Nuyoma gears towards optimising members’ benefits

The Government Institutions Pension Fund (GIPF) has a new boss; the astute business leader and developer, David Nuyoma.

He crossed over from the Development Bank of Namibia (DBN) where he left an impeccable record to be GIPF’s Chief Executive Officer/Principal Officer in early January this year.

GIPF is a strategic institution, which manages pension funds of about 88 274 members as well as about 50 000 pensioners. Additionally, it boasts of a sound asset base worth approximately N$60 b.

Nuyoma is seemingly unmoved by the figures. His concern is more on how best the Fund can further increase its relevance to its members and the citizenry at large.

In this interview, we learn about his background and what he intends to do to fulfill his mandate at GIPF.

PF: Could you briefly tell us who David Nuyoma is; educational and career backgrounds?

DN: David Nuyoma was born in Katutura in 1963. I always say I am one of the first children of Katutura because at my birth, the relocation from Old Location was ongoing.

I completed my high school at Martin Luther High School (MLH); about 20km from Omaruru. It was a boarding school run by the Evangelical Lutheran Church. That place molded me. The school was run based on the principle of self-reliance, where the teachers (if I can call them that) were volunteers. The school had just re-opened (in 1978) after being closed for more than one and a half years following the 1976 strike in Soweto during the apartheid.

Being under South Africa’s rule also had an impact on Namibia’s way of living at that time. As a result of the apartheid regime in S.A, the MLH students demanded that they be liberated from its education system.

Hence, we escaped the Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (BOLESWA) education system -a.k.a. Bantu Education system that had been adopted for years - for what we called the ‘junior certificate’ up to Standard 8 (now Grade 10).

For the senior secondary school, the University of London system of the “O” and “A” levels was adopted. We were fortunate that the system had a strong impact on us as far as its value and weight were concerned. Self-reliance also came in handy in the sense that students had to do things by themselves. We had to look after the school infrastructure and so on.

After graduating from high school, I worked at various places in different positions including being a migrant labourer at the Oranjemund for eight months before becoming a trainee manager in the retail sector at the same town.

In 1984, I got a scholarship to study in the United Kingdom (the University of East Anglia - UEA) for a Master’s degree in industrial development [which was a new programme at the time. We were only three students partaking in it]. The UEA focused on industrial policy, strategies of industrial development and then of course, development economics. I also took up economics and other developmental studies.

I returned home in 1989 to join a non-governmental organisation (NGO) called Repatriation, Resettlement and Reconstruction (RRR). This NGO was founded by the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN) to receive exiled citizens back into the country. I was involved in its development programmes that enabled such citizens to earn an income for themselves. I must say it was a wonderful experience, however short-lived.

In 1990, I became a public servant, working for the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI). I started off at the Minister’s office before becoming the Ministry’s Chief Economist. In my position, I focused on Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Shortly after, I joined the Namibia Development Corporation before returning to the MTI as an Undersecretary or Executive Director for the Namibia Investment Centre.

When DBN was established, I was privileged to be its first CEO from late 2003 to late December last year (2012).

PF: What inspired you to join GIPF?

DN: First of all, working in the same place for ten years is quiet fulfilling. However, I felt that my mission to establish the bank had been successfully accomplished. Plus, the executive team and the key staff component of DBN are now in place, so to speak.

When I heard about the vacancy at GIPF, I considered what my services, skills as well as my enthusiasm for development could do in advancing the objectives of this great institution, with regards to the significance of its position in the Namibian economy.

Besides, I had been interacting with others within the financial services sector for a while, concerning the GIPF issue. It is my conviction that it has always been unjustifiably treated. As far as the views in the public domain are concerned, no one has ever focused much on what the GIPF does and what a great job it has done thus far. It is this negativity that got me thinking, if I joined hands with the Board of Trustees and the GIPF management, we could work on all the concerning issues and thus make a difference.

PF: Assuming that DBN was very close to your heart, given the turn of events, what did it take for you to finally walk away from it?

DN: I have contemplated on such a decision even before GIPF position became a consideration.

We had a staff meeting one day and when I listened to the presentation of my ex-co (executive committee) at DBN, I was very pleased with the quality of employees the institution has at this point in time. I was convinced that any one of them was ready to take over from me and propel DBN to higher levels.

I also considered the fact that my contract was coming to an end. So I saw it fit to move on and give others a chance to also instill a new style and a fresh approach to managing the operation at DBN.

PF: Given your transition from a N$1b-dollar entity to a N$60b asset value entity, do you perhaps feel intimidated by the tasks that lay before you?

DN: No. In fact, I try not to look at it from the value terms but from the core business side of things.

The principle, of course, dictate that we grow that value further but the task at hand is what to do with it. That is where the challenge is.

However, it’s important that it doesn’t get to our heads that we are an-almost N$60b worth company. It’s important that we rather think about what we can do and what the core mandate of this business is for it is a people’s business.

PF: Could you briefly tell us about GIPF’s mandate and what it means to an average Namibian?

