Taking NSFAF to greater heights

… Kandume shares insights into Fund’s growth

HAVING been confronted by many challenges this year, NSFAF acting Chief Executive Officer, Kennedy Kandume (KK) has managed to keep the Fund functional and on a path to better and greater service delivery. In this view, Confidente News Editor, Hilary Mare (HM) interviewed Kandume on a wide array of issues critical to the progress of the Fund.

(HM): Who is Kennedy Kandume?

(KK): I was born some years ago in northern Namibia at a village called Oshali in Ohangwena Region. I started my primary schooling at Sakaria Shikudule Primary School, however I could not complete my primary schooling there as I went into exile to Angola. I continued with my schooling in Swapo camps, first in Kwanza (Cuanza) Sul in Angola and thereafter Nyango in Zambia, until we were repatriated in December 1990.

To cut a long story short, I matriculated in Windhoek and enrolled at the University of Namibia, where I completed a B.Com Degree (Accounting, Economic and Management Science), followed by two Masters Degrees i.e. MSc. In Financial Economic at University of Namibia (in collaboration with London School of Economics) and M.Com Money and Banking (focusing on Monetary Policy Transmission Mechanism as well as on Bank Management) at the University of the Free State in South Africa.

Workwise, I worked for Bank of Namibia for 11 years in various capacities including being a Financial Analyst, Research Officer, Economist and Senior Economist.  I was then seconded by Bank of Namibia to establish the Payments Association of Namibia (PAN), and subsequently became its Chief Operating Officer. I left PAN to join Standard Bank Namibia as a Head of Payment, where I worked for two years, then I joined NSFAF as Senior Manager Operations and as they say, the rest is history.

(HM):   Has there been any innovation that you have brought in? If so please share with us some of the improvements that you have brought in while at the helm?

(KK): I started acting in April 2018. To date I have completed two years and five months at the helm of the institution. Following are some notable changes during the period:

Review of the Funding Policy

With the blessing of the board and shareholder we reviewed the 2015 ‘Awards of Loans, Grants and Scholarship Policy’. Today we have the Students Financial Assistance and Debt Recovery Policy in place, which ensures that the provision of financial assistance is responsive and aligned to national development goals. Apart from eligibility for financial assistance, the policy makes provision for the introduction of means-testing; borrower’s obligations; and defined repayment period.

Data Integrity Project

Effective record management is key to smooth administration. In our case clear records enhance debt recovery. A Data Integrity Project was commissioned to achieve the following objectives:

• To capture all NSFAF files into electronic format leading to a loan book establishment.

• To determine the amount of money that NSFAF disbursed to beneficiaries to date, both in the form of grants and loans.

• To do a proper age analysis of the loan book.

• To determine what is recoverable and what is not, given the prescription periods.

To date, 131 000 physical files have been converted into electronic format, with a nominal value of N$7.5 billion, of which N$5.8 billion are loans, while N$1.7 billion are grants. This is, however, nominal in the sense that interest is excluded at the moment since it is only applicable once employment status of a debtor is established.

Integrated Strategic Business Plan

A three-year strategic plan was crafted for the period 2019/2020 to 2021/2022. The strategic plan is approved and being implemented. The focus areas of this strategic plan are:

a) Effective debt management

b) Delivery of excellent customer experience

c) Improved quality of funding

d) Improved operational efficiency

e) Improved organisational culture and performance

With the promulgation of Public Enterprises Governance Act, 2019 (Act No. 1 of 2019) in May 2019, we have commenced with the review of the current Strategic Plan into a five-year Strategic Plan to fulfil the ideals of the Act. We aspire to have the new strategic plan approved for implementation effective April 1 2021.

Organisational Structure Review

Following the approval of the Strategic Plan, the organisational structure review has commenced to ensure that it is fit for a purpose and responds to the aspiration of the Strategic Plan going forward.

Automation of Business Processes

To ensure efficiency, our business processes have significantly transitioned from manual to automation. Apart from online application, we have introduced an interim payment solution for better controls.  The overseas developed and supported Loan/Grant Administration Management Information System (LGAMIS) is being replaced with a locally designed and supported Integrated Loan Management System for quick response and reasonable trouble shooting turnaround time. This will surely bring about enhanced efficiency in general and quick response to student queries via their respective portals.

Operational Policies

NSFAF is a dynamic organisation, like any other, thus through audits and risks assessment some operational policy gaps were identified. Hence 13 policies were reviewed and/or developed to effectively guide our day-to-day operations.

Improved Risk Management

We have introduced a three-layer risk management plan, comprising of an operational Risk Champions Committee, which reports to a dedicated Executive Management Committee on risk, which in turn reports to the board’s Audit and Risk Committee.  Because of this interactive approach, we have managed to close off 56 audit findings, reducing audit findings from 91 at the beginning of the current financial year to 35.

Improved Corporate Image

The Fund had a history of appearing in media for the wrong reasons, mostly on account of in-fighting (fighting between management and the board) and also on account of poor service delivery. It is pleasing to note that there is a cordial working relationship between management and the board. The Fund has also made strides in improving its service delivery, as mentioned above, most processes are either fully automated or in a process of being automated.   

(HM):   What would you regard as the highlight of your role as CEO so far?

(KK): The sustainability drive and stakeholders’ engagement to create an understanding of our processes. For the last two years we have successfully negotiated reduced registration fees with some IHLs for NSFAF applicants pending the finalisation of the award process. We engaged Treasury through our line Ministry for funds to be released to ensure timely students’ payments.

