12. August 2016

Govt ban bites ministries

THE decision by the finance ministry to freeze new government appointments this year due to the prevailing drought has affected several strategic ministries. Finance minister Calle Schlettwein confirmed to The Namibian yesterday that he recently sent a memo to all ministries, directing them to halt initial plans to fill vacant posts.
National budget documents show that the freeze affected around 15 000 vacant positions which were supposed to be filled this year. This includes vacant positions in the military, which has been on a recruitment drive in the past few weeks. The ministry of education claims not to know about the temporary ban, while the police said it had returned N$168 million meant for paying the salaries of new police officers to the state.
Schlettwein warned that state entities which defy the freeze will be breaking the law, and doing it on their own. He said the ban was effected after Cabinet endorsed a decision to divert money budgeted to pay people filling the vacancies to the ongoing drought relief programme.
This was after Cabinet was briefed about possible remedies on how to tackle the drought. “I wrote the memo a few months ago. The money budgeted for new jobs is not available anymore. Finito,” he stressed.

Namibia has been hit with recurrent droughts over the past three years, which has cost farmers in crops and livestock, and has affected over a quarter of the population, which now is food-insecure. In order to feed people, government has been running a drought relief programme, which saw N$916 million being spent towards drought relief from April 2015 to March 2016.
About 700 000 people facing survival and livelihood protection deficits caused by the foot-and-mouth disease, increased prices of the staple food basket and severe drought conditions, have received non-food assistance.
Asked what would happen to those ministries which defy the decision not to take on new civil servants, Schlettwein said those government entities will be breaking the State Finance Act, which allows Treasury to direct how public money is to be used.
The minister said the decision to freeze employing government workers was done a few days before 29 June this year when President Hage Geingob declared a state of emergency due to the ongoing drought.
Budget documents tabled in the National Assembly this year show that by March 2016, the government employed over 100 700 civil servants, while the state budgeted to pay around 116 500 government workers. That means around 15 000 positions were budgeted for, but are not yet filled.
One of the ministries which have been heavily affected by the ban is the Ministry of Safety and Security that had over 8 000 vacancies budgeted for this financial year which needed to be filled, documents show. Safety minister Charles Namoloh told The Namibian yesterday that his ministry returned N$168 million that was meant for paying new police recruits. “It is a challenge for us because now we have more ministers and deputies. We are making arrangements on how to go forward,” he noted.
Namoloh said although he is disappointed that his ministry will not employ officers as initially planned, they understand that the country has been hit by drought. “Now, we (police) will look at funding critical areas. We need to work with the little we have,” he added.

Another ministry hit hard by the ban is defence, whose military portfolio has recently been advertising positions in newspapers. Defence minister Penda ya Ndakolo also told this newspaper that he is aware of the freeze on employing new civil servants. But he rejected claims that his ministry is defying a directive from the ministry of finance not to recruit new personnel.
Instead, Ya Ndakolo said his ministry is faced with several cases of senior commanders and generals retiring. He said his ministry is replacing those officers, and not necessary filling new positions. “There is a need to replace those outgoing officers. We understand the concerns about drought, but the security of the country is very important and cannot be compromised,” he stressed.
According to finance ministry documents, the defence ministry has around 19 000 officers, but the state budgeted for 19 400 positions. This leaves around 400 people who were set to be taken into the force. The ministry of education has also been on a roll, advertising new positions.

Education permanent secretary Sanet Steenkamp told The Namibian that she has not seen the memo from the finance ministry to halt the recruitment of new workers. “I have heard about it, but that's it,” she added.
Steenkamp said the ongoing recruitment campaign to recruit teachers was not recently done, but it is an exercise which was planned months ago. She said the education ministry's executive meeting will be held on 17 August, and the ban will be one of the topics to be discussed at that meeting. “We will discuss how the ban will affect our operations,” Steenkamp said. (The Namibian, Windhoek)

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