Why do parastatals need turning around?
Two weeks away from a very important election, I just noticed this week another parastatal claiming something about its turn-around strategy.
This time the delinquent company was the airports company, but the sounds it made are not knew to the chorus of ruined parastatals all claiming some sort of success in their succession of turn-around strategies.
Of course, you don’t need to be a brain doctor to ask the logical question: Why do all these parastatals need turning around? Were they not solid, well-operating companies or departments at some stage? What has gone wrong, where has it gone wrong, and finally, under whose unguided lack of wisdom have they all ventured onto the wrong set of tracks? Approaching the elections, I believe these are crucial questions because they require pertinent answers regarding the individuals that will be in charge of the ministries under whose directions all these parastatals seem to have lost the way.
The list of parastatals needing resuscitation is actually quite impressive. Writing just from memory, I remember that Air Namibia was perhaps the first to show signs of serious distress. This was shortly after intransigent decisions by our leaders saddled us with an over-expensive combination passenger cargo plane, which we first of all, could not afford, secondly could not operate profitably, and thirdly, never managed to entice either the pax or the cargo, to fill the cabins and the holds. To top it all, a VERY senior government leader earned a very substantial “commission” for this deal but it never became refundable when the weaknesses of the transport manifested themselves. Air Namibia has been a basket case ever since, with debts piling up year after year. Were it not for the annual budget bail-outs, the airline would long ago have become a derelict of ineptness. But for the last more-than-10 years, it continues to talk turn-around, every time under a new strategic team, while battling to find the money to give the outgoing team the golden handshakes which have also become customary.
Preceding the airports company but taking its cue from the airline, I remember that the Road Contractors Company was also in serious need of revival. At that time, the debate centred around competitiveness with the RCC claiming it could not compete against private contractors despite inheriting all its assets from its predecessor, the road building unit in the Ministry of Works. I can not remember exactly which route the RCC followed, but at least I still see the grader every now and then on my district road when I go to the farm on weekends. So it seems some components have managed to survive there.
Joining the fray was TransNamib which turned from a leading parastatal where people were proud to work, into a bleeding entity, again reflecting the same pattern of being robbed blind, being lead by the blind, and finally, draining its line ministry’s budget while trying to stay afloat. It is difficult to recall exactly how many MDs TransNamib has had over the years, and exactly how many turn-around strategies have been implemented. I doubt there are anybody left who can intelligently say what the status of the most recent before-last turn-around strategy was, before it also, inevitably, was abandoned.
The ailing parastatal ghost not only haunts those companies that have to compete against the private sector but also those that enjoy some form of institutional protection, or at least a secure market space. I am talking of the NBC which also had umpteen turn-around and/or revival strategies, up to the latest, where seemingly something has been accomplished. Many years ago, the NBC was forced to employ 53 individuals totally unqualified and unsuited for the intended positions. When the HR manager objected, only 17 of these individuals were actually employed.
For a professional to identify somebody as unsuited or unskilled, or un-whatever, did not find a place in the formula used to screen new candidates. The HR manager was fired, and the NBC followed the route of all evil.
Then there are the two state hospitals in Windhoek. Both establishments used to be respectable health institutions until the same NBC mentality found fertile ground. Eventually both were robbed and mismanaged into the ground until it became a popular saying that one goes there to die, not to get well. How does any leader defend this two weeks before the elections.
I have also recently learned of yet another parastatal in distress. At first I could not believe this but then I saw a document issued on retrenchment of a staff member. I could not believe the amount. It actually bought the recipient a small farm. Where does it all end?