“If we do not take the people out of the street they will take us into the street.” Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry when (NCCI) president Sven Thieme said this last week during an exclusive interview with The Patriot, a platform which he also used to speak critically about the state of leadership in the country. “We all have to come together and pull up our socks to see how we can take the people out of the street. If we do not take the people out of the street, they will take us into the street. Every citizen must have an attitude to support local as this will secure jobs,” he said. According to the Namibia’s 2014 Labour Force Survey, the country at the time had an economically active population of 990 998. Of this number, 712 752 were employed while the remaining 278 245 continue to seek employment. Government has over the years gone on a robust drive to create jobs, with its notable efforts in recent years being the Targeted Intervention Programme for Employment and Economic Growth (TIPEEG).
The N$14.5 billion launched during the 2011/12 financial year has created only 83 000 jobs, which included a laughable 15 829 permanent jobs during its three-year lifespan. TIPEEG was critiqued over the manner in which it was implemented while some saw it as an overnight get-rich-quick scheme for well- connected individuals. With the advent of tenders in Namibia, the urge to seek real innovation in the country has dwindled to a certain extent with many businesses merely surviving on state contracts instead of being innovative. Asked whether the scramble for state contracts instead of focusing on real innovation is one of the reasons why the country is not growing at the desired pace, Thieme said: “I cannot speak on behalf of others as we do not depend on state contracts, but for sure if we would have real innovation things could be different.” Thieme proposed that incentives should be in place to encourage people to being more innovative.
He also urged Namibians need to take ownership instead of constantly talking without taking action when he spoke of the leadership gap in the country, despite making it clear that leadership vacuums are a common occurrence worldwide. “This [leadership vacuum] certainly has a major impact on the growth of the economy and we must seriously address this. The good news is that leadership can be taught and we need to find ways to even introduce this already in schools,” he said. Thieme also stressed the importance of the much-neglected vocational training sector in the country and urged the country to take cue from a country like Germany that managed to develop by placing emphasis on the vocational training sector. “We have to focus on vocational training and take it to the next level. We often make the mistake by thinking that basics are really basics when in fact some assumed basics are the areas that needs to be focused on,” he said. With Government currently drawing all its powers to eliminate poverty in the country, Thieme believes that winning the poverty fight requires a skilled workforce in all areas.
“Be it a bricklayer, chefs or accountants, we need skills in all areas if we really want to eradicate poverty.”
As for the business community, Thieme pointed out that the cost of doing business in the country is also another factor impeding the country’s job creation drive. According to the World Bank Group’s Ease of Doing Business index, Namibia is ranked at position 101 out of the 189 countries that are listed in the index. The 10 topics included in the ranking in the 2016 Doing Business report include starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency. Globally, the report ranks Namibia at 164 in the ranking of 189 economies on the ease of starting a business. Thieme is worried that the insufficient number of local products also negatively impacts the poverty eradication fight.
“People always forget that if we do not have jobs we will not be able to afford anything, and if we do not have competition generated by the local industry products will be even more expensive as importers will abuse our inability to produce our own products,” he warned.