In flagrante delicto

06 June 2013
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If nothing else Minister of Health and Social Services Richard Kamwi appears to have badly compromised his position as a Cabinet minister in President Hifikepunye Pohamba’s Government.

 

Logically, it seems that you cannot serve as minister in Government and at the same time conduct guerrilla raids against one of your own Government’s leading institutions of higher learning.

That is exactly what University of Namibia Vice-Chancellor Lazarus Hangula accuses Kamwi of doing.

He alleges that Kamwi has deliberately set out to tarnish Unam’s name by badmouthing the university’s School of Nursing and Public Health in public.

At the same time, written evidence shows he has officially endorsed a proposal to establish a private university that will go up in direct competition with Unam’s School of Public Health.

In a letter to one of the promoters of the new university, Kamwi gives his wholehearted backing to the venture.

“I strongly recommend this initiative and also pledge that the Ministry will avail all its health facilities for clinical education for your students,” he says.

At the very least Kamwi has made himself guilty of singularly bad judgement because the entire proposal seems riddled with illogicalities.

This time, he really seems to have been caught with his pants well down around his ankles.

The proposed new health university styles itself as ‘Welwitchia University’ on its emblem, below an illustration of the Welwitschia Mirabilis plant.

On the cover page of its project proposal, the university writes its name as ‘Wlewitchia University cc’

Good lord in heaven, should we really put faith in the fact that a university that cannot even spell its own name correctly will provide quality education.

Professor Hangula accuses Kamwi of a conflict of interest in his dealings with regard to the planned new university, and he may well have a point.

The example people often cite is when Kamwi reportedly told students at a graduation ceremony last year that the university trains nurses “who are ill-equipped for the job”.

Many people would fervently agree with Kamwi on that score.

However, surely Kamwi as Minister of Health has the responsibility of making recommendations and proposing measures to Cabinet that that would help ensure Unam trains high quality nurses, not support a competing institution.

What makes matters worse is that the founder of the new university is one Scholastika N Ipinge – the current Associate Dean of Unam’s School of Nursing and Public Health.

In other words, the very same person, who must at least bear part of the blame, for producing what Kamwi describes as nurses “ill-equipped for the job”. Unam, perhaps understandably, suspended her from her post.

In its proposal, the promoters of the new university cite an interesting statistic.

They state that in one particular year, 3,373 students applied for nursing at Unam, of which the university could accommodate a ‘mere’ 280.

However, who is to blame for this abysmal state of affairs if not our very own Minister Kamwi if one can believe the reports.

The normal procedure, apparently, is that Unam bases its student nurse intake on the number of places the Minister of Health indicates his ministry’s health facilities have available for clinical training that year.

Hypothetically, does this mean that in that particular year, Unam and ‘Welwitchia’ would have had to split the paltry 280 places between them?

The spat between Unam and Kamwi might have one salutary outcome, in that it might open up the debate about what the role of private educational institutions should be in this country.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with Minister Kamwi supporting the endeavours of a private educational institution.

Private institutions number among some of the world’s very best schools and universities.

The people who run these institutions, and the academics who teach there, make it their life’s work to provide student’s hungry for learning with the best education possible.

In Namibia, the situation seems slightly different. The primary motive for establishing private educational institutions seems to be private profit rather than quality education.

This poses an inherent conflict of interest because whenever the objective of quality education has to compete with the often conflicting objective of profit, profit making invariably wins out.

It’s worth noting that ‘Welwitchia’ has registered as a close corporation (cc), and not as Section 21 or non-profit institution.

The temptation exists to operate as ‘degree mills’, and churn out as many graduates as possible on the conveyor belt at the expense of academic standards.

Some lower their entry requirements well below the 25 points needed for entry to a degree programme at Unam in order to push through as many students as possible, thereby maximising profit.

The temptation becomes even greater when Government provides bursaries for students at these private institutions.

We are in the unenviable position where Government expenditure amounts to 30.8 percent of GDP, making Government the biggest cash cow in town.

This creates a strong incentive for people to think up new innovative and creative schemes for milking and diverting money away from public coffers into private pockets.

This has now become the national pastime – as popular as baseball in Cuba or the United States.

The most favoured scheme after ‘tenderpreneurship’ right now seems to be the proliferating private educational institutions.

While private educational institutions might have a legitimate role to play in improving educational standards in the country, we need to proceed with caution.

Government should not splash money out on purely profit-making operations at the expense of those institutions that have high-standard education as their primary objective.

As a matter of principle, and even law, public money should only fund those institutions that operate as non-profit organisations.

If Minister Kamwi really wanted to improve the standards of nursing education, why does he not bring their training back under the roof of the Ministry of Health?

One of the most common complaints about our nursing education is that it is too theoretical and does not give our nurses the practical skills nurses need in their everyday work.

Furthermore, when they graduate and start working in hospitals and clinics, the overworked nurses in the wards are reluctant to provide them with practical training.

Not surprisingly, the experienced nurses resent those who have spent their time in a rarefied ivory tower while they toil in the pungent air of the medical trenches.

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