What’s cooking at education?

17 October 2014
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The decisive action taken by Prime Minister Hage Geingob when he directed the cancellation and re-advertising of part of the controversial N$3 billion food tender won him some few brownie points.

The Tender Board controversially awarded the tender to a company partly owned by the wife of the Education Ministry Permanent Secretary Alfred Ilukena.

Geingob became the darling of the media and the public last week following the announcement of his decision to cancel part of the food tender.

One major criticism of the current administration is its lackadaisical approach to fighting corruption especially after President Pohamba’s fight against corruption mantra when the country elected him into power.

It is an open secret that public tenders have been dogged by allegations of corruption involving senior civil servants, and many in the public service must have shit in their pants after last Thursday’s announcement by the Prime Minister.

We have read many stories of corruption or conflict of interest in the public sector and these cases have virtually gone unpunished, so it was refreshing to see at last something being done in a case involving alleged corruption.

But while we applaud the stance taken by Prime Minister Geingob, we cannot help but feel that the Ministry of Education needs some spring cleaning.

The fact that a whole bunch of senior officials where fingered in the “foodgate” scandal speaks volumes about the extent of the rot at that ministry.

Again many media reports have alluded to the conflict of interest involving Minister David Namwandi and the International University of Management (IUM), a university that is owned by his wife.

The fact that the minister presides over a ministry that is in charge of the country’s education sector while his wife runs a university whose students receive public funding is the height of conflict of interest.

The fact that the minister appoints the head of the Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) that gives sponsorship to students at tertiary institutions, including those at IUM, raises a number of ethical questions, which one cannot wish away.

As we have asked before, is it just a coincidence that this university received more funding from the NSFAF than the Polytechnic of Namibia, the country’s second biggest tertiary institution?

Those who question the “favouritism” bestowed upon the private university when in it comes to the funding of students at IUM over those studying at Poly and other private colleges might have a point even though it might be difficult to prove that such favouritism exists. Ilukena might have been the fall guy for his alleged involvement in the awarding of the N$47 million food tender to a company partly owned by his wife, but how different is his case to that of the minister.

Both cases involves conflict of interest issues, and while it might be difficult to prove any favouritism towards IUM whose owner is the wife of the education minister, such a scenario will always leave a bad taste in the mouth of many people.

There is a need for a holistic and systematic approach in the fight against corruption in this country, and certain individuals should not be seen as being above reproach.

We can only hope that the action taken by the Prime Minister last week is the beginning of a new chapter in a realistic fight against corruption.

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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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