Anti-Graft Chief Questions BEE

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK Some dubious deals being hammered out by some of the elite under the guise of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) schemes at the expense of the struggling, poor masses should be brought to an end, says the nation’s top graft buster. With the recently failed BEE projects in the country, it is evident that a few of the elite are using what’s meant to be “broad-based”, for selfish purposes and making a quick buck, without taking the plight of the majority poor into consideration. This concern was raised by the Director of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) Paulus Noa last week. He called for a properly defined policy to ensure that BEE initiatives are truly broad-based and include the target groups, particularly the poor and the marginalized. Frustration is rife amongst the majority of the poor over numerous cases of embezzlement of public funds amounting to tens of millions. “You hear about certain BEE ventures that are declared insolvent or bankrupt just within a few months after inception. In only a few months, you hear about the very same individuals stirring up another BEE project without accounting for the millions of dollars that went missing,” explained Noa. He was the guest speaker at a Youth Conference on Corruption that took place in Windhoek. Noa stressed the need to have broad-based BEE projects that are better defined by outlining their objectives and future goals, and which have review mechanisms. Government is trying to re-dress the damage caused by the past colonial system by introducing national projects that would draw in the entire society. These projects must not be allowed to fail because it is only the disadvantaged who suffer the consequences, while the elite continue to prosper, said Noa. “It (BEE) is meant to reduce the currently wide income disparities and to uplift the poor communities especially in the rural areas,” elaborated Noa. Because the concept is hijacked and is being used as a “strategy to create a small black elite group” at the expense of others, such practices could be classified as corruption. “To do so is tantamount to betrayal of public trust with the penchant for self-enrichment,” he noted. The entire concept of BEE therefore needs to be reviewed without further delay by putting in place new measures that would ultimately benefit all Namibians. If this does not happen, Noa feels there would be no improvement in the living conditions of the poor. Public perception has been that BEE is just another way for the rich to become richer and the poor poorer, while poverty is still an uphill battle for the majority of the population. Preliminary findings of the Namibia Household Income and Expenditure Survey (NHIES) 2003/2004 issued in March this year testify to this. NHIES states that the income distribution in the country is still highly unequal, showing huge discrepancies in society levels with a GINI coefficient of 0.6. “Only 10 percent of the households with the highest income account for nearly the total income, whereas 90 percent stand for the other half,” reads the report. Thus, Namibia is still ranked among the most unequal countries in the world. As a result, broad based Black Economic Empowerment projects must be viewed as a way in which Namibians can overcome or at least reduce the poverty level.