Backlash over Van Kent’s appointment to Nust council

Ministry of Higher Education, Technology and Innovation executive director Alfred van Kent

The appointment of the Ministry of Higher Education, Technology and Innovation executive director Alfred van Kent onto the Namibia University of Science and Technology (Nust) interim council has been met with a backlash.

Several voices have raised concern over Van Kent’s suitability to help steer the university in the interim, given his proximity to higher education minister Itah Kandjii-Murangi.

Van Kent has also been criticised for having done little to deal with controversies and divisions within the previous council.

The same council has been accused of having failed to institute an investigation into administrative corruption allegations at the institution.

The interim council has been appointed by Kandjii-Murangi, who is currently embroiled in a subsistence and travel allowance saga which has pitted her against University of Namibia (Unam) lecturer Job Amupanda.

Ministry spokesperson Selma Ngola confirmed that the council includes Van Kent, Namibia Airports Company (NAC) board chairperson Leake Hangala and Telecom chief executive officer Stanley Shanapinda.

However, Ngola could not confirm how long the interim council is expected to serve before a substantive council is put in place.

Swapo party central committee member and deputy secretary for education Hofni Iipinge has cast doubt over the inclusion of Van Kent.

“You cannot take someone from the same ministry and put him in that interim council. Is there anything that they want to hide from the public, because Dr Van Kent is already part of the ministry of higher education. He is now part of this committee and I was also just thinking about what is happening there.”

“The minister and that of public enterprises have never brought the Nust issues to the Swapo party to seek for our indulgence or some wisdom from the party. Never! I do not know what is happening,” said Iipinge.

Iipinge said it is unlikely that the interim council will investigate corruption allegations levelled against Nust vice chancellor Erold Naomab.

Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) shadow minister for education Inna Hengari said the inclusion of Van Kent was not a smart move by the minister.

“I do not think it’s a smart move at all because they are supposed to be playing a supervisory role over the council itself. So, once you incorporate an individual who serves as the executive director or the accounting officer of the line ministry, it begs the question, is there transparency to this particular appointment?”

“Why do we keep on reshuffling the same people? We are now taking the guy from Telecom and we put him here. These are people already in positions that have so many other responsibilities.”

Hengari said Kandjii-Murangi must disclose the mechanisms she has put in place to ensure Nust is not rocked by another controversy.

“How do we ensure that the council is held accountable, even by the appointing authority? The minister owes it to the public to come out and clarify what really happened in the council previously.”

“There has been a lot of back and forth, and he-said, she-said. As a minister, it would be responsible for her to come out and issue a statement to the public or in parliament on what has really been happening there,” said Hengari.

Van Kent is, however, on record stating that the previous Nust council’s controversies had done reputational damage to the institution.

Namibia Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) former director general Ben Mulongeni said the appointment of the interim board must be done in the interest of good governance.

He said while the interim council has people of experience, the major issue for them is to “do the right thing”.

“I have no problem with whether there is a woman or no woman. If the line ministry has an executive director who is the accounting officer who could not do a better job and they have allowed the institution to fall off the rail, what difference is he going to make?”

“They are not even neutral in the mess. The council that has been there and was part of the mess somehow knows how the entanglement took place, and they can untangle it if they are sanctioned properly,” he said.

The interim Nust council members appointed by Kandjii-Murangi are Hangala (chairperson), Nora Ndopu (deputy chairperson), Van Kent, Shanapinda, Uazuva Kaumbi, Detlof von Oertzen, Rachel Kalipi, Emilia Nghikembua, Kadiva Hamutumwa, Flora Gaes and Shafiishuna Nujoma.

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