Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila this week took time off her busy schedule to engage Chief Political Reporter Elvis Muraranganda about her experiences and achievements since her appointment to that position by President Hage Geingob last year.
New Era (NE): Can you give us an overview of your first year in office?
Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila (SKA): The Prime Minister’s constitutional mandate is to head government administration and to lead government business in the National Assembly. This mandate was carried out through the following activities: chairing Cabinet deliberative meetings as part of my function to coordinate government administration, coordinating the performance management system in the public service, including facilitating the monitoring of the implementation of performance agreements by public office-bearers, attending National Assembly sessions, responding to queries raised as well as providing policy directions during parliamentary debates as leader of government business in parliament. Other accomplished work included creating an enabling environment for the public service, supporting the effective implementation of policies, establishing a framework for declaration of financial interest by public servants through the amendment of Regulation 11 issued under the Public Service Act of 1995 to compel them to declare remunerative work outside the public service, and overseeing the implementation of the interventions for disaster risk management, including drought relief to the affected communities around the country. I also engaged various stakeholders on matters of national development and interest, undertook regional visits in the country to appraise the office with challenges facing our communities in order to facilitate appropriate and timely interventions to provide solutions to the identified problems, and coordinated the formulation of the New Equitable Economic Empowerment Framework (NEEEF), which is currently undergoing public consultations in order to establish a framework for economic empowerment of the previously disadvantaged communities, promote value addition to our natural resources, promote linkages in the economy and optimise job creation and poverty eradication efforts.
NE: What were the successes and challenges during the period under review as leader of government business?
SKA: The Swapo Party government works in a collective manner to achieve collective goals aimed at improving the living standards of the people. The set agreed objectives are to be pursued in a phased manner, with some to be realised only in the medium to long-term periods. However, many interventions were introduced, both at policy and operational levels, with some results already being realised. These include the finalization of NEEEF that was endorsed by Cabinet, and overseeing the drafting of the NEEEF Bill, which is now a subject of public consultation. The OPM developed a framework for the Performance Management System for Public Office-Bearers (POBs) and signing of performance agreements by POBs. The development of customer services charters is being pursued in all offices, ministries and agencies. This success notwithstanding, some challenges still remain and they are enormous; but government is hard at work to address them and these include persistent poverty. A dedicated ministry has been set up to deal with this issue and a poverty eradication master plan is about to be finalised to guide government efforts in this regard. Further, the government has continued to strengthen social safety net programmes to relieve the burden of poverty among the most vulnerable members of the communities. High unemployment remains a problem, too. Here, a specific ministry has been tasked to coordinate measures to address the unemployment issue in the country, and legislation and systems have been set up to guide government actions in this regard. A skills levy has been instituted to support expanded vocational training to our youth to improve their employability.
Further, through the Namibia Training Authority a vocational training and expansion programme has been adopted to broaden access to skills training, while a vocational skills plan has been formulated to ensure skills provision meets labour market demands. Another challenge is the inadequate capacity within the public service. We are engaged in training to improve staff competency and position the public service as an employer of choice by ensuring a conducive working environment for civil servants and ensuring attractive conditions of service.
Low economic growth and income disparities are another problem we face. Efforts are continuing across the government to accelerate the rate of growth and promote sustainable economic growth and equitable distribution of economic benefits – to reduce inequalities among the Namibian people through a range of sectoral policies and infrastructure development.
NE: Against this background, do you the feel you have adequately and sufficiently served your office well over the past year?
SKA: I have done my utmost best to live up to my constitutional mandate and other responsibilities as entrusted to me by the Namibian Constitution and by His Excellency the President, as indicated in the achievements of the office so far. There would, however, always be room for improvement and the new initiatives, as alluded to earlier, are aimed at consolidating and further expanding on the achievement so far reached. Government will further continue with deliberate interventions aimed at creating opportunities for all, and work according to the principle of transparency and inclusivity. I will also continue to oversee the implementation of policies and programmes aimed at redressing imbalances in the public service and in the country at large through empowerment legislation.
NE: Which areas need improvement and what is your next focus for the year ahead?
SKA: The focus of government’s programmes and policies is determined in the Swapo Party Manifesto and NDP4. Further, the Medium Term Expenditure Framework gives an account of the annual provisions for all offices, ministries and agencies and the corresponding funding availed to address the priority issues. In terms of my constitutional mandate, the office will continue to focus on improving the performance of the public service through the implementation of a performance management system and requiring entering into performance agreements for all public servants at all levels. Ensuring a balanced structuring of the public service and achieving full operationalisation of the Disaster Risk Management Act are also high on my agenda. Concluding the special initiatives such as seeing the enactment and operationalisation of NEEEF is also lined up for the year ahead.