Namibian Premier Nahas Angula speaks to New Era about the performance of the Government and other sectors, as well as political developments during 2007.
By Catherine Sasman
How would you rate Government's performance over the year?
If I were to rate Government's performance, I would say it was above average. I would ascribe that to the fact that the mid-term stewardship of President Pohamba has created a stable and pragmatic leadership by and large.
However, challenges remain. These are the high levels of unemployment, high levels of poverty, the high income disparity according to the household survey of last year, although there was a slight improvement.
This means that we still have a long way to go to bridge the disparities of income. The combination of these remains a worrying feature in our country especially in terms of social and economic relations. That means that we still have to work hard.
However, on the positive side, this year has seen some improvement in the delivery of services - maybe not in a big way, but efforts have been made to implement some policies.
I am talking here about the area of education; the ETSIP programme has been gradually implemented. There were some serious bottlenecks regarding the World Bank loan.
The Government has taken up a token loan from the World Bank to enable the World Bank to work with the educational sector. But the terms of the loan have taken so long to complete and now there is at least an agreement.
The sector was therefore able to distribute textbooks to schools. One would expect that the end-of-year results would improve if these textbooks had reached the schools.
As far as the health sector is concerned, there has also been some improvement, but much still needs to be done. I was shocked to learn that Namibia has the second highest prevalence of tuberculosis after Swaziland. This is terrible.
It tells us that sanitation and overcrowded-ness is a problem, especially in the shantytowns of the urban areas. There is need to have combined efforts by municipalities, local government and regional authorities to tackle these problems.
In the economic sectors, there has also been improvements especially in the area of mining. The challenge here is value addition. This year, we have been able to get a foot in the door as far as diamond production is concerned, by way of an agreed quota of diamonds to be cut and polished inside the country.
I hope that the jewelry industry will make use of this opportunity in such a way that Namibia can become a jewelry producer to attract more premium tourists.
We are also expecting the fishing sector to do better. The agricultural sector was beset by drought, but I also expect this sector to do well.
Furthermore, the Government has initialled the Interim Economic Partnership Agreement (IEPA) with the European Union.
This now means that for the next year exporters, especially of grapes and beef, can expect a windfall. But this windfall can only be realized if there is an expansion in production and export.
Tourism is doing well, and we should now look at providing additional attractions to draw more premium tourists who can pay more.
There are of course problems with Air Namibia, but a growth in the tourism sector might create a balance to the whole economy.
So, in terms of the balance sheet, we have plusses and minuses.
What is encouraging was the democratic transition [of power from former SWAPO Party president to the incumbent President Hifikepunye Pohamba] that has taken place in the country. One of the challenges in African politics is the transition of power, but the Namibian example can create a good culture, where people should not be anxious about the transfer of power.
As president of the ruling party and the Government, President Pohamba will now be in a better position to use his position to push the development agenda of the country. You can imagine the balancing act if there are two centres of power in a country. With the new arrangement, one can expect that the President will now be able to speed up the implementation of policies and development to fight poverty, and so on.
What seems to have marred development efforts is the gender-based violence we have witnessed this year?
This is very worrying. This year was really terrible. The case of the so-called B1 Butcher is very disturbing. I hope that our police are still on this case and that this criminal will be caught.
At the same time, as we approach the festive season, a time when we see an increase in heinous criminal activities, I hope that our law enforcement agencies will be on high alert and that people should be extra careful, especially the sex workers since Windhoek will be deserted, which might make them more vulnerable.
One would only hope that our law enforcement agencies will double their efforts to make sure that such crimes are not committed and that the perpetrators are brought to book.
This must have been the most negative aspect of this year.
Most investments are reported to have gone into the exploration of minerals. What has the Namibian Government done to attract more investment to the country on the one hand and to diversify investments coming into the country?
Much of the investment has gone into the mining sector, but we have also seen big investment coming in, especially in the hotel industry. The agreement between Ohlthaver & List and Kepinsky Hotels is an example. But the policies regarding land have been a big constraint.
As a result, decisions have not been made as speedily as one would have hoped. This applies to the investment of hotel accommodation of the Ohlthaver & List group.
Also, the time it has taken for the grape company in the south, the Namibian Grape Company, to be sorted out. The GIPF [Government Institutions Pension Fund] has been making losses due to the indecision of Government.
Indecision thus made it difficult for investments to be diversified in the country. But I think we are learning that we have to make quick decisions to attract investments. We must be responsive to the investors' needs.
