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Cabinet holiday

13 February 2014
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We all deserve a nice holiday every now and again, but no one needs a two-month holiday. However, that is exactly how long the country’s Cabinet has been on holiday. Cabinet held its last ordinary meeting on 3 December last year and only reconvened earlier this week on Tuesday 11 February.

For these two months, the whole country virtually came to a standstill because only Cabinet can take major decisions on matters that affect the lives of citizens.

We don’t begrudge our ministers an occasional holiday, but two months seems excessive given the many pressing issues facing the country.

President Hifikepunye Pohamba acknowledged as much in his opening address at the first Cabinet meeting.

He mentioned the need to speed up his Mass Housing Initiative.

He further drew attention to issues such as poor school examination results, substandard health services and the persistent drought that still afflicts some parts of the country.

He could also have mentioned the Targeted Intervention Programme for Employment and Economic Growth (Tipeeg) that promised so much, but has so far delivered very little.

Government has gone so quiet on Tipeeg that most people have even forgotten what the acronym stands for.

With the country facing so many critical problems, it hardly seemed the right time for Cabinet to take an extended vacation.

Ministers will argue that even though they did not attend Cabinet meetings they continued with important work at their individual ministries.

That might be true for some of them, but probably not all of them.

So many things in this country cannot happen without the approval of Cabinet.

Businesses cannot have contracts finalised and State-owned enterprises cannot appoint chief executive officers.

Some of these SOEs have remained without CEOs for extended periods simply because Cabinet had delayed taking a decision on the matter.

In many ways, this is perhaps a problem of our own making because we have centralised and concentrated too much power in the hands of Cabinet.

When reading the Cabinet briefings that Government releases from time to time one finds it astonishing to read about some of the relatively trivial issues Cabinet has to deal with.

At one of its meetings, it dealt with matters like the hosting of a trade fair for SADC women in business and the report of the China-Africa agricultural forum.

Another meeting approved a logo for the Council of Traditional Leaders and the appointment of directors to the MTC board.

Cabinet should not concern itself with such petty matters. It should rather devote its valuable time to the bigger picture of broad national policy and its effective implementation.

Surely, Cabinet could have delegated the approval of a logo to a body like the National Arts Council.

The fact that Cabinet must approve the appointment of every single director and CEO at parastatals, as well as directors for all other public institutions seems absurd.

This diminishes Cabinet to no more than an HR department.

Cabinet should give the State-owned Enterprises Governance Council some teeth and delegate the task of appointing directors and CEOs to that body.

This country could have achieved so much in the 24 years since Independence if Cabinet spent less time on approving logos and doing HR work.

It could have reformed the unconstitutional apartheid and colonial era laws that remain on our statute books.

It could have reformed the Electoral Act, which might have helped us avoid the current mess with the voter registration process.

This country could have made far greater progress when it comes to dealing with the deficiencies in our education and health sector.

Sadly, Cabinet’s inability to delegate more of its powers shows that our leadership does not trust its own people.

Cabinet needs to show more urgency in solving the many social ills that plague this country and it can therefore not afford to take two-month holidays.

Furthermore, Cabinet meetings should not just serve as talk-shops but needs to produce tangible and measurable output.

Talk is cheap but action speaks.

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WINDHOEK OBSERVER

The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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