Statistics are a vital engine that drive the development of a country as they reflect what happens on the ground. It is through them that leaders, policymakers, researchers, investors and other concerned parties base their fundamental decision-making, which in turn has an impact on the livelihoods of the citizenry directly or indirectly.
Early this year President Hifikepunye Pohamba launched the results of the Housing and National Census. It was clear then, the President was impressed by the statistician-general, Dr John Steytler, who heads the National Statistics Agency (NSA). Given the data in the public domain, it is evident the NSA goes all out to ensure the public can access statistics as and when it needs them. At the time of writing, plans were at an advanced stage to launch the Agricultural Census whose results are expected around November 2014.
To its credit, the NSA has scored a first by launching a clean annual report and an unqualified audit report after only a year in operation. What can one say about an organisation that has transitioned from being a mere department - Central Bureau Services (CBS) - at the National Planning Commission (NPC) to a fully-fledged organisation with a board of directors, a management team and competent staff complelent in just 12 months? Talk about building a plane while it flies!
But how has it achieved this milestone, so early? Its chief operations officer, Osias Kaakuha, shares...
PF All seems to be phenomenally well at NSA; what is the magic wand here?
OK:As much as I ascribe to a number of components that have played a role in achieving the milestone, it all started with laying the right foundation, The components include:
A visionary leader with a passion for national economic development planning and the role that quality statistics play in the realisation of national development programmes. I am referring to the NPC director-general, Tom Alweendo who is also the Minister of Statistics [as per the Statistics Act No. 9 of 2011].
The promulgation of the Statistics Act No. 9 of 2011 by our Parliament.
His appointment of a professional, multi-talented and very supportive board of directors with members drawn from different professions who clearly understand their complimentary roles and demonstrate this to the fullest.
The attraction and selection of a modern, able and transformational leader that is Dr Steytler;
The absorption - through a competitive and transparent process - of competent, qualified and appropriately experienced team from the former CBS;
The adoption and effective implementation of the strategic and business plans;
The crafting and adoption of critical operational policies to guide the operations of the NSA while ensuring compliance to the SoE Governance Act.
Let me not wax lyrical as all these components, as a collective, are all critical in laying the conducive platform upon which the NSA thrives.
PF: How has the transformation journey been so far?
OK:Allow me highlight certain aspects on the purpose of the Statistics Act in response to your question. It is to provide for the establishment of the National Statistics System; to establish the Namibia Statistics Agency and its board of directors and to provide for their powers and functions.
This basically says the NSA was established from scratch as the CBS ceased to be a department at NPC. We signed a secondment agreement with the NPC with respect to the CBS staff. This would ensure statistical activities continued while the NSA machinery was being put in place.
Setting up an organisation of this kind is challenging but I have to say the support we have since received from the NPC, as a line ministry, has been tremendous. This has been through budgetary allocations, the donation of assets (vehicles, computers and office furniture), as well as the secondment of staff to the NSA. The hands-on support we have enjoyed from our Board can also not be translated into words. It thoroughly reviewed the policy frameworks we had crafted to kick-start the process. We had specific deadlines, as per the secondment agreement with the NPC, to honor.
Firstly, we crafted our strategic and business plans, followed by the development of an organisational structure benchmarked against comparative statistical offices while taking into account national needs. This was followed by a process that entailed designing job descriptions for positions on the structure, which was then followed by filling in those positions. We concluded the process by the end of March this year, as per the agreement. The staff commenced duty on the 1 April, 2013.
PF: Given the accolades under your belt, which are the biggest achievements that contribute to making your presence felt in Namibia and beyond?
OK:I take it the accolades in this instance are with direct reference to the NSA? Focusing on making a difference locally, I would want to highlight three pillars captured in our Mission Statement to which we want our statistics to ascribe to. They are;
Relevance– a direct response to the needs of current and potential users;
Quality– refers to accuracy, comparability and accessibility of our data;
Timeliness– this is the time lag between the release date of our data and the target date as per our Advance Release Calendar, which is in line with international practices.
We comply with these pillars to become a high performance institution in statistics delivery [as per our Vision Statement].
Namibia is part of the international umbrella of statistical organisations and has to adhere to international standards in this regard. We have started forging strategic alliances that would allow us to learn from other statistical offices. These include - but not limited to - Statistics South Africa, Zambian Central Statistical Office and German Federal Statistics Office.
We aim to be the “Beyonder” statistical office in Africa, with comparable standards to international players. “Beyonder” is a term popularised by a world-renowned Creativity Coach called Dr Kobus Neethling who aims to inspire companies to move from the ordinary to ‘the next level’.
PF: How do you intend to keep the momentum you have so far set?
OK:As an institution, we aim to keep the promise of commitment, as it justifies our existence. As we strive to meet our mandate, we are primarily guided by the Act, which championed the establishment of the National Statistics System comprising statistics producers, respondents, users of statistics, researchers and training institutions.
We are also guided by two living documents - our strategic and business plans. These important documents that capture our commitment to the public are approved by the Board.
We will continue conducting annual consultative workshops to monitor our performance as an institution with users and producers of statistics. We strongly believe all these structures will ensure we continue to deliver our services timeously while ensuring our relevance to what goes on on the ground.
PF: How vital is statistical data in championing development - be it in the private or public sector?
