State-Owned Lunacy [opinion]

ONE of the most difficult facets of writing an article regularly is to avoid constant use of critical events and wayward decisions as such repetitive behaviour is quite rightly open to criticism.

Having said this, it is seemingly becoming a little difficult not to do so as so many areas have suddenly reared their ancient and previously rejected heads as a way forward – again, despite having been unceremoniously and often quite rudely kicked by the now proponents years ago. So leopards can change their spots – good!

Many years ago (1997) having been employed in an OPM unit to change government’s direction in several areas, especially finance and measurable governance, part of the job was to look at “outsourcing” suitable functions with a view to increasing efficiency in both social and economic terms. This was done in line with views expressed in the “High Level Report” meeting held in 1996 but only minuted in late 1997.

Unfortunately the recommendations and comments of that report have to remain “secret” but there was a listing dividing SOEs into moneymaking enterprises, statutory bodies and social activities. I recall about 40 members of that list that information is now in the public sphere anyway and was used to concoct (!) a procedure to take outsourcing forward in a controlled manner.

This report, when distributed, was never taken forward, especially the recommendations regarding having a reverse gear to “return to base” if things do not work out. Equally, recommendations on the use, reporting and repayment of public cash and long-term assets were ignored. The content was edited later, I am told, to allow the situation that has now arisen!

So we now have the strange situation where the then PM, Hage Geingob, having had the 5-year Central Government Agency and its woeful successor, the “Board”, returned to base for another attempt at creating outsourced entities that work!

Now with a ministry to take control of what has become a private industry! This will not work and can only work with a small, competent staff with a direct line of control from the Presidency and total over-ruling powers of decision!

In a similar historical vein of a quite obviously flawed marketing and decision-making process, we have the ongoing EPA talks (seemingly for ever!) and the bi-annual “Economic Diplomacy” get-together. The flawed EPA system which we so nearly signed up to several years ago, but did not – thanks to a brave economist who pointed out the stupidities in the press (and got fired from a parastatal) – remains unsigned (good) and diplomats, despite undoubted good intent, are still deluding themselves that in this day and age of fast money and travel, they, as a system, justify their vast expenditure.

I hope their final meeting get-together published notes will prove me wrong, but from what I hear, little new has emerged since I talked by invitation to this esteemed group at one of these meetings many years ago! Having said this, it was good to see that our MTI has managed to capture an investor to work on our dimension stone, a business due to several economic pirates, has reduced value addition so as to sell raw stone and keep the money overseas! The arrival of Finnish business is good news and let’s hope the economic sharks are kept away.

Thus I hope that our new President is showing us as a nation that he is committed to change even if it means going into political reverse sometimes, that he is committed to making our parliamentary system more active and accountable to the people and that he realises that one main driver of change is moving people in and out of power so that the political features do not consolidate into warring parties within our ruling elements.

An election that is going to see so many old faces depart has to brace itself for the new battles for position, privilege and power (meaning money). One of the first targets will be to maintain the Boards, overstuffed management cadres and fairy tale business practices so the old guys keep their hand on the till. Locking down the SOE system will be a good start! The new guys are after this for themselves now! Back to square one!

Source : The Namibian