DN: GIPF is a pension fund whose members are drawn from civil servants whose contributions we receive on a monthly basis depending on whatever structure there is, hence the ‘people’s company’ idea.

This institution is particularly unique in the country being the only pension fund in Namibia that has maintained a defined benefits structure. Under this arrangement the employer underwrites the Fund. In other words, should anything happen to the Fund, the beneficiaries or the members would still get their guaranteed benefits.

The benefits provision has various categories. There are normal retirement packages for when one reaches Namibia’s retirement age (60). Then there is also provision for early retirement for those who want to exit from the public service before normal retirement.

We also cater for those who have been struck by ill-health, disabled or boarded accordingly by expert medical opinions.

Not only do we provide for retrenched employees and their dependents but we also provide for the dependents of our members (especially their children and spouses and whomever the member had so desired to take over) in the case that the latter is afflicted by death.

That is the core business of the Fund. As I said earlier you hardly hear enough about all that, instead, you hear more about the Fund’s unlisted investments, etc.

PF: Could you shed some light on how you will ensure that the institution moves ahead locally and internationally?

DN: My duty is to manage the organisation, especially the staff. I am expected to mobilise them around strategic objectives.

I am lucky that when I joined this institution at the beginning this year, its five-year strategic plan was being finalised.

My role is to be the interface between the board of trustees, the key stakeholders and the executive management and to align the activities of the organisation around its strategic objectives. Of course I will also be tackling the key performance areas you mentioned earlier. We are looking into growing the Fund so that it continues to fulfill its long-term obligations.

The growth of the Fund is not just for the love of big numbers but also for the benefits of its members. We recently announced the improvement on some of the benefits and that will be a constant feature, as we intend to look at other ways to create benefits for the members.

We have come to realise that only 20% of our members have access to formal housing, hence their current outcry. Question is; what can we do about it? With that in mind, how do we make this institution be seen for what it is and not for what it is assumed to be.

Mind you, all these issues depend on how we perform; how we provide services to our members; how we respond to their needs, as well as how we project our efficiency levels, our work culture etc. That is the key ingredient of my job; how to inspire the staff to do what is expected of it and more.

I am proud to say, there are experts here who deal with pension fund issues. Whenever I assess the staff members’ service delivery, I look at their skills and levels of education and I am fully convinced that we have a good pool of workforce. What will thus make a difference depends on how we make this pool of highly skilled people become beneficial to the members of the organisation. Such are the focal areas that we look at.

In short, I intend to turn these key performance areas around. It is a matter of finding a mode of engagement with the key players (the board, stakeholders, the staff including the executive management). Once we achieve such an alignment, we will be able to fulfill all our objectives.

PF: How does the fund pursue its agenda towards socio-economic development?

DN: Allow me to contextualise that in terms of the Pension Fund Act. The Minister of Finance, through Regulation 28 of the Pension Funds Act, regulates how pension funds operate, how they are run or managed. According to that Regulation, local pension funds are required to invest part of their assets in Namibia, thus, 35% and 5% of those have to be invested in unlisted investments.

Unlisted investments are those investments made into entities that are not listed on the Stock Exchange or similar platforms. By implication, 95% of the Fund’s assets are placed on listed instruments.

In 2008 GIPF came up with a new policy to facilitate national development and curb capital flights. So far in terms of our unlisted investment policy, we have invested 720 million (N$) in the non-listed sector of Namibia in the areas of private equity, infrastructure development, property, procurement facilitation, rural electrification and mortgage financing. The Fund wishes to see domestic savings being converted into investments for broad based economic development and improvement of our people’s quality of life.

Side bar

What are your favourite past-time activities?

I like reading, especially very constructive materials - could be on science, current affairs or documentaries. I believe documentaries are a smart way of quick learning; somebody reads a well-researched educative script and then gives pictorial evidence. Interesting!

I also like history channels. I used to like the TV programme called ‘Panorama’ when I was in the UK. It had very good investigative journalism. That’s what I call journalism.

Besides that, I enjoy spending quality time with my family, especially my sons because I get to engage in a different level of conversation, which I consider very therapeutic. We never focus on work-related issues but normal social topics.

Do you have a bucket list? Care to share?

I really just focus on how to continuously empower myself with knowledge. One of the things I have always wanted do is a special course that I won’t mention now.

I, however, hope that I find time to do it in the not-so-distant-future; just for the sake of enhancing my knowledge.

I always say learning is a lifelong experience, which goes beyond the ultimate material wealth, as it’s so empowering it gives me comfort in the way I think.

Any rituals or habits?

Two things I do that often change as you grow older is physical exercise (every morning) and prayer. Before I get out of bed, I say a prayer just to thank the Almighty for the existent blessings and for those to come.

Do you have any motto that you live by?

My motto is, ‘Be what you are’. You don’t need to pretend because people can see through that. For you to achieve success, you must be disciplined, have a passion for what you do and work hard. You cannot be hard-working if you are not disciplined. Discipline is the very key ingredient of my life. PF