Is Biggest BEE Deal the Biggest Sham?

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It was with great amusement that I read the response of Old Mutual’s Managing Director for African Operations (what ever that means) with regard to the recent hullabaloo about what was passed off as the biggest BEE deal in Namibia and which now turns out to be the biggest sham. Those of us who have always maintained that BEE, as it is applied within the Namibian context, is a farce, are not surprised at the rather arrogant and patronizing response by Old Mutual. Old Mutual seems to suffer from a serious case of delusion and double-speech. The MD is quoted as saying that Old Mutual did not choose these partners because they were either affluent or poor. The main criteria, according to Old Mutual, was ‘people who could help them grow business.’ What a joke! Mr !Gawaxab, it seems, has no clue about the meaning of BEE and what it is supposed to achieve. If Old Mutual wanted black professionals who can “grow Old Mutual business,” why not appoint these people within the ranks of the organization? After all, your objective is to use them to bring business to you. Broad-based BEE is not about growing white business. Otherwise we would have been talking about White Economic Empowerment. Bee is not about entrenching the economic dominance of white business. BEE is about economic transformation of Namibia and bringing about increases in the numbers of black people that manage, own and control the country’s economy, as well as significant decreases in income disparities. What Old Mutual has done is to simply focus on selected groups of individuals who are perceived to have influence, sway and skills in ‘growing Old Mutual’s business’. Are we to assume that those professionals, who are part of the dead and who happen to be public servants, are meant to use their influence in bringing business to Old Mutual? Is the Rector of the Polytechnic, Dr Tjivukua meant to bring the Polytechnic’s business to the table? How will that empower Namibians? Once Dr Tjivikua is no longer part of the Polytechnic, would Old Mutual still be interested in him? Exactly how are these individuals meant to grow the business? There are several other questions which I would like to put to Old Mutual and its patronizing MD: We need to know what commitments follow from the roles of these ‘honest business people.’ Incidentally, none of those selected have any previous experience of business. Now that it is clear that Old Mutual has no interest in economic transformation, one would assume that the chief reason for selecting the partners in question is to gain political influence and access to government ministries. Perhaps the MD can give us answers on the actual economic muscle that this broad-based group has; the extent to which BEE actually will empower these people; the prospects that they will use their wealth/power to transform the economy; the extent to which the deal has opened the way for sharing/redistribution of the country’s wealth? And the possible conflicts of interest this ‘massive BEE deal’ has created and at what cost? What is required is a thorough understanding of the mechanism of share transfer to BEE beneficiaries, what the actual benefits amount to, and the consequent obligations of the potential beneficiary. Old Mutual ought to have learned from their South African experience that BEE in the form of a transfer of shares is a mechanism for delayed transfer of wealth linked purely to expedient company performance, with no downside or cost to the company. Finally, Old Mutual should realize that their bottom-line is ultimately determined by the uneducated, blue-collar guy in the street. Old Mutual should also realize that Namibia has emerged from a recent history of conflict. The moment Old Mutual enters the political arena, as they have done with this ‘Grow the Old Mutual Business’ deal, those of us who are currently Old Mutual clients will take our business elsewhere. We will take our business to those companies who are first and foremost interested in the broader transformation of our economy. We will take our business to those companies interested in promoting the interest and well-being of the Namibian people. Mr !Gawaxab must remember that Namibians are not in the business of ‘holding on to the tail of the devil to cross the river’. On 21 March 1990, Namibians said no to the ‘business of growing white business. Disgusted Former Old Mutual Policy-Holder Hardap Region Windhoek