Back at the NYC helm: Calista Schwartz-Gowases

FOLLOWING allegations of contravening the council’s protocols and going through a roller coaster ride with the National Youth Council (NYC) board, this week, director of the institution Calista Schwartz-Gowases speaks to Confidente on how the allegations came about and how it all transpired.

CR: Kindly give us a brief background on your achievements when you joined the Council

CG: Prior to my appointment as the Director of the Council, my previous roles and responsibilities at the Council entails empowering small and medium youth entrepreneurs and initiating environmental awareness programmes as Head of Employment Creation and Environmental Awareness Programs(2003 – 2013).

When I joined the Council in 2002, my first assignment from my former supervisor Hon. Pohamba Shifeta was to follow-up with the Commonwealth Secretariat the submission of my predecessor and to ensure that Namibia replicate the Commonwealth Youth Credit Initiative, substituting the Council’s equipment Grant Scheme.

The Council jointly with Ministry of Youth, National Service, Sports and Culture in 2006 successfully initiated the Commonwealth Youth Credit Initiative, currently known as the Namibia Youth Credit Scheme, under the auspices of the Ministry of Sport, Youth and National Service.

In 2008, as a complementary micro financing youth programme to the Namibian Youth Credit Scheme, I successfully initiated the Youth Collateral Programme which is currently implemented in partnership with Bank Windhoek.  With the support of my former supervisor, Juliet Kavetuna, I manage to raised N$5,770.518 through National Planning Commission (NPC) under the Rural Poverty Reduction Programme  and the Spanish Cooperation through the Joint Equipment Aid Fund (JEAF).

NYC back then

Back then when I joined the Council, the government subsidy of the Council was about N$3 million and my department budget N$150,000.   The staff component were 11, although having a titled of Head of Department, I was alone in the department and heavily relied onworking with youth volunteers.  Working at the Council required innovation, creativity, dedication and hard work.  In fact being a young person at that time, I was very enthusiastic and passionate about youth development and was looking forward in helping my peers prosper in life.

To achieve your success as an employee of the Council, you were forced to mobilise external funding in order to ensure that the mandate of the Institution is achieved. Within the first years after joining the Council, I managed to partner up with other public and private organisations, particularly with Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Ministry of Environment and Tourism and our line Ministry, Ministry of Sport, Youth and National Service who was the greatest source of support. 

Over a period of six years, the funding for the department in kind and cash stood up to the value of 9 million from international donors, private and public entities, such as FNB, DBN, HeroldPupkwewitz Foundation, NAMPORT, Social Security Commission, Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Ministry of Environment and Tourism, NASOMA, UNESCO, UNFPA, Ministry of Sport, Youth and National Service, Local Authorities (Grootfontein, Otjiwarongo, Windhoek, Gobabis, Swakopmund).  Biggest funders among others were:

European Union (EU) through the National Planning Commission (NPC) under the Rural Poverty Reduction Programme   – NS3,770,518

Spanish Cooperation through the Joint Equipment Aid Fund (JEAF)  – N$2,000,000

Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) –  N$2,500,000

Social Security Commission funded 3 youth agricultural projects to the value of N$5,500,000, beneficiaries (Oshana Regional Youth Forum, Ohangwena Regional Youth Forum, Aminuis Constituency Youth Forum).

NAMPORT N$750,000

First National Bank (FNB Foundation)  – N$800,000

With the funding from external sources and the government subsidy I manage among others initiated and implemented the following programs.

Annual Youth Enterprise Expo

The Annual Youth Enterprise Expo allowed young entrepreneurs and the aspiring entrepreneurs to interact, showcase their products and services and learn about business development opportunities.  Youth Businesses with best innovative ideas won cash awards ranged from N$5,000.00 to N$50,000.00.  The Youth Enterprise Expo (2002 – 2014) yearly attracted more than 250 businesses and 100 artists.

Apart from a huge public recognition, Youth Enterprise Expo was regarded as a great milestone in promoting youth enterprise development in Namibia. An exhibition of youth dreams and achievements served as a positive role model and encouragement to other young aspiring entrepreneurs.