I have spoken about the problems of poverty and unemployment; these issues can only be addressed if we diversify the economy particularly through value addition. We have to look especially at our mining sector to make sure that Namibian materials do not leave the country in raw form but that value should be added.
This must be in our national policies that require that the Government has the necessary policy instruments in place that create a conducive environment for that. Not the type of policies that established the EPZs [export processing zones]. Those proved to be not good at all. But perhaps instruments such as extra levies or taxes imposed on exports of raw products as a discouraging measure.
I was encouraged by a proposal that was made by a company that wants to add value to the yellow cake, that uranium should leave Namibia in a liquid form and not in a powdered form as is the case at the moment.
Our main constraint in this regard is energy.
This is one commodity we do not have, although there are a lot of proposals on the table, but again, sometimes it is our problem that we do not make decisions on these issues. These are things such as power agreements. We are still at the drawing-board stage as far as the Kudu gas project is concerned because of our inability to make decisions.
There is another investor who wants to put up a coal power station at Walvis Bay. Again, no decisions are being made.
We must straighten out these things so that everything is transparent, so that we can make decisions timeously for things to happen.
Why does it take so long for the Government to make decisions?
It is difficult to accurately pinpoint the problem. Is the problem at ministerial level, or is it at the technical level? It is very difficult. But as time passes, the country is being deprived of investments and perhaps the creation of jobs. This is something we will have to look at if we want to make progress in this area.
Which ministries would you say performed the best, and which the worse during the course of the year, and why?
This is also very difficult to judge in the sense that I do not run a checklist of how the ministries have been performing. But let me say that certain things did happen during the year. For example, we have seen our military contingent returning from its operations in Liberia, and we should be proud of the contribution that this contingent has made to our international responsibilities.
Namibia has earned itself a good name in peacekeeping circles. So, for example, the American Ambassador was happy that Namibia plans to make a contribution to the peacekeeping operations in Darfur. This is one noteworthy achievement.
One can also say something about the good performance of the Ministry of Finance in balancing the economy. The macro-economy environment was reasonably well managed.
And I am not passing any judgment, but merely reporting on what has happened.
The National Planning Commission has also worked very hard. I hope that during the coming year the Millennium Challenge Account, which is designed in such a way to develop our resources, will address some of the issues we are dealing with in the country, especially in the areas of education, transport, tourism, and so on.
But most of us should pull up our socks.
The decentralisation process has proved to hold many challenges for the Government. How has the Government dealt with these during this year?
The decentralisation process proved to be one step forward, two steps backwards. For this year, I have not heard anything new from the decentralisation front from what has happened before.
I think it might have to do with the kind of decisions that have been made in terms of the kind of power to be devolved to the regions and the capacities of the regions for the development of the regions. There is also a lot of inertia as a result of these issues, so much so that the decentralisation process has more or less come to a standstill.
At local authority level, it is also a question of power: what sort of power should elected officials have as opposed to that of executive officials. I hope that the Ministry of Regional and Local Government and Housing will deal with this issue so that there is a clear demarcation of responsibilities.
The lack of resources is also a problem at local authority level. At least we do have the regional and local authority trust, but I am not sure how much money is there to help these institutions to deliver services. That is part of the problem.
Would you say that the country needs to go back to the drawing board regarding the decentralisation process?
It has to be revisited somehow so that we are all clear of what powers are to be devolved to the regional councils and local authorities. And resources will have to follow those powers.
The Government has long-term goals in the form of its national development plans. But what were the immediate goals, in terms of service delivery, access to health facilities, and so on?
In some sectors, yes, in others not. Let me just state the problem here: we have Vision 2030 and national development plans that are supposed to translate that vision into a workable programme.
Also, these national development plans are supposed to inform the mid-term reviews. But these have not been synchronised properly. When we reviewed the NDP 2, it was clear that a lot of things have not been done because there has not been proper synchronisation between the medium-term financial framework, which informs the budget, and the actual development plan. There has been a mismatch.
But I am happy that the NDP 3 is designed in such a way that it provides possibilities for inter-sectoral coordination and collaboration, which was one of the problems in the past.
I hope with the new integrated planning approach that the medium-term expenditure framework is fully informed. And perhaps then we will see measurable changes. For now it is difficult to see measurable changes unless those stand out by themselves.
It cannot be said that some of the NDP 2 goals have not been attained because there are not enough people to do the job. In fact, some critics believe that there are too many ministries and that the Government is bloated?
