Namibia’s Decentralisation: The impact on regional development

 

Oshana is one of the four regions located in the northern central part of Namibia, where the larger portion of the country’s population resides. 

It is sandwiched between the Omusati region in the west, Ohangwena in the north and Oshikoto to the east. 

The region is divided into 10 constituencies: Okatana, Okaku, Etayi, Ompundja, Ondangwa, Oshakati and West, Uukwiyu, Uuvudhiya and Otkatjali and is home to the biggest urban centres in the area, with Oshakati, which is the regional capital, as well as Ondangwa and Ongwediva.

Since the promulgation of the Regional Councils Act 22 of 1992 that led to the creation of the regional councils, Oshana region has gone through rapid transformation in terms of development with towns such as Oshakati having grown into modern urban centres, while the majority of its population in rural areas have access to clean drinking water, electricity as well as modern health and education facilities. 

The regional council is part of the three-tier system of governance that was established at independence, with other being the central government and local authorities. 

The idea was to allow for public participation in decision-making processes which influence their needs and aspirations. The region is headed by Clemens Kashuupulwa (66), who has been the governor since 1999, making him the longest serving regional head in Namibia.

Before that, he had served in the Oshana regional council as a counsellor of the Okatana Constituency since 1993.

In an interview, Kashuupulwa noted that the level of development experienced in the region is owed to the implementation of the Regional Councils Act, which he said was a great vision for the new government.

“Indeed it was a great achievement. The regional council is the right arm of the central government, which it uses to bring government services and institutions closer to the people in rural areas,” said the governor. 

“The implementation of the Regional Councils Act 22 of 1992, paved the way for the decentralisation of government functions to the regions. 

“It also allowed the population at the grassroots level to participate in the decision-making process that influences their aspirations and needs,” he said. 

“Oshana region today is not at the same level where we started 22 years ago. The level of development prevailing in the region is really miraculous.

“Even our towns (Oshakati, Ondangwa and Ongwediva) were not at the level they are today.

“Before independence, many development activities were taking place in these towns.

“But it was merely to serve the interests of the apartheid colonial masters, in particular the South Africa Defence Force and South West Africa Territorial Forces.

“They did not have the interests of Namibia at heart, particularly people who are living in rural areas.”

For the past two decades, Kashuupulwa said the provision for water and infrastructure including electricity and roads were created, while others were expanded.

“Back then, many learners were taught under trees, and makeshift shelters. Currently, in our region we don’t have that kind of shelters anymore. And on top of that you find that most of the schools in rural areas are now elevated to Grade 10, which [has] prevented the influx of learners to towns such as Oshakati,” he said.

Several clinics were also expanded to modern health facilities with accommodation facilities for nurses. Kashuupulwa said many clinics in the region, especially in rural areas, were run by churches during the colonial period.

 

 

  Slow Pace of Decentralisation

 

 The government launched the Decentralisation Policy in 1998, which was intended to decentralise government functions to the regions.

But more than 10 years down the line, Kashuupulwa is dissatisfied with the slow pace of decentralisation, which by 2002, was expected to see the bulk of government functions transferred to regional councils and local authorities.

Currently, two functions, education as well as works and maintenance have been decentralised to the Oshana regional council, although on a delegated basis.

“This means that they are not yet disengaged from the relevant ministries (Ministry of Education and Ministry of Works and Transport), but much in terms of development is being identified and planned here before being sent to the ministries for budgetary consideration. So the rest of the functions are yet to be decentralised to the regions,” said the governor.

He further explained that: “Decentralisation is a process, we may not be satisfied but there are facts that need first to be looked into in order for the decentralisation of functions to be transferred to the regions.

“Functions that are rural-driven are still under several ministries, like water. You find out that the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry’s mandate is being regulated by an Act of parliament.

“Now if you are to decentralise water, you have to harmonise legislation that regulates water in the ministry, with the Regional Councils Act 22 of 1992.

“So this process in all the ministries has now become a problem and that is what contributed to the slow pace of decentralisation of intended functions to the regions.

“And, of course, it has to be done in a manner that ensures that we are not, at the regional level, inheriting serious challenges that we might not be able to handle.

“Hence, the issue of harmonisation of legislation is one of the major issues that needs to be taken into consideration as well as building capacity of people to run our offices.”

 

 Capacity Building

 Apart from harmonisation of legislation that will allow smooth implementation of the Decentralisation Policy, Kashuupulwa spoke about the need for regional councils to be staffed with competent staff.

“You know as politicians (regional councillors) before we were elected to serve in the regional council, some of us were teachers, some were just workers or business people, who sometimes had no higher education (qualifications).

