Keep BureaucratsAway From Business

To think carefully before accepting a challenge was a lesson I recently learned – dearly and embarrassingly so.

Wisdom comes with age, so I ought to have known better than to hastily accept my friend’s wager to name 10 well-managed commercial public enterprises.

At face value it should have been an easy bet, considering Namibia’s humongous number of parastatals, but when it came to actually naming public enterprises delivering on their mandates – without great cost to the taxpayer – I failed dismally.

I should have known better as hardly a week passes by without a public enterprise featuring in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Or the finance minister’s annual budget presentation is never without millions allocated to public enterprises facing financial collapse.

So, foolishly, I lost the bet.

Bureaucrats have an important role, and it is not in business, but as civil servants rendering exceptional public service.

Following complaints of suboptimal service delivery, as a corrective strategy the Namibia Institute of Public Administration and Management (Nipam) was established.

Nipam started operating on 25 February 2011 with the mandate to transform the country’s public service through improved management, leadership and professional competencies, as well as by fostering a climate of purpose, values and professionalism among public sector employees.

In short, Nipam exists to provide administration and management training, to play a coordination role in partnership building, to engage in operational research, to evaluate capacity in the government’s bureaucracies and to serve as a public sector think tank.

Has Nipam delivered on this mandate by transforming the bureaucratic and form-filling mindset of Namibia’s civil service?

It was never going to be a walk in the park for Nipam, but reports indicate there have been significant service-level improvements at ministries such as home affairs and finance – possibly others too.

Establishing stand-alone agencies and authorities such as Namra and Bipa was a smart move on the part of politicians and public sector decision-makers.

Bureaucrats at all levels at those entities have clearly made the needed mindset change.

They are polite and ever helpful – even going out of their way to guide and assist.

Resultantly for most nowadays, dealing with tax, customs and excise matters and registering a business, or renewing its legal status has indeed become a walk in the park.

It is no longer like attempting to conquer Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro.

Kudos to Nipam and other entities who may have facilitated the improvements.

As for my inability to win a bet by naming 10 well-performing commercial public enterprises …

If shutting down public enterprises or transferring activity from the public to the private sector is not the panacea, as evidence shows it isn’t, what then is the way forward?

Public enterprises are important as an economic development strategy and in terms of service provision in a small economy like Namibia – especially in economic sectors where such services are unavailable – and as wealth and job creators in undeveloped geographical regions of the country.

But, like any business entity, it starts with the leadership’s focus and the management’s performance and accountability, and trickles down to the entity’s staffing structure.

There really is no place for bureaucrats in business, and neither should public enterprises become a place to recycle or park underperforming politicians, or a way to supplement the income of buddies.

  • Danny Meyer is reachable at
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