NSFAF spend on Nghiwete battle regrettable

REVELATIONS that the ongoing battle between suspended Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund CEO Hilya Nghiwete and her employer has cost taxpayers N$8.4 million so far is not only regressive but a smack in the face of multitudes of students who have failed to access financial aid due to lack of adequate resources.

Ironically, this revelation in which NSFAF said Nghiwete’s disciplinary process, which includes the costs of commissioning the KPMG forensic investigation, her full salary since her suspension in April 2018 and High Court litigation, has seen it forking out N$8.4 million to date, came at a time when the fund also announced that it would halt funding aviation students.

At the same time, and through failure to resolve its differences with Nghiwete on time and amicably, the fund, through its lawyer Andrew Corbett, indicated this week that Nghiwete has since been paid N$4 million over a period of 22 months while on suspension, whilst not rendering any services to NSFAF in any capacity.

This in essence spells disaster for an organisation that has 88 640 debtors (economic active debtors) owing a combined N$4.2 billion, money which has put a huge dent on the fund’s ability to effectively deliver on its mandate.

Under this pre-text, we believe it should be an imperative for state owned institutions to always find better ways to deal with legal battles in ways that save that taxpayer money, money which should be directed at pertinent and progressive matters and in this case, funding more prospective students through tertiary education.

Over the years, we have seen how golden handshakes and protracted legal battles with departing MDs and CEOs have been a thorn in the flesh for much needed savings and while the government has spent years working to eliminate this issue, more must be done to increase appropriate and careful stewardship of taxpayer funds.

This is also critical at this time when public enterprise spending is too high and government debt is piling up. Indeed, projections will continue to show rivers of red ink for years to come unless policymakers enact reforms. These reforms should be those that curb slower economic growth and possibly further financial crises down the road.

At this stage, we are tempted to think that government has failed to properly prioritise its efforts regarding eliminating avoidable payments. For instance, public enterprises spend more time complying with low-value compliance activities than researching the underlying causes of improper payments and building the capacity to help prevent future improper payments.

This could be through enacting much more effective oversight systems that ensure that the cycle of golden handshakes and unnecessary legal wars are eliminated from the national purse.

Of course, not every legal expenditure within this human resource category is wasteful, but experience has demonstrated that additional scrutiny is necessary. If a public enterprise wants to spend taxpayer dollars on taking its conflicted CEO to court, there should be adequate systems to substantiate this and verify that it is the best and most efficient use of money in a bid to avoid spillage particularly at this time when the country is reeling from Covid-19 implications.