NHE needs robust change

THE return of four National Housing Enterprise (NHE) bosses to office after their suspension was lifted this week provides a new mix into the cocktail of governance challenges being faced by public enterprises that need urgent redress.

While curiosity will linger on how the managers who feel were purged into suspension, after they accused their CEO of being incompetent, will work again with the CEO, what is more certain is that the wrangle at NHE has been a thorn in the flesh of the enterprise’s developmental objectives.

Indeed, NHE is not a unique case when it comes to ailing public enterprises with entities such as Meatco, NWR, Agribusdev and NAC recently being named among those that are on the path towards liquidation if nothing is done to rescue them.

To avoid this path, now more than ever the NHE executive must find common ground and find ways in which they can work together amicably to bring about the change required to respond effectively to the mandate of the enterprise.

The challenges that were raised by 12 managers in their petition recently still require inferring. We are reminded that a capacity assessment that was conducted and paid for by the NHE confirmed the lack of leadership and strategic capacity in the NHE which spells disaster as this is more or less synonymous with having a plane without a competent pilot.

Apart from this, it has become a public secret that the housing enterprise has failed to achieve two critical objectives of its strategic plan – growing its loan book, and building 1 250 houses annually.

These deeply rooted deficiencies in the enterprise will remain in force for as long as the executive is divided and lacking in visionary consensus. We have always affirmed that state owned enterprises are there to provide public goods, limit private and foreign control of the domestic economy, generate public funds for the fiscus, increase service delivery and encourage economic development and industrialisation.

Particularly given its unique socio-political and economic dynamics, a country such as ours clearly needs strategic parastatals such as NHE to play a crucial role in the housing space, a key deliverable for any liberated nation.

We cannot have NHE continue to approach its mandate in the way that it has in the past. Perhaps the warning that was recently issued by public enterprises minister, Leon Jooste should be applied if we are to have progressive entities.

“In cases where reckless trading or gross negligence can be determined, board members will be held personally liable with associated unpleasant consequences. This is a simple but fundamental requirement to cultivate a performance culture within the public enterprises,” warned Jooste in what could be a prophetic answer to what should be done to hold executives entrusted with public enterprises to account.

Namibia cannot afford to continue subsidising underperforming public enterprises. The country needs to put measures in place to ensure optimal performance of its SOEs so that they can contribute not only to better service delivery but also to the national economy. This should start with NHE.