“As a result, the regional council needs empowerment of technical staff with capacity to do the planning and advise the council to make sound decisions,” he said.

According to the governor, there has been noticeable progress in empowering regional councils in terms of human resources.

For instance, the position of the chief regional officer, who is the accounting officer of the region, has been elevated to the level of deputy permanent secretary.

“Previously, the region was headed by a regional officer who was at the level of deputy director. But it is now elevated to be headed by competent technical staff.

“This is the empowerment of regional councils to have a technical person to advise the council in its management committees to take good decisions,” said Kashuupulwa.

Other departments that were also created at Oshana Regional Council include that of administration, finance and personnel, headed by a director assisted by three deputy directors. There is also a department of planning and rural services.

“We also have a department of education because education is one of the functions that have been decentralised to the regional council on a delegated basis,” he said.

“You know our decision-making in terms of planning is being identified at grassroots. People at grassroots can identify their needs, that we want a clinic here or a water pipeline from here to there.

“But to set up this infrastructure, there are government requirements. That is where technical personnel come in to assist the regional council because these are the people who know government policies, and issues related to project implementation, which also goes with financial considerations.

“At the moment, we have created posts for these technical people to help the regional council to take sound decisions,” he said.

“At constituency level, we have a chief control officer, and several clerks. Previously, there was nothing of that sort, so these are done to technically empower the region”.

Role of Governors

In accordance with the Regional Councils Act 22 of 1992, regional governors were appointed by the regional councils of the 13 (now 14) political regions.

But this changed in 2010 following a Cabinet resolution to amend the Special Advisors and Regional Representatives Appointment Act of 1990 to have the Head of State appoint governors of the regions.

However, this was widely condemned by analysts calling it a blatant disregard of the Namibian Constitution by the Presidency, that the amendment allowed President Hifikepunye Pohamba to appoint governors to the regions where his ruling Swapo Party does not have majority representation like in Kunene Region.

Some critics felt that the change needed extensive overhaul of the Constitution to make for such appointments.  

However, Kashuupulwa defended the amendment arguing that most criticisms that were directed at the Head of State were misplaced.

“I believe the criticism about the appointment of regional governors by the president were due to misunderstanding.

“They (critics) were only concentrating on the issue of appointment in the sense that we are a democratic society, and they expected governors to be elected by the people.

“They did not familiarise themselves with the terms of references and the role played by the governor when it comes to development activities in regions,” he stressed.

“There is quite a difference, because we are talking about functions that are not yet decentralised from relevant ministries to the regional councils. 

And if those functions are not yet decentralised, then obviously the regional councils have no mandate, when it comes to project implementation, from those line ministries because they are not legally empowered to engage in development activities when it comes to functions that are not yet decentralised.

“These are just being planned and executed under the directive of relevant line ministries from Windhoek.

“Now, with the appointment of regional governors by the president, our duty is now to co-ordinate national development projects that are implemented by line ministries whose functions are yet to be decentralised to the regional councils.

“Previously, when a governor was appointed by the regional councils, you knew that you were under the Ministry of Regional, Local Government, Housing [and Rural Development], just one ministry.

“If you happened to talk about the issue that is related to health or youth, legally you were not empowered even to talk about something that was not under your ministry.

“With the new arrangement, the governor liaises directly with relevant ministries and is empowered to contact the president directly.”

He added that: “Countries have different features, emanating from the fact that they have federal or singular states.

 In a federal state, people look forward to regions to be independent, with own foreign affairs, police and other activities that run at regional level. But in our case we are not a federal state, so it is a different issue.

“Yes, that is maybe the process that will come later, but the government felt that the type of decentralisation that we needed to engage in at regional level, the governor needs to be the head of the region, accountable to the president and ministers. This is the rationale behind the president appointing the governor.”

 

Passed Up Opportunity

During the Electoral College of the Swapo Party, Kashuupulwa was one of several stalwarts in the ruling party who declined the possible opportunity to serve the party in parliament next year after the 2014 Presidential and National Assembly elections. He decided not run for parliament.

“Yes, I decided at the college, not to be in parliament. First and foremost, my term of office as the governor has not yet expired.

“It is going to expire next year in December. 

Currently, I feel that I am secure, so why can’t I give the opportunity to the youth, and the women, while I am completing my task.

“That was the basis of my decision.

“And I am also ageing, and taking into consideration how I participated in various activities from the days during the liberation struggle for independence, and what Oshana Region has achieved under my leadership, I feel very much proud. And even if somebody says why can’t you retire, I will gladly give the opportunity to others knowing that they will continue with what we have laid down.”

November 2014
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