CoW CEO runs for calmer pastures

It is no wonder that recently resigned City of Windhoek (CoW) Chief Executive Officer, Robert Kahimise has jumped ship. The worse job in Namibia is to be a CEO of a municipality or township or village. Who would choose a toxic work environment with stones being thrown from all sides?

The skills-based portion of the CoW CEO job could be attractive to many seasoned, experienced city administrators. But, swimming through the effluent of political nonsense, power struggles, personality minefields, and entrenched long-serving bureaucrats is not worth it. Potential city executives out there who value their sanity, expect affirmation at work, or who have innovative ideas, stay away.

The city council is the main minefield for a CoW CEO. These councillors are party appointees, placed in those seats for many reasons, the least of them are skills, qualifications and proven city planning expertise. Add to this, the fact that councillors are paid extremely less than the CEO that reports to them and it is a perfect storm of jealousy, dictatorial macho, and political shenanigans. There are under-the-table alliances with factions within the city bureaucracy. And, there are always barbs thrown by pernickety individuals who enjoy drama. This is an ugly job.

When reports emerged that Kahimise was interviewing for another executive job, we were not surprised. The clash between himself and Police Chief Abraham Kanime, (which was largely an alpha male turf war) ended in the city CEO having egg on his face. Kanime is sitting happily in his office with a controversial new contract. A powerful faction within the council put its foot down on this matter and they won.

It has been alleged that the entrenched old guard in CoW back offices, did not like Kahimise. They sit within the bowels of the CoW headquarters and are happily involved in any number of off-book ‘activities’. They have a ‘way’ they do things and they will resist any changes. Kahimise came onto the job, looked at the budget deficits, money flows, and productivity/performance concerns. He took on the old guard in the bureaucracy and lost again.

Naturally, when another high-monthly-pay-check-ship came along, Kahimise took the leap. When it is pouring rain and the heavy umbrella you were given is full of holes, yet your job is based on keeping dry, you are in an impossible situation.

It is not just the CoW with this problem. City executives all around the country are being suspended with pay, fired and then going to court and being reinstated, or engaged in any number of fights with city councils. Some were even physically locked out of their offices. Others are regularly disrespected and defamed over unproven accusations. The relevant line minister is constantly involved in trouble-shooting such problems. It is a very messy situation.

Some time ago, President Hage Geingob, weary of the Kahimise vs Kanime vs the city council spats, intervened. He scolded all sides involved and demanded that things get moving. He was correct in this action. Everyone watching the tennis match between the two over-paid city employees and the council was getting a sore neck.

Something has to give. The line ministry must develop institutional changes to curtail the time-wasting persecution of municipal executives. Terms of Reference for executive municipal jobs need to be simplified and streamlined. What the council must do and what the CEO must do, needs to be dumbed-down enough to be crystal clear.

Why not force councils to pay a price for their punitive actions against city officials? Councils that suspend their executives and are subsequently ruled to have done so wrongly, should be personally fined. Let them refund a portion of the costs of hearings and lawyers, investigations and paid suspensions.

Talented potential city executives will avoid applying for municipal jobs. Who wants to wade through poisoned quicksand? As a result, those who apply are going to be the B-team. They will have lesser employment options, lower levels of skills/qualifications, and won’t mind being fired in a year or two. Top city administrative offices are turnstile desk chairs where retention of talent is only a pipe dream.

The upcoming renewed search for another sacrificial lamb to take up the CoW CEO’s office will begin soon. The ministry must change the rules before they start. Municipalities must not hire someone based on their ability to tolerate and placate. They need someone with the experience, skills and talent to actually do the job.

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