In our latest alumni profiles, we feature Helvi Petrus (PhD), an alumnus of the Namibian-German Center for Logistics. She tells us about her career journey, and recent high profile appointment as one of Namibia’s national Transportation Commissioners.
Who is Helvi Petrus?
I grew up in Okagolo village situated in Omusati Region, located in northern part of Namibia. I have a PhD in Transport Economics and was recently appointed as a member of the Transportation Commission of Namibia. I am also currently a post-doctoral fellow at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.
My path towards a career in transport economics began while studying for my first degree. At a very early stage of my career while pursuing my Bachelor of Economics at the University of Namibia (UNAM), my aspiration was to major in transport economics. However, this did not materialise as the university did not have an academic to lecture the transport economics module during that academic calendar. Therefore, I opted to specialise in finance. After completing my studies, I joined the Project Planning Unit in the Ministry of Industrialization and Trade where I was responsible for ministerial projects in Khomas region as well as facilitating feasibility studies and business plans. My day-to-day responsibilities also included mentoring Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME). It is my involvement in the latter, and aspiration to better assist entrepreneurs, that led me to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Finance at Coventry University in the United Kingdom. Upon my return to Namibia after completing the MBA, I was excited to take on responsibilities of advising and mentoring MSMEs. However, I came across an advert from the Namibian-German Centre for Logistics seeking candidates to pursue a Master of Logistics and Supply Chain Management at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST). I was very excited to see this since my dream was always to be a transport economist. As such, I made the decision to return to graduate school, attain a second master’s degree in this field, and move closer to achieving my goals.
After completing the second masters, I realised that I was interested in undertaking further research on matters pertaining to infrastructure (roads) funding and financing. I applied and was awarded a scholarship to undertake PhD research at the Graduate School of Economic and Management Sciences (GEM) at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. After completing my PhD, I embarked on postdoctoral research to continue with my research in this field.
In a nutshell, this is how my career journey has evolved over the last decade. I would not say I am where I want to be, but I am super indebted to God for how far He has brought me, and I am excited to see how the future unfolds.
You have recently been appointed one of the five members of the Transportation Commission of Namibia. Could you tell us a bit about this commission and what it does?
The Transportation Commission of Namibia is a statutory body in terms of section 3(1) of the Road Traffic and Transport Act (Act No. 22 of 1999) as amended. The commissioners are appointed by the President and are mandated with the following responsibilities (i) to inquire into and advise the Minister of Works and Transport on matters relating to transportation in Namibia, (ii) to make recommendations to the Minister regarding the application of Road Traffic and Transportation Act, amendments and the making of regulations, (iii) to advise the Minister, on the exercise or performance of any power, duty or function conferred or imposed on the Minister by or under the Road Traffic and Transport Act.
My appointment as a commissioner came into effect on the 1 September 2020 and will last until May 2025. As a transport economics specialist, I will be able to advise the Minister on matters relating to policies and economics of transportation in Namibia.
This is a senior role, congratulations! Could you tell us a bit about how you were appointed?
In August 2020, I came across an advertisement in a local newspaper inviting qualified Namibians to submit their applications for appointment as members of Transportation Commission of Namibia. I saw this as an opportunity that could be a steppingstone to realising my dream of playing an active and significant role in policy issues and supporting regulations in the transportation sector in Namibia. Although I was a bit intimated by the seniority of this position, I took a step of faith and submitted my application. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a call from the Ministry of Works and Transport in September 2020 informing me that I had been appointed as a transportation commissioner.
What do you hope to be your contribution to this commission over the next few years? What are some of the most pressing transport and logistics issues that you want to address as a transport commissioner?
I am delighted that as a transportation commissioner, I have been given the opportunity to be directly involved in policy reforms and make recommendations on amendments regarding transportation regulations. Our work as a commission is expected to not only strengthen the transport sector but also contribute to the country achieving the goals and objectives it has set in relation to economic progress.
Owing to various challenges that the transportation industry is faced with, and Namibia’s national objective to become a logistic hub, the coordination and regulation of the transportation sector should be informed by research evidence on current and persistent issues affecting the sector. Thus, I plan to incorporate evidence from relevant research into the work of the commission and in our engagement with transportation industry in general. I am keen to see analysis of untapped data from the industry, policies and various Acts enacted by the Government. This will assist the commission in assessing the applicability of existing or new policies in the current socio-economic environment and make recommendations on reforms or amendments where necessary. I believe that having the right research will guide us (commissioners) to rightfully advise the Minister of Works and Transport on matters relating to the transportation sector.
Do you see a link between your studies and your new role at the transportation commission? Would you say your studies and research are relevant to your role as a transportation commissioner?
Yes! There is a link between my research and my new role as a commissioner. Part of my PhD research looked at the Namibian transportation policy and its recommendation for the implementation of the pay user principle. I assessed the extent to which the recommended principle could work in Namibia given the country’s environment that is characterised by expansive road networks and low vehicle population. The study thus revisited the economic theory of setting road user charging at efficient pricing, which makes efficiency pricing as a policy strategy that links demand, price, investment, revenue, and capital funding, something that has been overlooked in Namibia for many years. As such, my research fits squarely within my role as a commissioner where I am expected to assess transportation policies, regulations, and Acts, advise, and make recommendation on best practices. As I mentioned previously, I believe this work could be benefit from use of untapped data from the transport industry. Ultimately, research should equip us with information that can be used to make better informed decisions that are relevant to Namibia’s transportation sector.
What career tips do you have for young alumni and current students at the Centres of Excellence?
I think networking and personal development are very important. For instance, it is not enough to simply have a PhD; one needs to regularly publish research on emerging issues within their respective areas of your interest. In addition, I would encourage young researchers to offer their services to the public sector/industry even while undertaking their studies. Taking up volunteer positions and internships can also increase probability of employment after completion of studies. While undertaking my PhD studies, I had a chance to work at Pregon Consulting Engineers (Pty) Ltd as a HDM4-Specialist Technical Assistant. This opportunity that offered me industrial related experience. I also worked as a transport economist intern on a transport-related project with Headway Consulting. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major social and economic disruptions across the globe, but many organisations have adapted to new modalities of doing things. Within the academic space, there have been many virtual conferences and workshops, and online courses. Therefore, I would encourage graduate students or young researchers to participate in these virtual activities to build their capacities to enrich their careers.