Sometimes it is a question of leadership. You cannot achieve much if there is no leadership. From my experience in big ministries like the Ministry of Education is that it is a few people who make things happen. It does not come down to the number of people. But if you have a few competent and committed people, you will go a long way and achieve more.
Are you then saying that there is a lot of deadwood in the ministries?
I suspect that there is a lot of deadwood in the public service. People are not bringing out the best in them. Perhaps we should consider a kind of reward system for those who go the extra mile.
I'm not referring to an increase in remuneration, but some form of recognition, or to have a system that can identify competent people for promotional purposes rather than using other criteria. That would stimulate people to do things.
But would you say the Government is bloated?
The Government is bloated for good reasons. The former Prime Minister [Hage] Geingob came up with a policy of right-sizing the public service to deal with the crisis of the ex-combatants. Eventually, he came up with the Peace project, which was aimed at absorbing these people into the public service. So, the public service became bloated. That is known.
I am saying that as much as we have numbers [in the public sector] they do not necessarily translate into competencies or commitment to bring about measurable outputs. This is one of the problems.
In the same vein, would you say that there are too many ministries, and if so, which ministries could be scaled down or be done away with all together?
The most important thing would not be to do away with ministries, but rather to get ministries to work in clusters like they did when designing NDP 3. Likewise, it would perhaps make sense to have a senior minister that coordinates the work of those ministries that form a cluster.
There has been a lot of political tension in the ruling party. Do you think this has filtered through to ministries and has affected the way in which ministries worked over this year?
Not really in a discernable manner. Transitions are like birth pangs. The sad part of it is that we sometimes see animosity. It is not supposed to be like that. Difference of opinion is very healthy. If we start thinking like each other, there will not be any development. Differences are supposed to be channelled into productive energy.
Unfortunately, we have allowed for our differences to become antagonistic. In my view, we should not have allowed this to happen. Differences are there to be managed, just like diversity.
In terms of government operations, it might be too early to judge. But we should look to see how this has affected development in the regions; have people been able to collaborate, to listen to each other, have they been able to work together? Or have the differences become so antagonistic that people have not been talking to each other? We will have to watch this especially at the regional levels.
At the central level people will be more careful. I am not worried about governance at the central level because there are rules and regulations within the Public Service Act and the Namibian Constitution.
How is the Government managing intra-party relationships?
Government's actions are informed by the Namibian Constitution, which is very clear. Every Namibian has the right to belong to, or to form or propagate political ideas as long as it is done peacefully.
There is a tendency emerging, however, whereby our democracy - for lack of a better word - is being 'bantustanised'. People are going back to Bantustans, form parties on an ethnic basis. This is unfortunate when we fought tooth and nail against Apartheid.
People tend to group themselves in relation to their language or ethnic groups. Unfortunately this is what seems to be happening even in a progressive party like the SWAPO Party. It would appear as if we have lost our ideologies.
Growing up in SWAPO, these are the things that were not even allowed to be thought about. Some of us were brought up in the tradition of 'Namibia first' and to look at people in terms of what they can bring to the table, and not in terms of where they come from or whether they speak my language. This is a very foreign thing to the SWAPO tradition, but unfortunately, we have degenerated to that.
When we went to the [fourth SWAPO Party] Congress, people wrote me off because I did not form part of any clique. They thought that I was finished. I said I'd rather be finished than to be part of any clique. I want people to support me for what they think I stand for.
I am totally and bitterly opposed to clique politics. I think the newly elected leadership of SWAPO should think how the party can return to its traditions, which shunned tribalism and racism.
We might have been diverted by material benefits but we should pull our ethnic groups together to attain political power. Thinking in narrow ethnic terms is very unfortunate; it will destroy the country for sure. This is how the Ivory Coast was destroyed. In the short term it might look attractive, but in the long run it is very dangerous.
Having said that, how has the Namibian Government fought not only corruption, but also tribalism and nepotism within its structures?
The Government has institutions in place. If people feel aggrieved, they can go to the Ombudsman or the Anti-Corruption Commission. If these fail, people can go to the courts. The Namibian institutions are built around the concept of checks and balances.
What are Government's projections for next year?
Well, as we are saying in SWAPO, hard work. We will start implementing NDP 3 and considering the fact that we will have general elections in 2009, I expect the Government to act as a slave driver to make things happen.
My message to the Namibian people as they enter the festive season is one of peace. Also as people go to their villages, they should help rural economic development. Those going to the coast should play it safe. I hope people will come back more energized to make a difference.
New Era Reporter
2007-12-21 00:00:00 | 12 years ago