Although Namibia has come up with purported Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) initiatives including Transformation of Economic and Social Empowerment Framework (Tesef 2011) and the New Equitable Economic Empowerment Framework (NEEEF 2011), very few ordinary black business people have thus far benefited from these empowerment policies.
To date, none of the initiatives have transformed into law. The apparent lack of effective black empowerment policies have created a new platform for debate with the Deputy Minister for Trade and Industry, Tjekero Tweya blaming the business community for not being inclusive enough.
The Namibian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) Chief Executive Officer, Tarah Shaanika says policy-makers have failed to promulgate empowerment policies that would enable previously disadvantaged communities to become serious role-players in the economy of the country.
Only a very few privileged and well-connected black elitist businessmen continue to amass wealth from the opportunities available in all sectors including agriculture, tourism, construction, fishing and transport while the rest rue the missed chances.
Tweya this week said; “businesses in Namibia, including the banking sector, non-banking financial services sector and the automobile industries are still impenetrable for the ordinary black business people and remains a preserve of the few affluent high ranking BEEs and white minorities.”
“We have not done enough in creating opportunities that benefit all black business people in the country. We need to abolish all laws that exclude the previously disadvantaged majority from participating in the wealth creation in the country. I would be pointblank on the issue and say Windhoek is not Namibia and Namibia is not Windhoek, because there are a lot more other aspirant businesses people out there who need assistance and investment opportunities,” said Tweya.
Tweya added that the BEE agenda in Namibia would be a mere ‘window dressing exercise’ if it fails to strike a balance between creating opportunities for both small black businesses and large scale black-owned businesses.
“I think when it comes to the issue of the same business magnets clinching the tenders and the business deals, the Tender Board should up its scrutiny and make the process more accessible for everyone,” said Tweya.
Tweya concurred that the country’s much touted broad-based BEE policy is still more of rhetoric than a reality and there are more things to be done, including doing away with restrictive legislation.
According to Tweya, although the implementation of Tesef started this year after getting an expenditure approval of N$2.1m, Namibia is still lagging behind in creating broad-based business opportunities for its citizens and is still entangled in the skewed set-up where the usual same faces clinch most of the deals.
The N$2.1m set aside for the expenditure period between 2011/12 and 2013/14 are equally spread in amounts of N$700 000 over the next three years.
Tweya added that his ministry will soon reveal a damning report from the automobile industry showing how that market has been heavily protected by certain monopolists in a manner that shuts out other new players, especially from previously marginalised communities.
While Namibia enjoys a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of about US$16 000, Tweya concurred that the country’s BEE methods have created a routine cycle were very few people are eating the economic cake while those without proper political connections are living on the periphery ruing missed opportunities.
“The so-called policies that have been created so far for the benefit of black business people have definitely failed in the attempts to address the issue at a broad-based level and as a Government; attempts must be made to create opportunities for everyone and not for a few advantaged elites."
Back in 2004, the then Prime Minister, Theo-Ben Gurirab was instructed by Government to draft a BEE policy. However, the process only started in 2007, with a budget of N$1.9m. The strategy document for Tesef was completed by 2008 and approved by the ruling Swapo party the following year. According to Tesef, historically disadvantaged Namibians (HDNs) should get company ownership of up to 50% over several years, with 50% of HDNs in management cadres, 50% of board members, 50% of deprived women in top, middle and junior management positions as well as 80% of previously deprived individuals (DPIs) in all permanent staff positions.
However Shaanika has turned on the heat saying; “Policy makers are sleeping on the job and have taken too long to come up with an agreeable policy for all stakeholders.”
Shaanika further said there has been significant progress made by the business community, including the banking sector (blamed by Tweya), in accommodating transformation and local empowerment.
He said: “There have been deliberate measures taken by the business community showing that they are open to empowering locals. It is entirely up to the policy makers to come up with swift policies that do not benefit a few elitist business people but also open the flood gates for the marginalised communities.”
Shaanika added that because “business is actually inundated with opportunities and jobs for the top posts that could tilt the empowerment plan to the positive but the problem we face now is that the country does not really have the needed skills.”
He said that the best form of empowerment is imparting knowledge, because currently, the bigger number of the unemployed population is unemployable.
Shaanika added that although initiatives have been mooted by the business community, “It is another story whether the empowerment initiatives by business have been implemented accordingly.
He further asserted that the NCCI has since embarked upon an outreach programme that aims at empowering the marginalised business people about the available opportunities.
The NCCI chief said that the Ministry of Trade and Industry has also given financial support for the chamber to complete the program.
However, he was not appreciative of the fact that "Government has been unable or reluctant to come up with the laws that encourage broad-based BEE policies.”