Namibia: walking in the footsteps of Singapore?

Majulah Singapura is Malay war cry referring to Singapore's confident rise into the future. In light of our own endeavours to mobilise resources for prosperity, it is necessary to summon through Singapore a discussion about Namibia's possibilities for two obvious reasons.

First, the government of Singapore is assisting Namibia with e-government. Second, a first cohort of senior officials of the Namibian government (at different levels of government) is in Singapore for capacity building courses at a Civil Service College, founded a meagre nine years ahead of our own, NIPAM.

On point two, many trips of such intentions have over the past 27 years gone unnoticed and uncommented. But the irruption of social media is opening avenues for information of that type not to pass without 2.3 million social media commentaries and opinions about national value add.

That debate is inconclusive. It is neither here nor there. But it is instructive to stress a few points, and along the road the transformational potential of these points for our public service. The 2015-2016 WEF Global Competitiveness Report ranked Singapore as the second most competitive country in the world. In the same report, Namibia is ranked at 85, achieving a ranking at 5 in Africa.

The Harambee target is to make Namibia the most competitive country in Africa by 2020. To do so, we must jump over 40 places to beat Mauritius at 46 and South Africa at 49. The 2016 Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International locates Singapore at Number 7 with a score of 85.

It is the only Asian country in the top 10, but more dramatically the sole candidate outside the Western world. In the same Index, Namibia is at 53 with a score of 52/100.

The Worldwide Governance Indicators of the World Bank, which provide a picture across 5 indicators: voice and accountability, political stability, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, rule of law and control of corruption consistently score Singapore above the 90th percentile except on voice and accountability at 52%.

Namibia on the other hand scores high on input legitimacy with Reporters Without Frontiers ranking the country on press freedom at 24 globally, and no. 1 in Africa. Moreover, the Freedom in the World 2017 report of Freedom House ranks Namibia as one of 7 free countries in Africa.

These ratings notwithstanding, a Namibian leader remarked: 'people don't eat democracy'. What he meant was that democracy is an enabler and not an end in itself. It is why prosperity through the Harambee Prosperity Plan became the first order of business.

Without natural resources, and a hinterland, the educated elite in Singapore delivered in one generation high levels of prosperity and respectability for nationals. Singapore, 52 years into independence thrives as a technology, tourism, and finance hub with a GDP (PPP) per capita of US$56,700.

The Singapore global rank makes the country a seasoned model of excellence, worthy of mimicry for Namibia. There is a caveat. Policies and institutions, unless implemented will not deliver on the prosperity mandate. People and skills matter. After all, we have the institutions and policies that have been central to the Singapore's success.

The Housing Development Board, a landmark in Singapore's social policies is the equivalent of the Namibia Housing Enterprise. The celebrated Economic Development Board of Singapore is the equivalent of our National Planning Commission.

What the officials should take home are not manuals in public sector leadership, policies, and exposure to excellent facilities and faculty. We have those manuals. But the basic ingredients and ethos explaining the Singapore success story are worth noting.

First, people through the absence of corruption as fundamental to delivering efficient public services through the twin tenets of meritocracy and pragmatism � emphasising in the process expertise in planning and execution.

The infrastructure through which Namibia's senior government officials are passing � from Singapore Airlines, Changi Airport, the ports and their extensions, the roads, the world class universities and the immaculate government buildings have not been constructed at inflated prices bleeding their treasury.

Corruption empties the public service of its efficiency, which is what the Singapore counter-model avoided from inception. Namibia should dismantle the infrastructure of corruption.

In his memoirs, From Third World to First, Lee Kuan Yew, the founding Prime Minister of Singapore narrates in the first 200 pages and more how he focussed on 'Getting the basics right', with the fight against corruption the epicentre.

Without a civil service that is geared toward high state capacities in execution of quality public facilities, our chances of becoming the most competitive economy in Africa by 2020 could be severely curtailed. It is why the learning journey undertaken with Singapore through senior civil servants should craft a new path.

Second, what Singapore has honed is not just policy consistency and technical competence but a national ideology of pulling together in the same direction. Certainly, it is a function of a hierarchical leadership.

But as I have come to observe, it is a consequence of proficiency across sectors of society. Singaporeans understand their vulnerability as a small state. A taxi-driver taking me last week to Nanyang Technological University shared with pride how the Straits Times reported on the day that both NTU and the National University of Singapore had progressed in the Times Higher Education rankings and that it was 'a good thing for Singapore'.

On this point of a nation and talking about what matters, industry, the media, politicians, academia and civil society should develop the skill to discern the unimportant from the urgent through the elimination of petty politics.

At that point of pragmatism, just like Singapore, the taxi-driver, the receptionist, the cleaner and the ordinary man on the street would have understood their contribution in our march toward prosperity.

* Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari is in Singapore as a visiting fellow at Nanyang Technological University. He holds a PhD in political science from the Sorbonne.

Source: New Era Newspaper Namibia