We are impressed that Works and Transport Minister John Mutorwa said that corruption, favouritism, and nepotism are dragging the country down.

Given that many ministers are cautious when they speak out about anything that could be perceived to be ‘negative’ in government, Mutorwa spoke bravely.

He was speaking to his staff in Windhoek during a presentation on capital infrastructure projects for 2020/21. He gave an example of officials not hiring for positions that are open because they claim they cannot find the right person. He said the real reason is that these people cannot find someone they prefer or someone from their village. Filling job openings are about qualifications, experience and capacity. It is not about waiting until someone applies who is your friend.

The Minister said that the Namibian people are angry when government does not deliver services as promised and which are greatly needed. It is true that projects have been delayed, done in an inferior manner or just abandoned. The people are angry about this. These incomplete white elephants all over the country represent government funds wasted. The people get encouraged when building starts and then the site is left incomplete for years. Hopes are dashed. Unrequited frustration in a time of pandemic is a devastating combination for internal instability.

Rural service delivery is also one avenue to decrease the unsustainable urban migration. Until investment, factories, jobs, businesses, and services are consistently (this is the key word) available on a fair basis, people will seek their fortunes in tin shack peri-urban areas surrounding municipal centres. Even before the Twaloloka fire, the threat of lawlessness, theft, and rape, and the health concerns of COVID, Hepatitis E and TB, were very real. More services delivered in different parts of the country can change many things. Ministries must deliver necessary services.

Mutorwa’s attitude in speaking to his own team at head office is what all ministers must do regularly. But, they also must follow-up with punitive action for those identified as performance road blockers. They must encourage whistle-blowers and get an internal audit function moving in the executive director’s office.

We particularly like his expression of frustration when asking officials why projects failed and they give, “all sorts of reasons and clumsy explanations. When you go deeper, you find out that there is some personal interest.” Such frankness is refreshing.

Scratch just below the surface in any ministry (and in private sector offices as well) and you will find what the minister said as the modus operandi in hiring practices in Namibia. This undercuts the motivation needed for staff to excel and perform.

Cynical people will point to the fact that what the minister is pointing out has always been the case; he is saying nothing new. They will gripe that elections are coming in a few months and Mutorwa is under pressure to deliver completed projects to woo voters. His blunt speech to his officials is only posturing to look good but actually will change nothing. After elections, it will be slow business as usual in his ministry.

Still, we believe that change has to start with calling out the problem. We hope that the Minister, who is obviously frustrated with a low performance at the bureaucratic level, acts to back up his criticisms. Try something new. Civil servants, who are not performing and achieving targets, need to be put on suspension without pay. That is harsh in this economic recession and pandemic, but something has to change. A fiery speech is not enough.

When the International Monetary Fund (IMF) comes to town messages like Mutorwa’s will not be abel to be ignored. They will pay our deficits and then, government job performance is exactly what they will insist upon. They will look at each job in the upcoming civil service down-sizing exercise. Our civil service wage bill is out of control. It will be where the IMF will strike first to find the money to pay back our foreign debt. Why not move now to get more efficiency out of ministries.

Bravo to Mutorwa.