It has become common in Namibia to see senior public figures slugging it out in public, the latest being the public feud between health minister, Bernard Haufiku, and his permanent secretary, Andreas Mwoombola. Last year, around this time, Namibia was absorbing the shock of a public spat between lands minister Utoni Nujoma and his then deputy Clinton Swartbooi. The fight between the two was so big it could not be confined to their ministry’s corridors as it blew up in parliament chambers where Swartbooi fired salvos at Nujoma, calling him an ‘idiot’ in full view of TV cameras. Also last year, ministers Bernard Esau and Pohamba Shifeta differed sharply – and publicly – on the issue of marine phosphate extraction. The message that emanates from these feuds, at least at the face of it, is that government is divided and can therefore not effect development amid such sharp differences. It is like having one government agency promoting gay marriage, while another is advocating for free birth. This sends out an incoherent message about what exactly that government wants as it is not clear whether it is pushing to increase or decrease its population. In the case of the ministry of health, the allegations that came to the fore are pretty serious. It is not our place to point fingers at who exactly is at fault, but details that have surfaced so far are pretty self-explanatory. As if the alleged irregularities were not enough, matters are exacerbated by the feud between the minister and the permanent secretary – the ministry’s two most critical officials. Our public health sector is already crumbling under a heavy load of challenges. From lack of key personnel and equipment to skimpy medical supplies, problems befalling that ministry are baying for a crisis level. The situation is in sharp contrast to Harambee, President Hage Geingob’s signature rallying call, which essentially means pulling together in the same direction. Currently, Mwoombola and Haufiku are pulling in opposite directions and the ministry is caught in between, not moving either way. Haufiku this week bluntly stated that he no longer wished to work with Mwoombola, essentially asking for the respective appointing authorities to intervene by shifting one of them elsewhere. Being a medical man, Haufiku is basically begging for a new permanent secretary, knowing too well that he may not excel in another portfolio other than health. It is, therefore, urgent that something is done to break the impasse – and this does not mean calling the two men aside and asking them to simply forgive each other and return to their current offices. What would be decisive action here is to pull the two men apart, figuratively speaking, and redeploying one of them elsewhere, if not both of them. Namibia has made significant progress on many fronts in health and the escalation of current tensions poses a serious risk that could reverse the gains made. It is unimaginable, for instance, that a patient who cannot undergo an operation due to lack of anaesthetic medication in government stores reads about feuds between people who are supposed to come to his or her rescue.
2017-12-08 10:37:31 9 months ago