Sunday 20 June 2021
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Give the President’s high-level panel the benefit of doubt

President Hage Geingob should be commended for appointing a 22- member strong High-Level Panel to advise him on strategies and interventions that are needed to effectively revive the economy and to accelerate economic growth and employment creation.
This action was supposed to have bee taken earlier when Government decided to implement fiscal consolidation through budget cuts and freezing of employment in the Public Sector.
Fiscal consolidation was necessary to reduce budget deficits and escalating public debt.
However, in itself it could not stimulate the economy.
The economy could better be jump-started by investment and productivity.
Though there is scepticism in certain quarters about the usefulness of the Panel it is hoped that the Panel will prove those sceptics wrong.
A case is being made that the Panel is too bloated.
One would expect the Panel to divide itself into Thematic Working Groups.
I do not know well the majority of panellists.
However, one is inclined be believe that members are appointed on the basis of their expertise and personal integrity.
The Panel is made mostly of people from the Private Sector and there are fears that there is a danger for some of the members to use their membership to advance their private interests. Human nature tells us that there is a temptation for that to happen. The presence of non-Namibian experts should mitigate against that happening.
The presence of non-Namibian experts is of great advantage. In decision making theory there is a notion termed: “… the balcony theory”.
This theory gives an example of people on the dancing floor. Participants on the dancing floor find it crowded with little space to move.
However, those watching from the balcony see a lot of spaces on the floor.
This theory explains that if you are a participant in something you might not see the opportunities available.
If you are not a participant, you are likely to discover hidden opportunities. The non-Namibian experts on the Panel may help the Panel to spot new opportunities in the revival of the economy.
An issue is also being made about the role of the National Planning Commission (NPC). NPC is a Government planning institution focusing on Government investment.
To my understanding, the Advisory Panel is focusing mainly on Private Sector driven economic growth.
This is actually the challenge facing the Namibian economy.
The economy shall only be able to move out of recession through combined Public and Private Sectors investment.
However, for employment creation the Private Sector should take the leading role.
Private Sector investment shall only happen when private investors have confidence in policies regulating the economy. Perhaps the starting point of the Panel should be a focus on how to boost investment confidence of private investors.
The Panel may wish to interrogate the obstacles to doing business in Namibia.
Such obstacles may include weak governance institutions such as the rule of law; corruption; the licencing and permitting regime; customs and trade regulations; the availability of infrastructure such as transport and communication; the enhancement of appropriate skills in the labour force; strengthening of financial institutions, just to mention a few.
The Panel may wish to learn from issues raised in the Africa Economic Outlook 2019 of the African Development Bank Group.
The Africa Economic Outlook 2019 highlighted a number of issues faced by African economies.
These include persistent fiscal deficits and debt vulnerability; the challenge to raise the current growth path; the need to increase the efficiency of growth to create employment; and the imperative necessity for economic integration in Africa.
The issues should be addressed in the context of the Namibian experience.
The African Economic Outlook 2019 identified possible approaches to growth acceleration and job growth.
First, there is an urgent need to bring about structural change in the African economies.
It implores that sustainable and shared growth should come from industrialisation.
Secondly, much of jobs in Africa is in informal economy.
The Challenge is how to formalise the informal economy. In Namibia the challenge is two-fold: how to integrate the subsistence and the “kapana economies” into formal economy.
Thirdly, the role of information and communication technologies in job creation should be spelled out. Fourthly, the service sector may need to be expanded further.
The African Outlook 2019 further emphasized the possible gains from African economic integration.
For this to happen the African Development Bank Group identified certain pre-requisites.
African countries should synchronize financial governance frameworks.
African countries should create power pools.
They should open their skies to competition; and should open borders for movement of people, goods and services.
It will be interesting to learn from the Panel what are the implications to Namibia of these recommendations.
The views of Dr Akinuwi Adesina, the African Development President are instructive: “… African countries should work even more closely together and move toward a common future of collective wealth and prosperity”.
For a small country like Namibia this might be the direction to explore.
I wish the Presidential Panel on Economic Growth and Employment Creation every success!

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