Long-time basic income grant (BIG) campaigner, veteran politician and religious leader, Bishop Emeritus Zephania Kameeta, who also happens to be the Minister of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare, says he does not have sleepless nights about whether or not he is reappointed to Cabinet, come March 2020.
The former member of the constituent assembly, former deputy speaker of parliament and current minister of poverty eradication believes that he has made a fair contribution to government and will be more than willing to serve the nation in any other capacity.
“I do not believe that one needs to be in parliament to serve the nation. I have done my share in government, I retired and the president called me back. It is still the prerogative of the president to retain me or not,” Kameeta said, adding that he is a non-voting member of parliament and that is enough.
He expressed these sentiments in an interview with this newspaper, in the wake of the surprise announcement by President Hage Geingob that he is planning a smaller, gender-balanced cabinet. Local political pundits are of the view that the creation of a smaller and gender-balanced cabinet will present Geingob with a tough balancing act.
Geingob announced, during the opening of the first Cabinet meeting this week, that the size of cabinet shall be reduced and that an attempt at 50/50 representation shall be made.
The reduction in the size of the cabinet is further necessitated by the Swapo Party’s disappointing and unexpected poor performance at the polls in November 2019. The ruling party could only garner 536,861 (65.5 perecent) of the Parliamentary vote and captured 63 seats (losing its 30 year 2/3rds majority), a significant reduction from the outcome of the 2014 elections in which the party won 715,026 (80 percent) of the vote representing 77 seats.
While welcoming the move to reduce the number of ministries and ministers, most political pundits are in agreement that implementing such an undertaking will require astute judgement and may even backfire and further pose a new threat to the tenuous cohesion in the party.
Being a comrade, not enough
Political scientist and lecturer at the University of Namibia, Phanuel Kaapama, maintained that while the gesture will be music to the ears of many Namibians, choosing who to keep and who to exclude will be a tall order for the head of state. On the other hand, according to Kaapama, the president might opt to go for broke in light of the fact that this is his last term and his legacy will depend on the decisions he makes from now on.
“Being his last term, the president will be free to express himself. When he took office from president Pohamba he was not the president of the party, and as such, he had to please the masses and appease some of his comrades. He has since become both country and party president and is fully aware of the divisions that are threatening the party’s prospects. The legacy that he leaves behind is of utmost importance to him,” Kaapama said.
The political commentator further maintains that the current independent candidate phenomenon that has taken hold in the country will not go away anytime soon. It will continue to pose a great challenge to unity within the Swapo Party, the ripple effects of which, will be felt at national level. “Being a comrade is no longer enough and should no longer be regarded as an automatic qualification for a seat in Parliament,” Kaapama stressed.
Regarding the 50/50 representation in cabinet, Kaapama is of the opinion that while inclusion of both sexes in equal numbers is of utmost importance and desirable, the essence of good governance is not gender-influenced.
“The competence and/or incompetence of members of parliament (MPs) should not be attached to their gender. There are women who are doing well in their capacities, just as there are men who are doing good and vice versa. It is not a gender issue. What is important is to look at the individuals that are being excluded or included,” Kaapama said.
According to Kaapama, the introduction of many new faces may result in parliament filled with people who have no institutional knowledge, but then again they could come up with fresh ideas. The pundit opined that populating the National Assembly only with the old guard, especially those who have been there since 1990 and 1995, is likely to be counterproductive, as they might stick to their tried and tested ideas of decades ago.
“The president should look at introducing a good balance of the old guard and new faces, with equitable gender representation. Namibia is at the crossroads and livelihoods need to be preserved.”
He added that as a member of the international community, the country is not immune to prevalent global economic hardships and what is needed is a legislature, which will be up to the task of withstanding and overcoming pressing challenges.
Marshalling skills, competencies
The leader of the official opposition political party, McHenry Venaani, is of the view that when installing his new cabinet, President Geingob should focus more marshalling essential skills and competencies and not be swayed by the political imperatives of camaraderie and gender representation.
“The president’s decision suggests that he has heeded our call for a smaller cabinet. We, as the PDM, have put it to him on numerous occasions that he has created a bloated cabinet. It is good to see that he has taken note of our concerns. However, while it is important to ensure a fair representation of all sexes in cabinet, the 50/50 representation in itself does not immediately translate into good governance. It is more about creating a critical mass of human capital in terms of skills and competencies,” Venaani said.
He further urged the president to look at what each of his MP’s have to offer and to position them accordingly. Most importantly, according to Venaani, is that no cabinet position should be awarded to an individual based on comradeship.
“Personally, I don’t think the president will be able to get a good compilation of skills and competencies within his current crop of parliamentarians and worse still, he will have to walk a tight rope in addressing the gender representation issue,” Venaani said.
Possible mergers of ministries
According to Venaani, in addition to the bloated cabinet came the duplication of roles and functions between ministries and state agencies, as well as excessive complexity.
He says many decisions funnel into the central government machinery, and owing both to the number of government ministries and agencies concerned with similar matters, including the lack of competent administrators able to take responsibility for decisions, government operations are often held up for protracted periods, creating severe inefficiencies and service delivery failures.
This, he said, can be addressed by regrouping ministries and agencies based on functional clusters. His sentiments were shared by Dr Hoze Riruako, a political analyst.
“For example, the national planning commission (NPC) and the ministry of finance can be harmonised. The same goes for the office of the attorney general and the ministry of justice. The ministries of health and social services, poverty alleviation, as well gender equality and child welfare, could be merged since they are in the same social cluster group,” Riruako said, reflecting the views expressed by the leader of the official opposition.
They further agreed that the ministries of agriculture, water and forestry, as well as that of land reform could also be merged. Venaani further maintains that the ministry of trade, industrialisation and SME development should be merged with that of public enterprises. According to Venaani the two education ministries, as well as youth and sport could be made into one ministry.
Both commentators agreed that the home affairs, safety and security and veterans affairs ministries could become one, while the ministry of presidential affairs could be turned into a directorate within the Office of the President.
“If properly executed Namibia can have a total of about 15 ministries with less than four deputies each,” Venaani stressed.
“As far as the deployment of staff for some positions is concerned, we all know that many government jobs are currently frozen. This could be an opportunity to unfreeze some of the positions and to redeploy most of the employees to different ministries,” Riruako said.