With Namibia pushing for development in all sectors to contribute to the Presidents Harambee Prosperity Plan, Social Security’s (SSC) new Executive Officer (EO) Milka Mungunda has outlined strategies set aside to make sure that every Namibia has access to pension fund and all benefits offered by SSC. This month, Prime Focus Magazine’s Editor, Penda Jonas Hashoongo and reporter Rosalia David sit with the Executive Officer of SSC to discuss SSC’s role in the development of Namibia.
Prime Focus: What is your strategy in making sure that benefit claims are made easier in the future?
Milka Mungunda: Our strategy is to widen the network and make sure that everyone has access to all Social Security benefits. We also need to set up more offices across the country to make sure that every beneficiary can reach out to us and be able to consult us.
Prime Focus: How does the Social Security Commission ensure effective governance for the enhancement of the coverage and effectiveness of benefits?
Milka Mungunda: In terms of effective governance, we will have to preview the social security act because, in some instances there are quite some provocative aspects of the act and then we can improve the governance. The other thing is, we will continue to build more offices in the regions and not just offices but settle lite offices, so that we can have much greater impact. However, we are also looking at our internal processes so we can see how we can improve on the governance from inside, so, there are a number of strategies we are putting in place to mostly and importantly improve on the governance side.
Prime Focus: As a commission that deals with benefits, what challenges are you facing at the moment?
Milka Mungunda: The challenges are to do with access to information and compliance of the Act to those who have access. In addition, Namibia is a vast country and reaching each and every corner is also a problem. We have noted that there are employers who have not registered their employees, and some employers who have not registered with the SSC as required by law. Some employers only approach our offices once they realized they need to pay their employees or they are faced with court or labour action.
Prime Focus: As a new CEO what is your plan in making sure that the Commission is one of the best run institutions, and also becomes a leader in corporate social responsibility?
Milka Mungunda: The first thing is to get the buy in for both stuff and the stakeholders and the second thing is to, look at the challenges and see how we can overcome those challenges and come up with improvements, because there is quite a lot of improvement that needs to be done. Although SSC has reached a high level of good governance, we need to move forward to the next level by looking at improving benefits or enhancing the members benefits as well as looking at a lint structure but yet which is affective.
Prime Focus: How accessible is the commission to the marginalized communities in future?
Milka Mungunda: The mission is to improve the welfare of our members and beneficiaries by providing comprehensive social protection to all. Taking SSC to all corners of our beautiful country is our primary goal. It is our wish that all Namibian citizens have access to our benefits and that we are represented everywhere and accessible to everyone in the future. Currently we have close to 14 offices countrywide but that is not enough. In short, we are in the mission of extending coverage and make ourselves relevant and fulfill our mandate
Prime Focus: With effect from 1 July, mothers on maternity leave were set to begin receiving a 24% increase in their social security benefit from the then current N$10,500, which also included an increase in sick leave and death benefits, what prompted this development?
Milka Mungunda: What prompted this development is the cost of living, the cost of living is quite challenging everywhere and we have realized that, for quite some time we have not been doing any improvement. So we thought of looking at the cost of living and coming up with strategies to assist members. We then looked on the fund’s performance and through that we propose enhancements to various benefits falling under the MSD Fund.
Prime Focus: We understand that an N$43 million fund has been set aside to establish maternity waiting rooms at hospitals at Outapi, Katima Mulilo, Rundu and the Aussenkehr, at what stage are you with this project?
Milka Mungunda: When lady Pohamba was the first lady, she actually realized that there is a need to accommodate and protect women who goes to hospitals to deliver and social security as a company responsible for providing maternity benefits, we got ourselves involved. We then pledged about N$ 40 million to assist with the setup of this shelters. They have already started with the shelter in Outapi and we are going to continue with Katima Mulilo soon because we already have property and land available. In Rundu they are still trying to get land. There is also going to be a health center in Ausenkehr and very soon we are also going to start with the shelter. So, there are some structures set up, however, they are not completed and that is how we as SSC comes in this projects. Ones all the mentioned above are completed we will hand them over to the ministry of health.
We have also put aside N$3 million to assist the Ministry of health with sonar machines and we have already allocated the tender. I think if they are not delivered by now they should be in the process of being delivered by the ministry of health.
Prime Focus: The SSC’s principal purpose is to administer the Funds meant for a multiplicity of benefits, what your stance on corruption?
Milka Mungunda: We need to start looking at where exactly are the loopholes, identify them and close those loopholes and make sure not to tempt people to be tempted to corrupt and by educating people especially the stuff that commit to corruption. However, corruption does not really pay in the long run and I think we should concentrate more in building a company, processes and how to improve the processes and not to open up for people to find loopholes.
Prime Focus: Are there any plans to increase the number of state hospitals in the country since the few that are there tend to be overwhelmed?
