Kamwi Should Fire Ndishishi Whether He Can Is Another Story) [opinion]

GOVERNMENT officials reading this headline will most likely chuckle or laugh out loud dismissively, knowing that the chances of a minister firing the permanent secretary are virtually zero.

The growing tension between the two top bosses at the Ministry of Health and Social Services (minister Richard Kamwi and permanent secretary Andrew Ndishishi) is a microcosm of why in many instances our government fails to deliver even half as much as society expects despite massive amounts of money being thrown at the problems. So, where we write Kamwi, you may substitute with the name of any government minister, up to and including the prime minister. And, where you read Ndishishi, the same applies to any permanent secretary or administrative head of a government agency.

After months of denying serious shortages of medicine and other medical equipment in the country, and especially at government hospitals and clinics, the ministry this month began to acknowledge there was a growing and persistent problem. Ndishishi and the bureaucrats below him have only half-heartedly admitted the problem, while blaming anyone but themselves.

While the minister and the officials fiddled, Namibians suffered greatly as even some of the most basic medicines and other materials needed to treat illnesses ran out of stock. One reason that no one in the ministry raised or complained about was that there was no money. So, it is safe to believe then that finance minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila had given them enough to ensure Namibians have access to medicine.

Why then are important life-saving medicine and other health materials in short supply?

Minister Kamwi (for some reason) finally gathered some courage to tell the public (after The Namibian asked him to explain the apparent clash with Ndishishi). It boils down to bad management, Kamwi said, citing the “inexperienced team” that Ndishisi has put in charge of the central medical stores.

Kamwi said he has now put together a “steering committee” to solve the problem. The steering committee then “asked” the permanent secretary to “allow his deputy”, who has the experience and the technical expertise, to supervise and manage the central stores.

What news media reports don’t say is that Kamwi was put under pressure by medical doctors, whose work was made ineffective by the absence of the medicine and equipment. The doctors also pushed him to take the matter further up to the Prime Minister and the country’s President.

Kamwi told this newspaper that among his headaches are “non-implementation of decisions” as well as “inadequate management and insubordination”. These are serious issues of misconduct and incompetence. Yet, no pressure is brought to bear on those responsible except to “ask” and have Ndishishi “allow his deputy” to take corrective measures?

Amid well-deserved global praise that Namibia has tackled the HIV-AIDS pandemic with flying colours to the extent that we even pay for our own treatment and medicine, instead of relying on donor funds, the latest crisis could undo the gains. Adults have had to be placed on children’s antiretroviral medicine the dose of ARVs had to be rationed with some patients getting only a two-week supply instead of the usual one month. People who work with HIV patients fear some will default on their medication as a result of the crisis.

It appears all this could have been averted if only someone was in charge to call the shots, and, if necessary, give management the boot.

We argue that the President of the Republic of Namibia should empower ministers with the ultimate responsibility and powers to take full charge of their jobs. It does not augur well that the reporting lines are blurred.

As it is, permanent secretaries can get away with reporting to the President and the Prime Minister through the Secretary to Cabinet. Small wonder ministers complain about permanent secretaries undermining them. Small wonder, too, that the President cannot simply blame the minister for poor performance.

Yet it is the politicians who must account to the voters when services are not delivered and the government is not effective.

Take a leaf from the book of many functioning institutions: the buck must stop with someone.

Source : The Namibian