Africa/Canada Youth Eco Leadership Exchange Programme

The exchange program focused on building leadership skills and increasing community and international development knowledge in youth. For six months, youth from Namibia, age 17-24 years participated in this international programme, living in Canada, Mozambique, South Africa or Botswana and vice versa, other young people from the said countries in Namibia. IN 2005 and 2007 more than 90 youth from Southern Africa and Canada had participated from which 24 were Namibians.  Participants have learned and appreciated the During this period, Council embarked on various community projects in the host communities, such as sponsoring and building eight iron sheet houses in Gobabis for vulnerable families. We also helped put in the dry toilets which are an environmentally friendly toilet, called OTJI-LOO in Otjiwarongo, building and cleaning walking trail and water points at Etosha National Park, Waterberg Plateau, conservancies, cleaning of local hospitals and old age shelters, hosting Christmas functions forelderly people.

This project fully funded the tickets, medical cost and monthly allowances of participants, as well as monthly allowances of host families and community projects. The host families provide the foundation for the participant’s’ experience within the host community, helping the participants to understand the economic, social and cultural realities of the region.

Credit for Youth in Business (CYB) Programme

CYB a loan guarantee program, aimed to support youth in business, the ones without collateral, in their efforts to access loans from mainstream banking sector and its implemented in partnership with Bank Windhoek.

Young entrepreneurs through the Credit for Youth in Business (CYB) Programme is introduced to the mainstream banking sector, assisted with business registration, backup with bank loans to build bankable history in obtaining  bigger loan from Bank Windhoek.

Young entrepreneurs were provided with business management training and business plan development. Those who obtained loans where further provided with mentorship by SME Compete.

Youth SME Development Grants

Among the enterprise development projects funded to the value of close to N$2 million by the Council are the Endombo Agricultural Youth Project in Oshana region, Onehanga Agricultural Project in Ohangwena region, Daurus Youth bakery Project and Usakos Youth brick making project in Erongo Region, Amunius livestock project in Omaheke, Ovambanderu Hide and Skin Project (Kunene/Omaheke).

In fact I can write a book about all the achievements in empowering young entrepreneurs over the past years when I was the Head of Desk: Employment Creation and Environmental.

CR:What was your relationship with your former supervisors, board members and what will you say about them?

CG: I had a very good relationship with them. The immediate people who can attest and who strongly believe in my abilities of being a dynamic, result oriented employee are my former immediate supervisors, namely Pohamba Shifeta, current Minister of Environment and Tourism,  Juliet Kavetuna, member of Parliament and former Ministers of the line Ministry of Sport, Youth and National Service will be John Mutorwa, Minister of Works and Transport,  Jerry Ekandjo, Member of Parliament, Agnes Tjongarero, Minister of Sport, Youth and National Service.  The former Executive Committee Members and board members of the Council from the time I joined the Council till 2015.  I can only say to them today, thank you for your support and guidance.

The biggest mentor was my best friend, my brother and boss late Comrade Mandela Kapere.  He started working with me in 2003 as a volunteer at the Council, in the department I headed whilst an executive committee member of the Council, become the Chairperson of the board and my immediate supervisor.  May his legacy in youth development continue to prosper.

CR: The National Youth Council was a youth body established in 1994 through a Cabinet Resolution and later transformed in an SOE with enactment of the NYC Act, Act No: 3 of 2009.  What was your role in the transformation?

CG: First and foremost it is important to state that when I joined the Council, we were operating from a house and with a small budget but had a huge national mandate towards empowering the youth of Namibia.  Among the 11 permanent employees, only 4 staff members were responsible for programming. We had many challenges at hand but it never derailed us from achieving our mandate.  I can recall, operating from a tiny office, with a small toilet window but what I told myself was that my purpose at the Council was not about the size of the office or the luxury of the office furniture but what I could do in improving the living standards of the young people.  The focus was towards the vision of the Council and what motivated me was the slogan of the Council “Youth Growing with the Nation” and most importantly the supportive immediate supervisors and my colleagues.

