The Namibia Student Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) Act No.26 of 2000 came into being and operational in 2000, replacing the Public Service Bursary Scheme whose purpose was to train people to work solely in the civil service.
NSFAF was then established in 2013 as a parastatal in order to provide financial assistance by way of study loans to all needy full−time Namibian students enrolled at recognised higher learning institutions. This means that from 2000 to 2012 NSFAF was operating as a directorate under the ministry of education.
The focus of NSFAF is to serve the needy students in certain prioritised fields of study. The reason why government created NSFAF as a parastatal was that it had no capacity or could not be capacitated to handle the magnitude of the task of serving all needy Namibian students. NSFAF as a parastatal enables government to ‘spearhead fields where the need for qualified staff is greater in terms of fulfilling Namibia’s human and economic development needs, or where economic growth will create employment opportunities’. Currently, the NSFAF student population stands at approximately 45,000.
There are now calls from various higher education stakeholders to re-integrate NSFAF into the ministry of higher education. Amongst those who have pushed for this move include some members of parliament, the Namibia National Students Organisation (NANSO) and the Office of the President.
There were serious concerns that eventually led the president, Dr Hage Geingob to recommend to higher education minister, Dr Itah Kandjii-Murangi to return NSFAF to being a directorate in the ministry. The first reason was the strained relationship between NSFAF management and its board, resulting in students and higher education institutions experiencing serious service problems from NSFAF since it became a parastatal.
The assumption being made is that returning NSFAF to the ministry will give the minister power to call the Fund to order. The decision was also prompted by NANSO who accused NSFAF of mismanaging student funds. NANSO also raised many concerns over the operations and management of NSFAF, which include the delay in the processing of new applications, recalling of award letters, delayed payments to students and institutions of higher learning, lack of sound institutional management, transparency and accountability.
There were also many allegations of corruption and misallocation of funds including nepotism and cronyism resulting in the funding of undeserving students.
Looking at these reasons, one wonders whether this is sufficient reason to revoke NSFAF’s parastatal status and making it a directorate. When NSFAF was a directorate in the ministry of higher education it did not have any systems in place to ensure efficiency and transparency.
Evidence then showed that it was not feasible to operate the fund as a directorate. This lack of capacity is proved by the fact that even the loans worth N$1, 65 billion which were awarded cannot be recovered to date due to poor recordkeeping in the then directorate.
It was reported that the latest NSFAF audit report shows that the institution failed to account for more than N$2,7 billion between 2009 and 2010 – a period during which it was a directorate.
The rationale of the government establishing NSFAF as a parastatal is justified by many reasons. Firstly, NSFAF as a parastatal provides this huge strategic needy student loan or grant service in the form of a scheme of which usually a private entity or government department is unable to provide.
Secondly, NSFAF was established as an autonomous secretariat in order to increase loan recovery. As already mentioned, before NSFAF was a parastatal approximately N$1, 65 billion loaned out can still not be traced 10 years later.
The other reason for establishing NSFAF as a parastatal was to address special social needs. The underprivileged cannot afford higher education and the government through NSFAF was able to focus on funding only the needy students to study in prioritised fields which are vital to the human resource development of the country and at the same time redressing the social imbalances.
Through NSFAF the government takes care of this sensitive responsibility of funding the needy students, of which a directorate under the ministry might fail to focus on because of many other responsibilities it has.
The funding of students requires a large initial capital and a huge annual budget which can only be taken care by an autonomous entity. Also, the creation of NSFAF as a parastatal created many employment opportunities for the poor. As a parastatal NSFAF was meant to provide this service which has very low or no returns because the majority of graduates become jobless after studies and come from very poor backgrounds, therefore the probability of recovering the loans from them is close to zero.
There could be many more reasons why NSFAF was established as a parastatal but the underlying rationale was that under the line ministry, there was never going to be efficiency and capacity to manage such a huge fund.
The ministry of higher education is already overwhelmed by its current responsibilities – primarily steering the higher education system. They should continue to be the ‘referee’ of all the affiliated parastatals such as the Namibia Qualifications Authority (NQA), National Council of Higher Education (NCHE) and Namibia Training Authority (NTA) as well as, educational institutions including University of Namibia (UNAM) and Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST). It should not become a ‘player’ and a referee whenever anything goes wrong in all these organisations.
Obviously, the reasons why NSFAF was established as a parastatal outweigh the reasons why the government would want to re-integrate it back to line ministry.
It is not the establishment of NSFAF by government which failed. The reasons why NSFAF was formed is still valid. So it makes perfect sense not to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’.
New Era Reporter
2018-09-05 09:20:09 10 months ago