitment intervention in terms of interviews. I am inclined to argue that since this post is the highest post at the regional level, all potential candidates must present their vision, followed by open interviews. Through this, CROs are seen to be the change agents for policy renewal and transformation. And we are so eagerly looking forward to the good news as to who will ascend to the throne as a principal advisor and accounting officer of the regional council for the next five years.   cTooms et al are very clear about the contestation of the best-fit CRO. It sounds accessible in my view that those selecting the new CRO from the pool of equally qualified candidates must go beyond the lines of ethnicity, gender, geographical location, sexual identity and age of the candidates. It is simple to cement a ‘sine qua non’ of a good working relationship between the new CRO and their political leaders, as poor relationships have weakened the productivity levels in the councils. 

The time is NOW for the appointing authority to decide and perpetuate whichever values they choose under the guise of crafting who the best-fit CRO is. Their ultimate decision will tell who the best fit for the job is to take the mantle – male, female, black, white, San, from Teams Swapo or Team Harambee? As they say, let the best person seize the winning opportunity. 

2022-09-27  Staff Reporter

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