The period after the 2010 General Assembly, was a time of uncertainty, as the NYC Act No. 3 of 2009 had not come into effect because it was not gazetted untill November 2011. This meant that for some 14 months, from 2010 to February 2011, the Board operations had effectively been rendered void. Thus, the Council was left without proper governance mechanisms. Only in February of 2012, was the NYC Board officially inaugurated by the then Minister of Youth, National Service Sports and Culture, Hon Kazenambo Kazenambo. Once power was wrested by the Board, it set sight on developing strategies around the NYC’s transformation process. This change resulted in greater expectations in terms of service delivery and demanded that the Council continue to strive to be a centre of excellence. The Board then appointed me as the Acting Director and we have effectively managed our own paradigm shift from being mainly a political arm with an overly political perspective of the affairs of the NYC, to one with a balanced strategic and governance perspective. The institutional paradigm shift characterised by the transition to SOE required a thorough rethinking of all business processes, job descriptions, management systems, and organisational structure of the Council.Thus systems were drawn from scratch, staff reassigned according to competencies and strategies cemented. These included effective and efficient programme management, an organisational culture, and human resources management, creating an effective working environment, and staffing strategies that were non-existent.As a result, focus was placed on building a strong foundation geared towards improved service delivery.

Another important priority was the construction of the NYC headquarters. The office design process enjoyed the strong support of the line ministry.

CR:You were accused of having a hand in NYC HQ Constructions in an article by the Patriot titled:  ‘Dubious transactions encountered at NYC’. Can you briefly give us background on how the contractors (Joevani Properties) were contracted?

CG: The contractors (Joevani Properties) was never contracted by the Director (me), neither by the National Youth Council.   The company was contracted by the Ministry of Youth, Sport and National Service on behalf of the National Youth Council in June 2012 and commences with the construction in 2013.  The contract was entered between Joevani Properties and Ministry of Youth, Sport and National Service.

The project was on hold almost for three consecutive years, 2015 – 2017 merely due to unpaid paymentsof worked already completed and the outstanding payment was eventually received in December 2017, from the Ministry of Sport, Youth and National Service.

The project commenced again in 2018 in the same year, once again on hold due to internal fights.  Despite the fact that the construction has commences in 2013, it was not possible for the contractor to complete the construction and handover the building to the council due to late payments and mostly due to internal fights.

Eventually, with the leadership of the Interim Board appointed in July 2020, the building was finally completed and inaugurated on 21 December 2020 by the Minister of Sport, Youth and National Service.  What the Council had paid close to 1,5 million mostly in interest claimed by the contractors through their lawyers, stemming from 2016.

What people don’t understand is that I am the Accounting Officer of the Council and by the virtue of my position, my responsibility was to oversee the operations of the Council.   Any alterations, additional work on the building was done on the instruction and approval of the Board and performed professionally, with integrity in the best interest of the Institution.

CR:What is your view regarding the current negative publicity of the Council and what is your message to those who are running to the newspapers with false allegations?

CG: My advice to those who are running to the newspaper should go to Anti- Corruption Commission to find recourse but not to the newspapers.  What will they achieve besides tarnishing my reputation with false and baseless allegations. The people running to the newspapers  are people who have a personal vendetta with me. Now they are trying the last kick of the dying horse.

CR: You have been at the Council since 2002 and had never been in the newspapers for  negative publicity, what happened that you are suddenly being accused with fraud, tribalism, nepotism, etc?

CG: Managing people is not easy, especially when you take firm decisions.  What is mostly misunderstood is the authority and accountability of being in charge of an institution.  My experience at the Council is when you say NO you are a bad person but when you say YES you are a good person.  The expectation is to dance to the tunes of those who are leading and it’s mostly in satisfying their individual needs. Unfortunately, I will never compromise on my principles, I am managing a public institution and it is expected to do so in the best of my ability with fairness, integrity within the in the confine laws.

My view on bad publicity about someone is conceived by ill-minded people who want to tarnish the reputation of another person.

CR: Do you think that the manner in which the board of the Council is appointed is a very serious shortcoming for NYC? What is your experience?

CG: The board of the Council is elected at the General Assembly of the Council who is the highest decisionmaking body in the structure and are attended by youth organisations who are affiliated with the Council and the Regional Youth Structures.   Any young person between the ages of 18 – 35 years can be elected and appointed as a board member of the Council.

The Council is currently the only legitimate youth body where young people are given an opportunity to govern their own affairs.  What is important is the Director-Board relationship.The board should understand their fiduciary duties and must be able to distinguish between administration and policy.   My experience is, how the leadership govern the institution will build or break it.

CR: In conclusion what will be your message to your stakeholders and the youth?

CG: The NYC remains committed to the principle of good governance, integrity, ethics and professionalism.  The priority of the board and Management is geared towards youth empowerment and funding of youth organisations and youth structure.