The apprehensions with which the National Equitable Economic Empowerment Framework (NEEEF) Bill has been received by certain quarters are misplaced, as the
draft law seeks to primarily empower previously disadvantaged Namibians.
This, Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said, will not be done in a way of taking “from the rich and giving to the poor’’, as held by NEEEF’s antagonists.
She made these remarks during a courtesy visit to State House by World Bank vice regional president for Eastern and Southern Africa Victoria Kwakwa on Tuesday.
Most critics opposed the economic empowerment framework primarily because of a clause that would have forced white businesses to sell a 25% stake to previously disadvantaged blacks.
The clause has since been scrapped.
“There is nothing wrong with affirmative action,” Kuugongelwa-Amadhila stated.
From where she sits, NEEEF is bigger than the controversial clause.
“There are several pillars of this framework. But unfortunately, only one of them drew the attention of the world, and it was misunderstood. There are about seven
of them. We are talking about representation of diverse demographics like the youth, women and indigenous communities in management positions, for example,” she added.
Citing another example that NEEEF seeks to address, Kuugongelwa-Amadhila pointed to the procurement of goods and services by mining companies and big corporations, which must be sourced locally.
“You have mining companies where even food which is catered for in their canteens is coming from outside [the country]. You have a situation where accountants and IT people, even if we have local graduates, come from outside the country. So practically, very little remains in this country,” the former finance minister lamented.
To address this, NEEEF seeks to compel companies to source locally regarding their procurement. “We are saying, regarding your procurement, you should source local products and services. Regarding your management, you should have local talents also represented there. We are saying add value so that we can create jobs here, and then you can optimise the income… invest in the communities where you are operating so that we can prosper together.”
She continued: “If you apply for a licence to mine or for a right to harvest the fisheries resources, you must have participation [of locals] in the ownership of the company. We are not saying sell your shares at this price. We are just saying, look for like-minded individuals, and make sure that the ownership structure also reflects the diversity of the population that we have”.
To those who harbour views that NEEEF will push away investors, she said property rights are protected by the supreme law of the land.
Therefore, investors have nothing to fear.
“There are so many positive things that we are talking about under that framework. But people just focused on the ownership structure that [says] you should have Namibians there, and started to say, ‘we are forced to sell our assets’”.
“No. We are not even requiring those who are not doing business with the government to do so. But we are saying, you come to the government, and you want to harvest resources that are owned by all Namibians. The benefits should flow to all Namibians,” she continued without mincing her words.
Kuugongelwa-Amadhila also noted that Namibian entrepreneurs who face stiff competition from Chinese businesses have been knocking on government’s doors, seeking the protection of their industries.
The protection which they seek, she said, is part of what NEEEF – which most of them have rejected – envisages to address.
Presently, the situation in Namibia is such that 95% of the socio-economic power still primarily resorts to 5% of the previously advantaged population.
This was made possible by socio-economic injustices and imbalances in pre-independence Namibia, which emanated from past discriminatory laws and practices, which NEEEF seeks to address, the PM explained.
Back in 2018, the Namibia Statistics Agency revealed that over 70% of Namibia’s productive agricultural land was still in the hands of previously advantaged Namibians, mainly whites.
Although she did not give an update on NEEEF’s status, the Office of the Prime Minister’s website indicates that the revised NEEEF Bill “was finalised, pending Cabinet approval”.
Bread and butter
Kwakwa and her delegation discussed an array of bread-and-butter issues with President Hage Geingob and his executive team.
The discussion centred around employment creation, value-addition to Namibia’s natural resources, and the much-talked-about green hydrogen, which is seen by many as a panacea to most of Namibia’s socio-economic challenges. During the meeting, Geingob welcomed Kwakwa on her first visit to Namibia, and highlighted the country’s battle against youth unemployment. He likewise voiced his consternation about the World Bank, particularly the conditions attached to their loans.
“Africans are against the World Bank because of conditionalities. How did you address the conditionalities?” Geingob wanted to know.
His sentiments were echoed by Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, who said it does not make sense for poorer nations to continue paying excessive amounts in interest on their loans from the World Bank, while wealthier nations pay less.
To this, Kwakwa said the bank has learned lessons from its past experiences with African countries. The bank, she said, has taken a more consultative approach rather than imposing itself on nations.
As such, most of what it has to offer will largely depend on the country it is dealing with, she added.
Meanwhile, Kwakwa commended Namibia for its achievements since independence, and recognised the shared challenge of unemployment across the African region.
She highlighted Namibia’s focus on green industrialisation as a promising path to job creation, emphasising domestic employment, local procurement and value-addition to materials before exporting as effective solutions which would promote and increase equity in the country over time.
The World Bank will also assist Namibia
in putting together a comprehensive investment plan.
She further articulated the bank’s preparedness for a partnership that aligns with Namibia’s needs, and to support the implementation of the second pillar of the Harambee Prosperity Plan, which centres on economic growth, industrialisation, job-creation, poverty alleviation and sustainable development.
“As the World Bank, we are happy to support in any way that we can. We’ve had the opportunity to support you in terms of putting strategies in place, and to do more as you see fit. The other area of employment that is a game-changer is the livestock value chain. Namibia has significant livestock… what we could do to support you is to help you move from your strategy to implementation, and deliver on the promise of this value chain,” Kwakwa said.