Milka Mungunda: As much as I acknowledge and share the same sentiments with you on the shortages of state hospitals, let me start by stating that it is not in the mandate of the Social Security Commission to construct hospitals. Our core business is to provide a foundation of social protection on the principles of solidarity for workers in Namibia and their dependents in respect of earnings replacement due to contingency arising from maternity leave, sick leave and death and work related disabilities, injuries and loss of employment. To come closer to your question of whether there are plans to construct hospitals the answer will be no.
Prime Focus: The commission’s board chairperson Johannes !Gawaxab at the beginning of the year further announced that the commission also had plans to purchase delivery beds worth N$3 million in collaboration with the ministry of health, has this been carried out and how has it made a difference to the bed shortage?
Milka Mungunda: The purchases of delivery beds form part of the package through our corporate social investment initiatives of providing or rather constructing maternal waiting rooms for expectant mothers. The Ministry of Health indicated to the SSC that such beds should be replaced by state of the art sonar machines which will then be used in this envisaged waiting rooms. In short SSC will be not be purchasing delivery beds but sonar machines to the value of 3 million.
Prime Focus: The commission has also reviewed and adjusted the Employee Compensation benefits and medical aid tariffs payable to various medical service providers, has the labor ministry approved this tariff so that it can be gazette?
Milka Mungunda: The Commission has reviewed and provided proposed adjustments to the Employee Compensation benefits and medical aid tariffs payable to various medical service providers and other beneficiaries and such approval are still awaited from our line Ministry. As soon as that authorization is granted the Commission will implement the changes without delay.
Prime Focus: While at the present moment many farm workers, domestic workers and petrol attendants do not have formal pension schemes, what steps are being taken to also reach out to these vulnerable sections of society?
Milka Mungunda: In the SSC Act, provision has been made to establish a National Pension Fund (NPF) and SSC is now in the process of setting up the NPF, we have already appointed the implementation team members that are going to be involved in the implementation and hopefully within the next 18 months or less the National Pension Fund should see the light of the day and we should be up and running. So, we do have a team that is working very hard on that. The Namibian nation should be should be rest assured that SSC is working around the clock together with relevant stakeholders to make this fund implementation a success story.
Prime Focus: What is the commission’s target population for the new National Medical Benefit Fund (NMBF)?
Milka Mungunda: The Social Security Act 34, of 1994 to provide for the establishment of the National Medical Benefit Fund (NMBF). The NMBF is mandated through the SSC Act to cover all employees in Namibia, the target population will fully be determined by ongoing research and stakeholder consultations.
At this point we don’t how many members but we can assure you that at the end of the day we want most if not all Namibian to belong to this fund.
Prime Focus: Will the current economic tough times facing Namibia likely to impact the income generation of the SSC, as especially as the finance ministry is advising cuts on expenditure?
Milka Mungunda: SSC receives contributions from the members and the employers and our income is very much affected if there are no employees, so the country’s economy affect us if we don’t have employees. What we can do is just to encourage employers to provide employment because that’s where our income comes from.
Prime Focus: What steps are there put in place to expand the commission’s member base?
Milka Mungunda: If you look at some of our ECF benefits (Employer Compensation Benefits), there are some caps, for instance if you earn below a certain income then you cannot qualify or beyond so we want to increase that cap so that we can have more members benefiting from those benefits that’s how we can increase our member base. On top that we are running member’s education campaigns and attend most of the trade fairs and expos to register new members. The idea is to bring everyone under the safety net so that each and every working and contributing member of SSC enjoy equal benefits.
Prime Focus: Do you feel the commission’s reason of existence is well understood by Namibians?
Milka Mungunda: I think people understands but there is always room for improvement and that is why we embark on benefit member education using different means of mode to educate the people and inform them about SSC. In fact, the communication and marketing team is busy finalizing logistics towards the nationwide members education campaign that SSC will embarked up soon. We will arrange radio talks were we will be providing messages of news about our products and services and encouraging employers to register their employees. I believe people know and understand the existence of SSC to a certain extent. I believe the marketing that will be spearheaded by the communication team will cover all areas and entrenched SSC in each and every one of us.
Prime Focus: As a renowned executive what do you think are the challenges faced by SOEs in their quest for profitability in modern day Namibia?
Milka Mungunda: Coming from GIPF that is really not an SOE there was certain decisions that were easy to take at a board level but I have realized with the SOE’S there are certain decisions that are supposed to be taken at a higher level than the board.
As far as the legislative is concerned this are some of the things to look at and also the relationship between the SOE’s and the line ministries that relationship is intact.
Prime Focus: What are some of the challenges?
Milka Mungunda: Setting up the National pension fund and then the national medical fund is one of the challenges we are currently facing, I think those are the two major projects on the table. They are good challenges I may say. It is my firm believe that within the next couple of years this would occupy our main focus which is quite challenging but encouraging at the same time, because it is in line with the Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP) under the social progression pillar that outlines that no one should feel left out. However, at the end of the day we aim for everyone to have medical aid and belong to a pension fund. That is the positive outlook I am having for SSC.
There is a positive outlook at SSC for everyone and members are very positive both the board, government and ministries and the support we get from government is very positive and encouraging as well.