As thousands of Namibians wait on President Hage Geingob to deliver on his prosperity promise with his Harambee Plan for Prosperity, the local business community has in the meantime presented its wish list to him. Geingob will launch the plan when he delivers his second State of the Nation Address next month. The plan is premised on pillars such as social development, effective governance and service delivery, infrastructure development and economic development. The President has explained on several occasions that the plan – seen by many as a blueprint for his prosperity drive – is not in any way aimed at replacing the ongoing National Development Plan. In a confidential document presented to Geingob last week, the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI), amongst others, called for increased transparency through computerised decision making in public procurement in order to restore confidence in the procurement system. The group also called for the establishment of a public procurement Ombudsman, who will be responsible to investigate reports of possible unfair and irregular state contracts that are awarded.
“Those found to prejudice certain bidders should be punished severely,” proposed the business community. The state newspaper, New Era, last month quoted finance minister Calle Schlettwein saying the public tendering system has lost its integrity. The public procurement has in recent years degenerated into a mess marred by delays, unregulated prices and fraud so much that many upcoming businesses stopped competing for lucrative state contracts because they have no influence. The business sector also wants sector-based charters to be developed as well as customer satisfaction surveys for each sector.
NCCI informed Geingob that the high levels of youth unemployment is a manifestation of a myriad of underlying and mutually reinforcing challenges. “The two principal causes [of youth unemployment] dumping by the education system and a low entrepreneurship culture,” indicates the document. On economic stability and sovereignty, NCCI called for a leaner and efficient civil service. Government is currently struggling to contain the high public wage bill, which stands at N$23 billion for the 100 000 civil servants annually. Government has even gone as far as proposing to reduce the retirement age, cut on overtime and other non-essential needs. To ensure that public funds are spent in a frugal manner, the chamber proposed that each Ministry should employ a chartered accountant. It also called for the broadening of tax collection to increase State revenue, adding that all gambling activities should be subjected to tax of up to 50%. NCCI also called for the privatization of state-owned enterprises, whether partially or fully.
“The water crisis is on and we need to solve it,” urged NCCI. The business community wants the Harambee Plan to reflect on water and energy to define the way forward. The local business community also cried foul, saying they have been left out when it comes to public-private-partnerships (PPPs) in the water sector. “It should be made clear that the ‘P’ for private must be reserved for Namibian companies.” The water situation in the country has deteriorated so much that Windhoek Municipality had to declare a water crisis last year. Taps in Windhoek are on the brink of running dry because of low dam levels; in fact some dams that supply water to the capital are empty. The energy sector is another headache for Namibia, electricity prices are on the increase and the current electricity supply will not meet future demands.
“Expansion projects are blocked because tenders are unprofessionally managed,” said NCCI. Despite government’s willingness to address the energy situation in the country, the scramble for the multibillion tender is currently being battled out in court while Namibians battle to keep their lights on.
NCCI is in support of the food bank strategy to eliminate hunger but it wants to know how the private sector can contribute. Thousands of Namibia barely stay alive in the country, although downplayed in some cases, The 2015 State of Food Insecurity Report released by the United Nations (UN) states that at least 966 000 of the 2.3 million Namibians were undernourished in 2014, compared to 621 000 in 2002. “The food bank must be for targeted individuals who are physically and socially unable to feed themselves. It must never be allowed to create an expression that whoever does not have food for whatever reason will be given free food,” said NCCI, adding that the food bank programme must incorporate the concept of food for work. Regarding the contentious land issue, NCCI called for fair land allocation mechanisms because “the system is opaque and susceptible to corrupt practices”. The current housing backlog in the country is currently above 100 000. The private business community was also not impressed by the unavailability of land and the cost thereof when it finally becomes available. NCCI also urged government to focus more on servicing land than constructing housing units. “The private sector can mobilise funding while the state avails land. This PPP must be structured in a manner that delivers serviced land fast without making land too pricy and unaffordable to Namibians,” it proposed.