Minister of Higher Education, Training and Innovation Dr Itah Kandjii-Murangi has her hands full when it comes to deciding on the team that will form part of the founding Council of Namibia’s new University of Science and Technology (NUST).
The term of the previous Council came to end last month, just weeks after the institution was transformed from a technikon to a university.
According to Kandjii-Murangi, during an interview with New Era yesterday, her ideal council for the university is one that consists of suitably qualified and experienced individuals in their respective professions.
The technikon’s leadership was in shambles over the past two to three years following deep divisions within the previous council.
Kandjii-Murangi during a previous interview made it clear she was not impressed with the shenanigans of the council; hence it comes as no surprise that she has relieved the entire council of their duties.
It is not clear at this point in time whether she will re-appoint some of the axed council members to form part of the new council.
Management and external council members did not see eye to eye, so much so that meetings had to be postponed, despite the majority’s objection and some sections walking out of meetings without facing any disciplinary measures whatsoever.
“The council I will put in place is one that should provide overall leadership, supervision and guidance. Obviously one has to look at the mandate of the institution and based on that appoint suitably qualified and experienced people to direct and guide the activities of the institution.
“This is not only peculiar to NUST, but I must say we are looking at a university that must develop a special character,” she said. Kandjii-Murangi wants the university to charter the way forward for applied research.
According to her: “This must be done in terms of value addition to natural resources and to answer to the country’s socio-economic challenges.”
She made it clear that those who will be selected to form part of the council – when parliament resumes next year – would be “well-established professionals who have earned respect in their professions”.
The minister also defended her decision to extend the term of the previous council by 13 days. In her notice letter to the previous council, dated November 20, 2015, Kandjii-Murangi wrote: “As per the NUST Act… I am informing you that your term of office as council member starts on November 17, 2015 and ends at the end of this month.”
“It was not a matter of 13 days, I did it so that we can end the year properly and so that we can start with a new of council members,” she explained yesterday.
Council cries on PM’s shoulders
There have been numerous media reports about infighting in the previous council, in which members claimed that council chairperson Evelyn Breuer was siding with council members, who form part of the management of the institution and complained that their views and proposals were were simply sidelined and dismissed.
Last month the concerned group wrote to Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila informing her that the council is divided, because some council members feel they are deliberately blocked by the chairperson – in collaboration with the Rector – when they question issues, such as the alleged exorbitant salary of the Rector, which is said to be over N$2 million per annum.
Other concerns reported to the prime minister include Tjivikua’s conduct towards his employees and his alleged overspending on international trips.
They also wanted Kuugongelwa-Amathila to act on concerns related to alleged irregularities during procurement and allocation of tenders and the proposal for the institution to have three vice-chancellors, plus a special advisor to the Rector – to be paid the same salary as the vice-chancellors.
They also informed her that Dr Andrew Niikondo is still working without an official employment contract. “The issue of Dr Andrew Niikondo, who filed a grievance against the Rector on [the grounds of] victimisation and whose contract – which expired on 30 June 2015 – is currently not renewed. At present we are in the dark on how this official is working or being paid without a valid contract,” wrote the concerned council members.
The situation got so bad that the Anti-Corruption Commission was eventually roped in to investigate management for alleged corruption and favouritism. The ACC in the end cleared management of any wrongdoing. However, certain council members felt they were sidelined from the investigation; hence they cast doubt over the outcome of the process.
The disgruntled council members wanted the prime minister to step in and demand answers from Breuer, the management, and those accused of bringing the council in disrepute, but nothing much came of it.
Those who spoke to New Era said they did not approach Kuugongelwa-Amathila to beg for sympathy, or for her to save them from being axed, but rather to push her to demand transparent governance and prudent management of the institution’s resources.