Battle Over Govt Businesses

PLANS by public enterprises minister Leon Jooste to set up a body that will determine the fate of state-owned businesses has raised concerns that the future of parastatals will be decided by a group of hand-picked private consultants.

The consultants will run the ministry for over 12 months. The formation of the unit within the public enterprise ministry is also part of the bigger picture – the centralisation of political power over government-owned businesses.

Many ministers are set to lose the power they have over parastatals that fall under them and will play second fiddle to Jooste’s ministry, turning him into one of the most powerful ministers in the country, controlling over 60 parastatals.

Jooste announced in his budget motivation in parliament last week that he will establish a Corporate Aisory Reform Unit within his ministry. Agriculture minister John Mutorwa asked whether the unit that will only include private firms will not be too powerful since it excludes representatives from the public service. Jooste insisted that the consultants will not be too powerful.

“The corporate aisory reform unit shall be a team of experts recruited from outside the public service remuneration system and would require exemption the Public Service Commission,” he said.

The work of the unit, according to Jooste, will include research and developing international practices for the ministry. It will also decide whether some parastatals should be abolished or merged.

Proof that the unit will be running the ministry is included in Jooste’s statement that the group will provide financial, human resources, information technology, legal and supply chain management.

The ministry has budgeted N$16 million towards a programme which includes the consultants. The total budget of the ministry is N$26 million. Asked how much consultants will cost the government, the minister told The Namibian over the weekend that “I really have no idea. We had absolutely no time to submit a proper budget proposal. We may have to ask for more from the contingency”.

The unit is likely to be made up of individuals and companies for 12 months, he said.

“After that it will probably consist of permanent appointments,” Jooste said.

He also said there is nothing wrong with his ministry hand-picking consultants of the unit.

“Cabinet or other ministries are not consulted when directors or other staff members are appointed in ministries,” Jooste said.

Jooste said Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila will be involved.

“Terms of reference will be very focused so it will be money well-spent. We cannot make mistakes – it can be very expensive mistakes. Let us spend some money on the best possible consultants once,” he added.

Jooste’s new role could lead to a demotion for many ministers in terms of their influence over parastatals. For instance, urban and rural development minister Sophia Shaningwa will lose control of the National Housing Enterprise which has a N$48 billion contract to build houses while works minister Alpheus !Naruseb will lose power over strategic institutions such as Air Namibia and TransNamib.

Jooste said he will soon submit a law to ensure that there is only one centre of power- his ministry. The function of appointing parastatal board members will be moved to Jooste when his ministry gets legal powers after three months.

“They have no reason to ever feel powerless,” he said. Jooste warned that political influence in state-companies is acceptable but not political interference.

“Line ministries will be able to focus on their core mandate without being distracted by the state owned enterprises,” he said.

Jooste said the role of line ministries will be approving documents, likely to be called corporate intent documents, where the parastatal will commit to strategic goals as demanded by line ministries. Jooste said his ministry will ensure that these objectives are implemented.

Meanwhile, deputy minister of works James Sankwasa has accused parastatal boards and executives of being corrupt, tribal and full of nepotism. He said there is lack of accountability among several SOEs. He said proof to his comments is that there has not been any board member or executive of a state-owned firm who has been held liable for mismanagement of state funds.

Premier Kuugongelwa-Amadhila warned that not all the parastatals are not complying with the law and that generalisation gives a wrong perception.

Source : The Namibian