BEE Shouldn’t Ignore the Poor

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I am requesting New Era newspaper to kindly provide a space for this article for reasons I have indicated below in the public interest. I shall be grateful. I thought of clarifying some matters that have arisen in the public mind following my speech at the SADCOPAC dinner on 16 August 2006 in Windhoek that included the ongoing BEE deals in Namibia. This particular matter in respect of BEE started in 2003 when I was serving as Prime Minister. In the course of planning and the sorting out of a broad policy framework and backstopping requirements for appropriate Namibian policy and legislation on BEE, including sectoral charters for shareholdings, I had repeatedly struck a note of caution for all concerned to heed. My caution was informed by some of the nasty experiences of two friendly, pioneering countries, South Africa and Malaysia. Our intention was to learn from their successes and avoid pitfalls. Malaysia had led the way decades back to empowering the Bumiputera (native Malays) with high hopes of giving them a meaningful stake in socio-economic development and property ownership deals in the emerging nation. Not unlike Malaysia, the post-apartheid South Africa launched a few years ago a policy engineering process aimed at empowering the previously disadvantaged black people of that country to become important players in the economy and development. Apart from existing policy innovations and Acts of Parliament that had been put in place for the same reasons, Namibia too began thinking of additional ways and means towards fast-tracking black economic empowerment and shareholding arrangements and to do so methodically and through broad-based consultations with relevant stakeholders on the way forward. That’s the background in brief. Now, back to the dinner and some public reactions I got to certain aspects of my speech, I want to respond by way of clarification. I did call for a breather and time-out concerning the current BEE hasty deals and to wait for policy guidelines and workable synergies to be put in place in the best interest of everybody. I actually said the following: “I want to say something about the BEE uneasy deals in Namibia and to intimate caution to everybody involved. Such hasty deals now being forged in Namibia would need to be reviewed in the future and looked at anew within the framework of Government’s policy and relevant laws when it is going to be put in place. It’s not a question of whose money is being shared or the nature of partnerships, but rather because of genuine concern to ensure transparency, the rule of law and promotion of a new and coherent socio-economic paradigm in Namibia. It is better to avoid wrong things and allow Government to formulate BEE policy and for Parliament to adopt suitable legislation. Quick fixes will not become fait accomplis. A monkey cannot scare away a rattlesnake. There is also the question of corporate good governance and it’s a topical issue at this conference. Let’s think and act together. A sword is a shield not to kill but to preserve life and promote cooperation for a better future.” At present Namibia’s BEE shareholding deals are haphazard and narrowly focused. It is an everything goes type of a shaky affair and it is an unhelpful haste of a me-too variety. In saying this, I am actually repeating myself. On two previous important occasions, one at an information and knowledge sharing conference on this very topic in Swakopmund, organized by the Prime Minister’s Office in 2003, and the other in Windhoek the same year, organized by the Namibian Economic Society, I advanced an argument not necessarily against BEE initiatives but rather by emphasizing the need for a national framework for BEE policy and its reinforcing legislative edifice that would provide legitimacy, clarity and consistency for all involved in this deserving venture. The related question but having its own compelling weight was why blacks should be ashamed of becoming members of a rich middle class and why it should be an anathema for blacks to becoming millionaires. On both scores, my position is go for it but be transparent in your dealings, and compassionate towards the poor black majority. In other words, I do not and will not bemoan the emergence of black middle class or a number of black millionaires within all of our communities. Those who may seek reasons to obstruct BEE financial empowerment would be guilty of faking ignorance or better still for being dishonest. Wealth is not bad, unjust distribution is. In human history, the vanguard role for political, cultural and socio-economic transformations have virtually always been played by a “progressive elite” from various sections of the society, armed with vision, courage and egalitarian values of freedom, equality and justice. History has never been without challenges of poverty, income disparities, diseases, unemployment and gender imbalances. These have been common problems in the society, old and new. For us today, they require collective bargaining in a larger sense of the term to finding solutions. Vision 2030 is a child of the bigger vision, namely our Constitution. It’s all about our dreams and their realization. Class struggle has been a burning fixture of society but it is not a permanent human condition. Conflict of interests among social strata, we learn everyday, can be mitigated by means of participatory democracy, the rule of law, good governance, education for all, skills enhancement for all, health for all, access to money and technology for all, improved labour relations and empowerment of women, and youth. If we don’t believe in a new beginning, then Vision 2030 and the Millennium Development Goals have no future! The real challenge is daring and effective leadership and measuring of performance, productivity and progress at critical benchmarks for success. I know the Government is on course with BEE policy objectives, albeit with a new camouflaged title. But the pace should nevertheless be accelerated to avoid gremlins from getting into the boiler room and holding the economy to ransom. We must, at the same by all means, avoid favouring the emergence of an exclusive oasis of super-rich few at the expense of the poor majority. That’s like playing tricks with disaster. Let us all, as Namibians, march together, hand-in-hand, into the promised land of milk and honey. In summary, I do not bemoan BEE intentions or possible partnership configurations or for that matter money accumulation schemes, devoid of corruption, although I still seriously question the growing quick fixes here. My contention is that all about BEE be done on the basis of policy and legislation first and shareholding deals thereafter in line with a transparent, coherent and consistent roadmap for a new beginning and in a spirit of benefiting all. I appreciate the opportunity, always. Theo-Ben Gurirab, MP Speaker