Higher Education Minister is above the fray

Brian Doeseb

This is a response to the media flurry and online comments about Higher Education Minister Itah Kandji-Murangi and unconfirmed speculations and assumptions regarding NUST in relation to the Honourable Minister. Please note these clarifications and contextual comments.

Namibians from all walks of life and from all the regions of this nation, pride themselves in having successfully emerged from the yoke of apartheid, injustice and social divisions, into a peaceful and stable nation.

Ours is a country governed by the rule of law. Anything that goes against our constitution, established laws, institutional systems, processes and procedures, must be subjected to the very same instruments.

Against that backdrop, the minister has resoundingly and repeatedly restated her refutation of the negative overtones of selected issues raised in Dr Tjama Tjivikua’s exit report of 2019. When the handing over notes of the former NUST leader were first submitted over a year ago, these issues were raised in the mainstream media and on social media. Its contents were in circulation shortly after he authored them.

The unproven allegations of favouritism, nepotism and tribalism levelled against the Minister of Higher Education were unproven then and remain unproven now. The revival of these points prior to a national election can have political rather than justifiable accountability and transparency motivations. Only those rehashing these issues know for certain about their agenda.

Nevertheless, those revisiting these outdated points need to take note that our universities have councils and/or boards for governance purposes. There are executive members of these academic institutions for daily management and operations, including human relations issues. NUST has processes and procedures of recruitment that operate under those councils and boards and the established rules. Those methods were followed.

The rule of law under which Namibia operates does not permit public hangings or character assassination by innuendo. Facts must rule the day.

There are hundreds if not over a thousand employees at NUST on all levels. In a small country like Namibia, we dare any commentator or pundit to find one institution as large as that, where no one is related or connected in the slightest way to anyone in a decision-making or management position.

Indeed the Minister’s daughter, sister and cousin have been or are employed by NUST. NUST, like UNAM and many other boards and agencies, reside under the plethora of institutions, regulations, laws, administrative concerns and scope of the Office of the Minister of Higher Education. There are literally thousands of Namibians employed in some connection to that Office. The minister is being pilloried by unconfirmed allegations for the human relations issues of only three of those thousands. She is not the direct supervisor or employer of record of any of the three relatives mentioned in this regard. Let us keep this issue in perspective.

The NUST Human Resources Department should step up in all of these cases to add information that is relevant. It will help the Namibian public make an informed decision about the issues involved.

Regarding the position now held by the daughter of the Minister of Higher Education, the job was advertised for all. Interviews were held. Panellists gave scores on the basis of which the Minister’s daughter (or any other applicant) was appointed or not.

Those who participated in the selection process for the position now held by the daughter of the Minister must tell the concerned public about their findings. They can either say that they found her unable to be appointed because she did not meet the requirements and that the Minister exerted undue pressure on them to make the appointment; or they can speak the truth that there was no interference, pressure (direct or indirect) from the Minister regarding the employment processes for the advertised post.

Let those in search of a truth on this matter, go to the source. Let facts guide the public debate, not agendas.

Below are other reactions to the old news thrown into the public view. Please consider these clarifications.

Hepuree Murangi - Almah Kandjii-Daniel - Kaitira Kandjii
Hepuree Murangi – Almah Kandjii-Daniel – Kaitira Kandjii

Once again, regarding the Minister’s daughter, Hepuree Murangi – NUST conducted an internal investigation and found nothing untoward with her recruitment. There was a serious misrepresentation of facts about her qualifications and experience regarding her fit for the post which she holds. NUST Human Relations offices rectified these concerns. Please seek these facts in writing from those who handled the matter.

Regarding the Minister’s sister, Almah Kandjii-Daniel – It must be made clear that Ms Kandji-Daniel was employed by the (then) Polytechnic before her elder sister became a Minister. From the information available and on the record, she left the Poly in 2013 on her own volition with no disciplinary record as portrayed in the media.

There is an unproven allegation that the Minister, after she was appointed, pressured NUST to re-employ her sister. There is also a spurious statement that Mrs Kandjii-Daniel was subjected to a disciplinary hearing before she left the (then) Polytechnic in 2013. These matters must be put to rest by those who have the facts. NUST knows exactly what happened. Let the records of the supposed disciplinary cloud under which the 2013 severance occurred. That will settle the matter.

Those making assertions with no evidence must understand that the Namibian people are not fools. NUST Human Resources Department has all these details. The nation cannot be constantly prodded with gossip about the deportment of its officials when no evidence is provided. This is crippling to the reputations and integrity of those who are being tried through the subjective manipulations of individuals speaking and writing without facts.

Mr Kaitira Kandjii, the Minister’s cousin – This highly qualified member of staff was head-hunted by Dr Tjama Tjivikua in 2012 from MISA where he was the Country Executive Director. Shortly thereafter, personal and professional problems emerged between the two men.

Once again, NUST and its Human Relations department and those officially involved in the entire matter over the course of several years, know the facts on the record. They should not allow innuendo to be splashed on the front pages while they remain silent. This is the offense of omission; it is unethical.

They should tell the public what led to Mr Kandjii’s suspension and how he was re-instated.

It is documented at the time (this all occurred several years ago) that the (then) head of NUST, Dr Tjama Tjivikua made the decision to suspend Kandjii based on his point of view at the time, to discipline some of his senior staff, Dr. Niikondo- Deputy VC; Prof Campbell- Dean; Dr Zealand -Director; Mr Kandjii – Director; Mr Kaumbi – the institution’s legal advisor.

The Minister back then, wrote a letter to Tjivikua stating that his imminent retirement would mean he would leave many of these disciplinary processes incomplete/ hanging. He was advised therefore, to write comprehensive and detailed handing-over notes about each case and allow his replacement at NUST to manage the situation.

However, he made the decision (as was technically within his remit) to proceed with Kandjii’s disciplinary hearing and suspended him. In the event and after all ‘evidence’ was presented and weighed, the Council reinstated him. The Council acted within its remit and the matter is closed.

That any further rehash of that situation must re-emerge in the media and be connected, again with the Minister is disingenuous. If there was pressure on the Council by the Minister in any way in handling the matter of the suspension of Kandjii, let the Council speak up and state that case.

It was common knowledge at NUST that both Dr Andrew Niikondo and Mr Kaitira Kandjii were subject to threats of disciplinary processes at NUST. There were documented complaints by Dr Tjivikua about Niikondo and Kandjii about their alleged insufficient writing skills.

At such senior levels, and with experience behind the two senior staff members, if such basic and rudimentary skills deficits were present to the level that required termination of their employment at NUST, it surely would have appeared earlier in their careers of promotions and accolades for job performance. Such a small and subjective concern of the head of NUST needed to be addressed certainly, but it is arguable whether it rises to the level of ending someone’s professional career.

Rather, the real reason behind the administrative niggling that laid siege to the careers of these professionals was personal conflict that only those involved can address. It has nothing to do with the Minister.

Nothing can be taken away from Dr Tjama Tjivikua’s academic accolades, achievements and most importantly, his contribution to our country by building and transforming the then Polytechnic of Namibia into a formidable and reputable Namibia University of Science and Technology. The Minister made these complimentary statements repeatedly over the years. She has great respect for Dr Tjivikua’s knowledge, capacity and skills.

NUST is battling with budget cuts, online education hurdles, and managing its deep commitment to educate our young Namibian minds.

The Minister is busy helping the government stay afloat in the wake of three years of recession, crippling drought and now, the economic disaster caused by the necessary government response to the pandemic (which is still underway). She is working flat out to do her best for the people of Namibia; let us give credit where it is due and not always be so ready to create problems where there are none.

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