Having gone through a lot of reputational dynamics, through my acting tenure I have come to the conclusion that at our core, we exist to fulfil certain national needs, solve certain challenges and meet certain demands. If there are no customers -in this case our students- for what we offer, there is no point in running the Fund.

So in essence, our customers are running the show. In return, they rightly expect you to care about their problems, work hard on creating services that make their lives easier, and staying alert in resolving any bottlenecks in their path to success.

This is what customer centricity is all about. A customer centric organisation is where every process starts and ends with customer satisfaction in mind.

I am happy to announce that soon we will have a fully fledged integrated call centre solution that will enhance customer experience.

(HM):   NSFAF is confronted with many challenges. How are you dealing with these challenges?

(KK):  We have a capable and dedicated team, thus no challenge is insurmountable to us. Through strategic conversation with stakeholders, the shareholder and customers (students) we create win/win relationships for the benefit of all parties. Synergy and positive staff engagement is an enabler in overcoming challenges.

(HM):   The laptop initiative was introduced as part of the government’s support for higher education institutions to ensure that remote teaching takes place during the pandemic. This has been a key challenge. Could you shed more light on this initiative, its intention and how best it will be implemented after consultations?

(KK): The intention is very simple and that is to ensure that education of the Namibian child continues amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. It is a well thought out and evidence-based intervention whereby a fact finding analysis on online teaching and learning was carried out. Such exercises resulted in the following findings:

a) Many students do not have access to laptops or computers.

b) Many students cannot afford the cost of data to access platforms and educational resources.

c) ICT infrastructure (including servers and storage devices) at institutions cannot cope with the volume of courses or programmes and supporting materials to be uploaded.

d) Internal and external bandwidth of the various HEIs is a challenge when all students were diverted to e-learning.

In light of the above, we resolved that:

a) 10 Giga Byte per second data per month shall be provided to each student.

b) N$2.4 million be availed to the Namibia University of Science and Technology to upgrade its servers/storage facility as well as expand institutional bandwidth.

c) N$7 million be availed to the University of Namibia to upgrade its servers/storages facility for its own use and accommodate e-learning platforms of other higher education institutions.

d) Acquisition of laptops for all needy students, both NSFAF funded and privately funded students.

There is nothing sinister about this laptop tender; it is a national bidding process, open to any Namibian entity that meets the bidding requirements. Our focus is to ensure that the pandemic does not derail the nation as far as teaching and learning is concerned. There shall be no breach of signed contracts with regard to payment of non-tuition fee.

Laptops shall be subsidised by government through NSFAF by 50 percent. The students will be given three options to finance the remaining 50 percent. First option will be for the students to finance such through a NSFAF loan, which will be repayable as per NSFAF Financial Assistance and Recovery Policy. Second option will be for NSFAF-funded students to indicate whether money should be deducted from their non-tuition fee, and the third option will be for the students to finance the 50 percent through a cash payment.

(HM): In February, Students Union of Namibia (SUN) alleged that you do not have students’ interest at heart. What is your take regarding this statement?

(KK): Our mandate is to fund students provided requirements of certain policies and procedures are fulfilled. Therefore, I disagree with such an emotive statement made by individuals that want things to be executed in a certain way with no regard to established protocols. I am however pleased to state that through strategic engagements and conversation, issues were unpacked and methodically explained, hence a cordial relationship exists with all student bodies and SRCs.

(HM):   Do you think the funding model for NSFAF is sustainable?

(KK): Yes, we have championed various initiatives to ensure sustainability, however ultimate sustainability depends on willingness of the past beneficiaries to repay their loans. NSFAF was established as a revolving fund, meaning it is supposed to continue to replenish as more and more eligible students are qualifying for funding.

This Fund has assisted many professionals, such as accountants, lawyers, teachers and even politicians who are earning reasonable income, but hesitant when it comes to settlement of their debt with NSFAF. It is absolute necessary that employed beneficiaries repay so that other Namibians can be assisted as well.

As mentioned above, we have converted manual information into electronic, this enabled us to send demand letters and statements to debtors. Debtors who will continue ignoring our messages will face litigation.

We have been studying the funding models of other students’ funding agencies, particularly in Africa. We have learnt that most of them have moved from being 100 percent reliant on Treasury appropriation, in fact some are only getting 50 percent of their budgetary requirements from Treasury, the rest is income generated through recovery of loans.         

(HM):   Could you shed more light on the reduction of funding for post graduate students?

(KK):  This is water under the bridge; the reduction was necessitated by competing priorities versus available resources. Hence a strategic decision was taken to continue assisting this constituency but at a reduced rate to ensure that we don’t go beyond our means. This arrangement was only for a specific year but it does not mean it will continue as such perpetually. It must however be noted that postgraduate funding is strictly for priority fields of study and specialisation, particularly on health fields of study.

(HM):   Do you have anything else to add?

(KK):  I just want to reiterate that NSFAF plays a pivotal role in the development of the country’s human resources and realisation of National Development Plan (NDP5), particularly in the areas of Economic Progression and Social Transformation, thus its sustainability is key to the developmental agenda. 

To date about 131 000 students were assisted in a form of bursaries, scholarships, loans and grants to pursue various educational programmes at vocational education, undergraduate and postgraduate levels since independence. In this regard, the Government has invested over N$7.6 billion in provision of financial assistance to students from 1990 to date.