If Namibia is to be unchained from the triple shackle of unemployment, poverty and inequality, it will depend heavily on how it deals with opportunities presented by the energy and mining sectors.
This is the position of energy minister Tom Alweendo, who was addressing parliamentarians during a workshop under the banner ‘Maximising Mining and Energy Potentials’ in Swakopmund yesterday.
The two sectors, he said, are to Namibia what blood is to life. It is no exaggeration, he hastened to say.
“It is that important. Recently and in both sectors, promising things have happened. For example, in the petroleum sector, oil has been discovered in sufficient quantities that justify commercial production. In the mining sector, because of the energy transition brought about by the global undertaking to address the effects of climate change, there is now a global demand for critical raw materials and metals. Some of these minerals, such as lithium, are available in our country,” Alweendo stated.
The technocrat, who has courted controversy in recent times was not done, emphasising the sectors could be Namibia’s silver bullet, if decisive management.
“We therefore have a clear window of opportunity to transform our economy. Depending on how we decide to deal with these opportunities, we have the real potential to effectively address the triple social ills of unemployment, poverty, and inequality,” the former national planning commissioner said.
Criticism has not only rained but poured on Alweendo over his ministry’s decision to first declare a Chinese mining company’s licence [Xinfeng] as satisfactory just to cancel it days later.
The ministry had to cancel a press conference aimed at explaining why they u-turned after Xinfeng dragged them to court.
Communities in the Daures constituency, where Xinfeng operates, alleged the company is carrying out illegal lithium mining in Uis.
“With regards to the mining sector and especially with regards to the critical raw materials, these are minerals that are highly sought after globally. For that reason alone, we cannot mine these minerals where they are exported in their basic raw form or where minimal value has been added.
“And where possible, we need to insist that processed minerals are used as inputs into locally manufactured goods, such as batteries, allowing us to export manufactured goods,” the minister said.
In the petroleum sector, he said the recent discovery of oil and gas in commercial quantities hold great potential to transform the economy beyond taxes and royalties that would accrue to the State.
“And as it was to be expected, following the discovery, two related questions are being posed: One, what will be the impact of the oil discovery on the Namibian socio-economic landscape? Two, what are the chances that the oil discovery becomes a curse rather than it becoming a blessing? The short answer to these questions is that it will all depend on what we decide to do today. The impact will be what we decide it to be,” he said, seemingly rolling the ball to the MPs.
“We know of countries where the discovery of oil became a curse and there are also countries where the discovery became a blessing. I would like to believe that we all want our discovery to be a blessing rather than a curse. However, for it to be a blessing depends mostly on our policy environment, especially our institutional and political aspects of it. It has been proven that countries with strong institutions, a stable political system and an effective legal framework, were able to manage their oil revenue with a positive impact on their economies and for the benefits of their citizens.”
But like a dark cloud that has a silver lining, all hope is not lost for Namibia, a country lauded for its strong systems, processes and institutions, he said.
“I have reason to believe that our institutions, our political system, and our legal framework are such that there is no reason why the oil discovery should not be a blessing. What we need to do, however, is to manage the resources with a clear understanding that the resources belong to both the current and future generations,” he said.
The minister continued: “Necessarily, therefore, the management of the resources must benefit both generations. In addition to the revenue that will accrue to the State through various taxes such as income tax and royalties, the local economy stands to gain more from local content. Local content is the value that the extraction of oil brings to the local economy beyond the resource revenues. This value will be obtained from the provision of ancillary services to the oil sector. Among these are the provision of services such as engineering, logistics, accommodation, and catering. Some of the services can readily be provided by local businesses, while others might take a while before our local businesses are able to provide such services.”
Late last year, Alweendo said he would feel betrayed if his erstwhile technical advisor Ralph Muyamba or any other official used information entrusted to him in confidence for self-enrichment.
At the time, he maintained his long-held anti-corruption stance, saying he was unaware of any dubious activities under his watch at the ministry. “Yes, I’d feel betrayed.”
Alweendo said the bribery allegations surrounding Muyamba are being dealt with by the Anti-Corruption Commission.
Alweendo and Muyamba, who hurriedly resigned 24 hours after the allegations surfaced, and former mining commissioner Erasmus Shivolo have been fingered in a N$50 million bribery scandal that allegedly blocked the renewal of the exclusive prospecting licence (EPL) of Karlowa Mining Enterprises.
Ironically, Alweendo also removed Shivolo from his position as mining commissioner amid the bribery claims. He, however, maintained it was purely an administrative decision.
According to him, he strongly believes in the doctrine that individuals should not occupy key positions, especially if they preside over major resources, for too long.
Shivolo had been in the position since 2008.
Asked why he did not remove him immediately when he assumed duty as mines and energy minister, Alweendo said he needed time to settle in and could not instantly make changes at the ministry.
Since then, Alweendo has been extinguishing fires over the purported bribery that seemingly refuses to die.
He also profusely denied accepting bribes from Chinese company Xinfeng Investment.
In the public domain, the technocrat-turned-politician has largely been seen as a squeaky clean staunch anti-graft activist. He is also highly rated among his Cabinet colleagues.
Alweendo, alongside land reform minister Calle Schlettwein, were among the few senior government figures who came out strongly to condemn the Fishrot corruption when it unfolded in 2019.
He maintains nothing has changed.