Assessing decentralisation and local governance in Namibia @ 22

The decentralisation policy of 1997 has a glowing picture of how Namibia will look like should decentralisation reach its maturity stage. As we celebrate the 22nd Independence, Prime Focus has taken upon itself to assess decentralisation, in line with the theme ‘How close is Government to the people?’

The results are far from rosy compared to the tremendous attention the policy received on the launch. Such hype is synonymous with many Government initiatives. The voices of reason emanating from the opposition are often shot down with no room to ruminate that which makes sense. Namibians deserve answers as there is a yawning gap on the trickledown of effects; a worrisome trend in development.

It is a known fact that Government has to remain relevant and responsive to the needs of its people. At policy levels, the Government more often shoots straight in the bull’s eyes. Let’s salute it for working tirelessly to make sure policies used to guide operational frameworks are in place to make optimum use of existing opportunities while speeding up the vehicle for development.

For starters, we should give credit where it is due that Namibia, for the past 22 years, has achieved a lot compared to other African countries. One can single some achievements such as the maintaince of peace and stability, stable micro and macro-environment as well as successful capital projects. The country has become an envy and is fast becoming a model for democracy for many countries. But the pace of development as envisaged in the guidelines is moving at a snail’s pace.

If we are to call a spade a spade, decentralisation is yet to gather full steam as the current situation point to a long road ahead, yet it is not clear if the energy and drive still exists to renew the commitment and dedication toward enabling the full realisation of the concept before it becomes another monumental failure.

The historical foundation of Namibia’s decentralisation policy rests with the Constitution and the Regional Council’s Act, built on the premise of bringing Government closer to its people. This origin commands a lot of authority and prominence, hence should have been followed to the letter, thus turning plans into physical results. Sadly, the juicier part of decentralisation is yet to be realised; such findings should be sobering to all patriotic Namibians, hence the call to expedite changes to move forward.

The mind-boggling question is, has Government moved closer or further to the people or that while the concept of decenctralsaion is a noble one, does it have risks of being used as a Government baby-sitter, resulting in buck-passing should programmes and projects fail?

As the Hon Minister, Dr Nickey Iyambo, the then Minister of Local Government rightly said, “It is too much to expect that a system barely coping with daily routines of running a country should not be able to, without any major reorganisation and retooling, run such a major effort change as decentralisation.”

He might have seen it coming and it is no wonder very little has happened to date. The Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development’s strategic plan for the period 2009 -2014 is very clear and articulate on pertinent issues but one wonders the extent local authorities run their affairs to meet these objectives. If they did, our local authorities would have been models upon which others fall on.

A survey conducted by Prime Focus reveals that only two line ministries (ministries of Education as well as Transport and Works) have decentralised some of their activities to the regional authorities. The bulk of them are yet to make up their minds on which part of their ministries should be decentralised.

Any policy should have a deadline in order to monitor and evaluate as well as hold people accountable in the manner in which decentralisation rests on the whims of each ministry. Resultantly, these kill a sense of urgency for action and going about business as usual, hence undesired results.

There are different schools of thought here; one being that the process should be slow so that in the process, the implementers can use it as a learning experience to do better as more ministries come on board. The other is, it should be a radical process, then later we can trim off the fat.

The Government of course might have overlooked the nitty-gritties, which come along with the decentralisation process, which include:

• Inertia or lack of clarity on the part of the Central Government ministries was and still is an issue.
• The long-drawn legal process within which decentralisation should occur was overlooked.
• Lack of technical expertise; it is said that a position for a technical director has been existing for the past four years but there was no candidate in Namibia and in the Sadc region who could shoulder the job.
• The dynamics of relocating into the regions is not being well received as some perceive it as a demotion yet for some, the deal is only lucrative if it is a promotion, even if it means staying in the same position. It does not make sense as in essence, the process is stalled.
• Already, Government is groaning under a huge awake bill for decentralisation as it is perceived to cut down costs and inversely push up the costs as more people have to be employed while those already employed have to be trained to reach that level of competence.
• Some people loathe the very idea of having to subordinate to dual reporting on their regions and line ministries.

The local authorities, under the supervision of Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development are in a very sorry state. At present, a number of them are managed by acting CEOs as power struggles, maladministration and outright incompetence stifle the administration and implementation in the long run.

It is doubtful that these very same local authorities are in a position to handle extra duties while their current capacities disqualify them to do so.

The results and benefits thereof in the recent change of the appointment of regional governors by the regional level, to the Head of State is yet to bear fruit; some of them have already fulfilled the perception that this was a mere creation for jobs for comrades and its impact is yet to be felt. A reshuffle is looming. Be that as it may, developmental goals are suffering and targets are being missed while resources are being squandered.

The presence of Tom Alweendo as the director general at the National Planning Commission (NPC) is seen as the right pair of hands to complement Hon Jerry Ekandjo who for too long, seemed to have been fighting a lone battle to effect changes. As the NDP 4 come into effect, we await, with bated breath what strategies will be implemented for progress. We should remember that these are individuals but when will all of us throw our weight behind national development?

On overall, we should face the reality that decentralisation is sadly lagging behind and our local authorities need to spruce up their image to meet the developmental challenges. As such, there is need for urgent action to be undertaken to ensure the full implementation of the policy to the letter. There is hope among many regional leaders that the little that has been achieved is appetising and there is still hope at the end of the tunnel. PF