The firing of former health minister, Dr Bernard Haufiku from his post on the pandemic Task Team is a waste of limited resources. At a time when there are insufficient healthcare workers to assist where needed in Namibia, a top medical expert has been kicked to the curb. Was that the only option or just the easiest one?
The final clash between the current minister of health Kalumbi Shangula and his predecessor was predictable. The strain between the two parties was evident from previous conflicting comments. Haufiku’s demonstrated method is to tackle issues straight on. He seems to speak his mind fearlessly. This may have cost him an earlier governmental appointment. Being intelligent, blunt, brutally honest and outspoken is not a prescription for keeping a political job. Those in power do not like to be challenged on points that disagree with their own.
As confirmed pandemic infections and deaths rise, conflictual leadership changes tend to make crisis response efforts seem unfocused. Is the point to battle COVID-19 or to have a pandemic leadership team of best friends? Those involved in bringing the nation through this crisis need not be a happy clique; they need to get their work done.
The public did not need a front row seat on this power and personality struggle. Effective leadership means putting egos in check, closing the door and airing out all issues. Removing termination of either party as an option may have forced a workable solution.
Haufiku claims to have asked to be sent to the regions to assist. He claims to have asked the Vice President to be removed from the pandemic Task Team. Though we are on the outside of the august power corridors where this issue was discussed, it seems that a possible solution lay in those two points. Haufiku should have been sent to the regions. Lay out an iron-clad Terms of Reference (TOR) and scope of authority and wave goodbye as he flies off. If he wanted to go to the Coast and be locked down and based there, let him. Such a move could have served the goals of the team and eased tensions.
Some weeks ago, there were deputy ministers sent in to Walvis Bay to give first hand reports. Why expose people like that? If Haufiku consented to stay in the virus hotspot, such first-hand, real-time reports could have been his responsibility.
In a crisis, the government must assemble talented people and use their synergies effectively. Accomplished and experienced people are always smart, strong-willed, forceful, and confident. That is how they have succeeded in life. Very few weak-minded, compliant, vapid, quiet, and timid people rise to the top of their fields. There is a price to be paid when assembling a talented team. Managing big personalities is a huge part of that price. When a team member of high calibre must be fired, it is the captain of the team that has failed in part of his/her leadership management duties.
This is not to say that the well-respected Dr Haufiku is always correct. Some of his ideas may not have been effective and he may not have been easily dissuaded from his position. That situation needed to be managed cleverly by the team captain. ‘People Management 101’ means that team members must be listened to and their ideas actively considered. This would lessen the chance that someone would speak publicly about their disappointments.
All professionals on a team working together must do the hard job of making a collective goal come to life. This means that compromise, consensus-building, and not holding grudges are key. Firing someone who has the skills to contribute to the goals of the team, is the easy way out. Negotiation is harder.
The success of the team is contingent on all parties concerned being myopically focused on the goals. The image of government experts standing shoulder-to-shoulder fighting COVID-19 is one of those goals. That image is tattered for now, but it can be rebuilt.
We hope that international organizations or private sector businesses working with the government on the pandemic can find a way to recruit the twice fired health expert. His skills still could be used for the betterment of Namibia. We need all soldiers on the front line to battle the pandemic. We cannot afford waste scarce resources.