Mines Body’s Plea to Home Affairs

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK While the mining industry faces a crippling shortage of skilled labour, it is also losing out on getting much-needed expertise due to the lengthy process of securing work permits from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration. Citing the frustrations caused by the long waiting period characterising the issuance of working permits, the Chamber of Mines of Namibia recently said this state of affairs was hampering development in this sector. It occasionally happens that due to such circumstances, qualified personnel from outside are lost to other countries, further disrupting skills development in the country. At a recent press conference, the General Manager of the Chamber of Mines Veston Malango said they were constantly trying to address this challenge. He said the chamber has lost skilled personnel to other countries that are more welcoming. Reports say that in other Southern African countries, skilled mining professionals are welcomed with open arms, with long-term work permits. “We need geologists to undertake exploration as the future of our mining industry, but we lose them to other countries when applications pend at the Ministry of Home Affairs for six months or up to a year,” explained Malango. He added that the same scenario goes for the much-needed engineers, metallurgists and other professionals that are critical for the smooth operations of the ever-changing technological industry. “Skills transfer to Namibians will be a pipe dream if bureaucracy keeps these people away from Namibia,” said Malango, adding that without the skills and know-how to use the latest machines and equipment, such technology becomes useless. At the same time, skills transfer is also a vital component for the country to achieve economic empowerment in line with the developmental goals of Vision 2030. Malango was also of the opinion that “the ongoing poaching of skills within the industry goes to illustrate the extent of the skills deficiency”. The Chamber of Mines is therefore concerned about the critical skills shortage in Namibia. Skills deficiency is also evident when looking at the chamber’s employment rate that seems to have gone down over the years. For instance, statistics of employment on land by NamDeb came down from 4 645 in 1995 to 2 993 in 2004. The same applies to RÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶ssing Uranium Mine that used to have an employment rate of 1 284 in 1995, which decreased to 830 two years ago. Furthermore, the chamber’s general annual labour figures took a downward trend from 13 605 in 1990 to 7 029 in 2003. The issue of skills shortage is however not new in Namibia and has been discussed on several occasions in most sectors. Analysing the budget last month, economic advisor to PricewaterhouseCoopers, Dr Roelof Botha said only countries with flexible immigration policies achieve substantial economic growth, as in the case of the United Kingdom and the United States. For example, Ireland is today the third richest country because it opened its doors to skilled personnel, he said. “They did not have teachers, engineers and they did not think that people were taking away their jobs,” said Botha, adding that skills shortage especially in technical fields is one of the major constraints to economic growth. The Namibian Financial Institutions Supervisory Authority (Namfisa) Chief Executive Officer, Rainer Ritter said Namibia should have an open hand when it comes to highly qualified personnel. “We must not be too shy to say if you are highly qualified, come to Namibia,” Ritter said early last month. The onus is on the Ministry of Home Affairs to speed up the issuance of work permits, as it did with the processing of identity documents. “I wish to end with a passionate plea to the Ministry of Home affairs and Immigration to equally step up the productivity in processing of work permits and work visas by over 100 percent to enable the mining industry to contribute positively to Vision 2030,” said Malango. In response, the Permanent Secretary of the Home Affairs Ministry Samuel /Goagoseb said he would look into the matter as it is part of the ministry’s five-year strategic plan. /Goagoseb said the ministry was striving to cut down on wastage in the production processes of work permits and was looking at drastic ways to reduce the waiting period as well. It is anticipated that with the recent donation of high-tech software from the Chamber of Mines, the ministry is set to uphold its commitment in this regard.