Namibia’s railway parastatal, TransNamib Holdings Limited, has over the past few years been struggling to maintain operations due to obsolete equipment, lack of capital for equipment and fleet overhaul and most importantly lack of leadership, vision and focus.
The non-performance of this state-owned entity has been a source of concern to many stakeholders in the country, considering TransNamib’s critical role in economic development.
However, the appointment of Sara Naanda as chief executive officer of the entity is expected to restore TransNamib to its former self in the railway transportation sector. Already, the management is working around the clock to map out the best way forward.
Prime Focus caught up with Naanda Naanda to shed light on the road ahead.
PF: There is no doubt that all eyes are on TransNamib at the moment. Can you briefly tell us what is happening in the company?
SN:First of all, we are not surprised by the public “microscope” on the affairs of TransNamib Holdings Ltd., since we are a State-Owned entity, which gives the public the right to scrutinise what we do.
During the past year, we have been busy with plans to steer TransNamib into a self-sustainable entity. We have started with critical transformation initiatives which would evolve the Company from where it is right now, and build a growth path to achieve prudent management of resources, and improve operational efficiency and effectiveness. I am also pleased to indicate that we are busy finalising our new Five Year Strategic Business Plan, which will guide the Company’s direction in the short to medium term organisational objectives and how we plan to move away from a loss-making entity.
The transformation path will however require significant funding in order to for us to implement targeted work processes and prioritise improvement action plans, and put in place systems that will address problematic areas which have for too long hindered progress in our business operations.
PF: how do you feel about your decision to join a company which is the media for all the wrong reasons week in and week out?
SN:I am confident that I made the right decision to join TransNamib as Chief Executive Officer. I am here because I see the potential that the Company possess, and through that, I believe that I can make a positive contribution in transforming TransNamib. Despite all the reports in the media, which I believe mainly focuses on the negatives and neglects the positive aspects; TransNamib is a significant company within the economic realm of Namibia. I am happy to be here, and will aim to deliver on our key mandate as the only national Rail Transport and Logistics Company.
PF: The non-performance of TransNamib has ripple effects on the economic performance as various sectors depend on you, how are you going to put this parastatal back on the rails?
SN:As I have indicated above, we will soon be wrapping up our New Strategic Business Plan, a document that will give guidance in terms of our business operations. We are confident that these initiatives will not only be beneficial to TransNamib, but to the shareholder, the entire transport sector, communities in which we operate, and to the Namibian nation at large.
PF: People would like to know where TransNamib problems lie and if these problems can be addressed?
SN: The persistent challenges remain those related to the old equipment we are operating on and the railway infrastructure that dates back to over 100 years. These significantly affect our on-time performance and turn-around times and compromise on reliability and customer satisfaction. To be specific, we have high operational and maintenance costs due to old equipment, and the bad condition of the railway line on many sections means that there are speed restrictions which significantly delay our deliveries. As you may be aware, the railway line is owned by the Government. TransNamib is simply an operator, and we have no control on the railway upgrading and rehabilitation thereof.
We are currently engaging with financial institutions and the shareholder (Government) for funding requirements in order to find solutions to these problems.
PF: When are we likely to see TransNamib shaking off its bad-boy image and return to profitability?
SN: Our short to medium term results will define how determined we are to transform TransNamib into a highly profitable company, respected by our competitors as well as the public at large. The nation should be rest-assured that we are here with good and clear intentions to transform the Company and reaffirm its relevance in the broader Namibian economy.
PF: Despite all the challenges the company has been going through, what are some of the milestone TransNamib has achieved?
SN:Safety is of high importance in our operations. In pursuit of strengthening the efforts of eliminating accidents along the railway line, TransNamib launched the rail safety campaign, with the theme “Stay alert to be safe”, on 26 November 2013 in Walvis Bay. The main objective of the campaign is to educate people about the dangers of crossing at level crossings, as well as to raise general awareness on rail safety.
From the business operation point of view, I believe we have fared well when you take into account the condition of the equipment and the infrastructure at our disposal. There is, however, great scope for us to tap into the market, and transfer a significant number of tonnes of cargo from the road to rail in order to address undesirable congestion on our roads as well as safety concerns.
PF: Recently TransNamib signed some agreements with Transnet as well as the Polytechnic of Namibia, can you shed some light on the significance of these agreements in view of both short and long term impact?
SN: We have decided to form strategic partnership with Transnet in order to leverage on the rich experience and best industry practices that they have acquired in the rail and transport industry for over many years. The fundamental principle is for our two entities to share knowledge, skills and competencies that will significantly improve key areas of our operations.
As with regard to the Polytechnic of Namibia, we intend to mainly focus on areas of human capital training and development, research and exchange of students to acquire practical training and exposure at TransNamib.
PF: Is the government helping you enough?
SN:Rail transport services offered by TransNamib are totally indispensable to the wider socio-economic developmental agenda of Namibia. It is indeed a fact that substantial investment is needed to overcome major rail infrastructure deficiencies, in order to achieve long-term and sustainable productivity gains. Namibia undeniably needs an efficient rail network that is developed and geared around the inherent strengths of the rail mode (heavy bulk freight), but obviously in conjunction with other transport modes.
PF: What are some of the quick important facts about TransNamib often not seen in the daily life?
SN:Four quick facts about TransNamib are:-
•The railway network of Namibia dates back to 1898, and covers a total distance of over 2,600 kilometres.
•We are the most cost-effective and safest transportation mode.
•The existence and relevance of TransNamib in the Namibian economy is critical (we serve the fuel industry, construction /building industry, agricultural, passenger services and the mining sectors that have great significance to our livelihood and employment creation).
•Transporting freight by rail, as opposed to road, has environmental and broad socio-economic benefits. Rail transport is also more energy efficient than road transport, and can also achieve more significant economies of scale.
PF: What excites you about TransNamib?
SN:TransNamib is an organisation with huge potential and a great future ahead. It is in fact the only rail operator in Namibia. The company has a tremendous role to play in the economic development of our country. The sheer potential of this company excites me insofar as it can be transformed into a highly profitable entity that provides employment opportunities to many Namibians.
PF: Where to from now?
SN:We are repositioning ourselves to work smarter, and to compete with renewed determination in order to meet our targets and organisational objectives. We remain optimistic and firm to regain lost market share through our deliberate strategic interventions. Our objective is to become the preferred transporter of all bulk commodities, offering an environmentally friendly mode of transport that is both cost-effective and reliable.
PF: Thanks so much for your time.
SN:The pleasure is all mine. PF