George Simataa explains his position as Secretary to Cabinet
New Era’s Chief Political Reporter Elvis Muraranganda spoke to Secretary to Cabinet George Simataa about his portfolio.
NE: What is you role as Secretary to Cabinet?
GS: It is an important portfolio, which derives its mandate from Article 43 of the Namibian Constitution and whose purpose is to be the depository of all records, minutes and related documents of Cabinet. It is the only portfolio among permanent secretaries that is referred to in the Constitution. It says who shall perform such functions as determined by the President, Vice-President and the Prime Minister. These three people may give me assignments from time to time.
NE: What has been some of these assignments?
GS: They will not be assignments outside the law, particularly in terms of the Public Service Act. They would say go do a, b, c, and d and many of the times these are things that are within the periphery or the preview of my functions.
The Secretary to Cabinet is also the head of the public service and shall be under the subject and control of the Prime Minister. More, the functions that have to coordinate the work of the ministries. Permanent secretaries (PSes), administratively, will report to the Secretary to Cabinet.
NE: Does this not create clashes or confusion with the ministers who are the political heads of ministries?
GS: I admit it can cause confusion but it has never caused confusion even during the time of my predecessor, because of the line of respect we have for each other. I respect the authority of the minister who is in charge of the ministry. I know how to handle that arrangement.
NE: In the past ministers complained about the PSes undermining their authority because of this line of reporting – what is the status now?
GS: I have not heard of these, but we work together. There could have been problems but those are personal perceptions. During my meetings with the PSes I always encourage them to respect their ministers, as they are the people who are politically in charge, although they are in charge administratively.
NE: When will the title of PS be changed as earlier alluded to by the President?
GS: When the President says something it is a directive. The changing of the Public Service Act of 1995 – it is something that is ongoing. In fact, the changes are supposed to be completed and on its way to Parliament by now, but I think there two or three policy items which the Prime Minister needed to work on. She is consulting with the attorney general on that matter.
The PSes were informed and they are comfortable with it. They are not worried over it. In my view it is not what you are called, but what you do. They have accepted to be called executive directors
NE: What difference will this change make?
GS: It makes a difference from a philosophical point of view. It is true that some people thought they are entrenched, they are permanent as the word says. There is no one that can be permanent in a job, especially now with new arrangements which will come with a five-year work contract.
NE: Can you name some of the key Cabinet decisions made during your tenure?
GS: Cabinet is the biggest and highest office, and to think that it will sit to make minor and major decisions and you pick and choose which ones are important, would be wrong. In my view, all Cabinet decisions are important. I chase them religiously on the same footing.
NE: Are there challenges with the implementation of Cabinet resolutions?
GS: Of course there are problems sometimes, but not because people are deliberate but because of many factors such as the human resources, infrastructure or financial factors. When decisions are made the budget is always taken into account but in the process of implementation a few things go wrong and you must understand them.
I am glad we have the performance agreements – every time we sit I ask for an update on the implementation. Performance management in our system is not a punitive measure or fault-finding measure.
NE: In light of the leaking of information on the N$11 million for the training of the children of the liberation struggle, how open is Cabinet to share information about its decisions?
GS: Cabinet decisions are Cabinet decisions and it decides to inform the public. There is always a Cabinet briefing with the media every Tuesday after the meetings of Cabinet. People want to look around for things that they do not understand.
For example, there was no Cabinet decision that said go and take the N$11 million from Social Security Commission. Cabinet decided on the aspect on the welfare of the children of the liberation struggle. They appointed a committee under the chairmanship of the Secretary to Cabinet at technical level.
We were given a mandate to the means on how to work on modalities and I come from Social Security. I know there is a development fund there for these types of things and on that basis we went to Social Security.
NE: How do you balance your work as Secretary to Cabinet and your other roles such as at Nipam and SME Bank?
GS: It is important to have support structures which my predecessor Frans Kapofi created, and fortunately we now have people, maybe not as many as I would like to. For example at Nipam and SME Bank, I am not an executive there, I am a non-executive director.
My involvement at these places is arm’s length. But here at Cabinet and government secretariat affairs, I am hands on.
NE: Until when will Andrew Ndishishi, the PS in your office, remain a caretaker executive director of Nipam?
GS: Ndishishi is the seconded executive director – government has given him Nipam to take care of. The reason we did that was in the first and second rounds of our advertisements we couldn’t find the right people. We then decided to take a caretaker there and then in the meantime we advertise the job of a deputy executive director, who will be taken care of by the executive director. At the right time the executive director will then advertise for the job of a full-time executive director.
NE: What happens to him when a new executive director is found?
GS: Secondment means you have been posted and you can brought back, depending on the nature of the duties, and maybe it finds him going into retirement, which is also fine. If he has to come back earlier he will come back.
We are still paying his salary as PS at government, and Nipam takes care of the difference between the executive director and the PS remuneration. The executive director was earning more money.
NE: But it is still government nonetheless that is paying him, through Nipam and your office?
GS: Yes, yes, to students from one father.
NE: Has the labour dispute between Nipam and its former executive director Joseph Diescho been sorted out?
GS: I will not like to comment on that matter – as you know he has taken it to arbitration and it is a matter that is at the labour commissioner.
NE: What are your thoughts on the concept of the separation of power, between the judiciary, legislative and executive?
GS: You are getting me into an area where I am not supposed to get into. The territory of politics is a highly contested area and I am not qualified to express myself on views of that nature. All I will say is that the government has respected and implemented it very well.
NE: Can you shed more light on recent reports that you are being investigated by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) for bribery?
GS: I did not know that I was still under the radar of the ACC. I do not buy qualifications. We had a teacher who came to Namibia to teach students for their PhDs and he taught not only me but others as well. We were about 20 students who attended his classes every Saturday.
He was also involved in applying in the process that led to him being granted this N$2 million contract to do performance agreements. It was alleged that I gave him that contract so that he can pass me to get my degree. All my life I have been a cum laude student. The records are there. I explained even that time with PhD it does not mean that just because I have a professor who is supervisor he was going to pass me. He had no relevance in that.
The examiners are not the supervisors, they are appointed by the examiners board. At that I was being accused. I went to court and this case was dismissed and the ACC people were found to have erred in their processes.