OK:Statistics are a vital tool in planning because they provide the evidence required to make reliable and sound decisions. Statistics provide the much needed benchmark for the impact of development initiatives, so that measures are undertaken to address or improve issues.
Moreover, statistical methods can assess available resources, which are essential for formulating and implementing effective national development strategies, either for individuals or for businesses. They also serve as a tool used to monitor the ongoing progress (or regress) and adjust the process to improve the system to achieve the ultimate goals.
PF: Let’s talk about statistical literacy; how eloquent are Namibians in translating data beyond quoting figures to sound “statistically smart?”
OK:The NSA is very committed to providing access to statistics to all members of the public. However, increased use of statistics, per se, does not automatically lead to proper understanding thereof. It is becoming a fact that statistical literacy is a critical, though neglected skill, which needs to be addressed if we want to create an informed society. It should be, in my view, a prerequisite for living in a full democracy.
As part of our stakeholder engagement strategy, we are in the process of partnering with the media to unravel, simplify and enhance the process of statistical reporting. That is because the media are the link between us and the public.
PF: You are currently planning the 2013 Demographic and Health Survey, the Agricultural Census, the Household Income Expenditure Survey and the Labour Force Survey. Could you give us an insight on them, as far as their significance towards the day to day life of every Namibian and the achievement of the Vision 2030 goals are concerned?
OK:First of all, agriculture provides much needed employment and livelihood to the majority of our people and thus [significantly] contributes to national income.
In the present era of planning, a comprehensive database of the agricultural sector is imperative for planning and executing national agricultural programmes.
The Household Income and Expenditure Survey collects data on income, consumption and expenditure patterns of households, in accordance with methodological principles of statistical enquiries, which are linked to demographic and socio-economic characteristics of households.
A Household Income and Expenditure Survey is the sole source of information on expenditure, consumption and the income patterns of households. It is used to calculate poverty and income distribution indicators. It also serves as a statistical infrastructure for the compilation of the national basket of goods used to measure changes in price levels. Furthermore, it is used to update the national accounts - another statistical data-set collected by the NSA.
The Labour Force Survey presents a major step towards the systematic production of labour force information used to help realise the Vision 2030 dream. Timely collection and release of labour force statistics are a priority for Namibia because this helps monitor the impact of all policies Government has implemented that affect the labour market.
We need to generate sufficient knowledge and understanding of the size, composition and other characteristics of the labour force as it is indispensable to national, as well as regional planning.
PF: Do financial constraints hamper your efforts? How do development partners play a role in assisting NSA meet its mandate?
OK:Since we are a non-profit making SoE, we derive funding solely from Government. As such, we only received a fraction of the amount we had requested for from Government. We had a few detailed projects in our business plan we had planned to undertake but due to the budget constraints, we had to re-strategise by scaling down and postponing some.
However, there was a hidden benefit to that. We ended up focusing on the immediate capacity building of the agency to help us efficiently meet future needs. I commend our development partners for reaching out to fill in the gaps. It is notable to mention the German International Co-operation (GIZ) that funded our Data Processing Centre - Food and Agriculture Organisation ((FAO), with partial funding directed towards the Agricultural Census. I also commend the World Bank (for its technical support) and the UNFPA system (for its financial and technical support), among others.
PF: Let’s turn to your portfolio; what role do you play at NSA?
OK:As the COO, I am in charge of financial management, administration, logistics, human resources and risk management.
PF: How important is your department to the NSA as far as the human resources, finance and administration arms are concerned?
OK:The finance division oversees the budgeting process, financial controls, allocation of resources and an adequate cash-flow. The logistics and administration section arm focuses on asset management including fleet management.
The human resources division looks at recruitment, payroll administration, staff development and employee wellness. Risk management falls under the co-ordination of my office but the onus lies with risk champions per department to oversee the active observation and management of risks in their respective areas.
The role that these divisions play in the NSA cannot be overemphasised, especially logistics, given that a statistical office is logistics intensive.
PF: How do you handle issues of transparency and good governance in the management of your operations and financial affairs?
PF:The NSA established frameworks and policies that would form the basis for the strategic link between its vision and its day-to-day operations. This is because well written policies and procedures allow employees to understand their roles and responsibilities within the Agency.
These frameworks also allow management to guide operations without constant intervention. We have a number of financial policies and operational procedures approved by the Board, with which we comply at all times to make our lives much easier.
PF: Who is Osia Kaakuha?
OK:I am a boy-next-door from Otjimanangombe in Epukiro Constituency, Omaheke Region.
PF: What inspired you to be part of this team?
OK: I had always aspired to be one of the pioneers to set up the national autonomous statistical office that would ensure a national statistical system was in place. My adrenaline rushed every time I contemplated joining the NSA. I am convinced I made the right decision even though I left a great Bank Windhoek to join this Agency.
PF: The biggest lessons in life that are applicable to your role at NSA?
OK:“If you want to rise, begin by descending.” This basically refers to humility, which is a quality that can propel you to greater heights. I started as a street cleaner and rose through the ranks and I treasure those humble beginnings so much.
PF: What keeps you going?
OK:The hope and belief that whatever I do within the NSA frame helps change the lives of Namibian citizens from all walks of life.
PF: Thank you so much, sir. We wish you and NSA all the best as you strive to serve this country.
OK:The pleasure was all mine.PF