Too Little BEE – Minister

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By William J. Mbangula HELAO NAFIDI Minister of Trade and Industry Immanuel Ngatjizeko has urged foreign investors and established Namibian companies to become proactive before the enactment of Namibia’s policy on Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). Officially opening the second Business Expo at Helao Nafidi town in the Ohangwena Region over the weekend, Ngatjizeko encouraged companies to consider empowering their workers and other Namibians through share allocations and mutually beneficial business partnerships. The policy of BEE is crucial for Namibia to redress the economic inequalities created by the colonial past. Many Namibian companies are offshoots of mother companies doing their main business in South Africa where the BEE policy has been widely accepted as irreversible. However, it is fairly disappointing that their Namibian subsidiaries have neither demonstrated the will nor the desire to proactively engage in the wholesale BEE ventures, aside from a few exceptions. “I hope that this situation will change even before the enactment of the BEE law,” the minister said. In addition, he noted, foreign companies operating in Namibia should also be prepared to play an active role in the transference of management knowledge, skills and technological know-how through training of their employees and joint ventures with Namibian partners. The government, he said, is fully aware that the problems of poverty, high levels of income inequalities and unemployment cannot be solved by its solitary efforts. As a result, he pointed out, the government expects that all businesses, as partners in the development process, would actively contribute to the social upliftment of previously disadvantaged Namibians through social contributions, grants, scholarships and support of broad-based BEE efforts. ” Let the days when companies were operating on end and making good returns in Namibia for decades, without blinking an eye to the glaring inequalities and suffering around them, be something of the past,” the minister stressed. He lauded the efforts of the Helao Nafidi Town Council in organising the expo and attracting a number of big companies as well as small and medium enterprises (SMEs) from Namibia, the SADC region and beyond. In his view, it is only through interactions and exposures such as the Business Expo that SMEs can further learn how to improve their services and forge new business links for the maximum distribution of their products. As a demonstration of the government’s commitment to the development of SMEs, the Ministry of Trade and Industry regularly sponsors SMEs to attend trade fairs inside and outside Namibia. Through such support, the government aims to nurture and develop an entrepreneurial culture among business people by exposing them to economic opportunities, sources of supply and new ways of conducting business. “I would like therefore to appeal to leaders and managers of big businesses in Namibia, in particular those who control and own the formal major distribution channels of retailing and wholesaling, to support government efforts and give shelf space to products produced by Namibian SMEs.” The government, the minister noted, is always receiving reports from local manufacturers about the reluctance of big retailers to buy locally made products. If such a trend continues, he cautioned, his fear is that the efforts to industrialize the country through local value addition would come to nothing. The government is therefore extremely concerned with such a state of affairs. “I am hopeful that very soon the large chain supermarkets and other mega wholesalers will of their own accord give heed to support locally produced products, otherwise the government may consider stepping in and formally through regulations rectify the situation. The government wants to see a situation whereby big companies, without state coercion in all sectors such as tourism, retail, manufacturing, agriculture, fisheries, services and others, start to handhold Namibian SMEs. “Such handhold should be through concrete and practical support mechanisms, whether sourcing of goods and service, supply of contracts or availing of stocks and goods for operations at competitive terms in the spirit of the Vendor Development Programme of the Ministry of Trade and Industry.” Helao Nafidi town which is a combination of settlements of Oshikango, Onhuno, Ohangwena, Engela and Omafo, with a population of about 20 000 people and which covers a total area of 7 221 hectares, was only proclaimed in March 2004. The Business Expo here was conducted for the first time in 2005 as a way to provide an opportunity to entrepreneurs within the town and beyond to showcase their products and services. It came about as an initiative of the Oshikango Business Association (OBA) to create inter-business cooperation and linkages. The OBA is chaired by the Managing Director of the border-post located International Commercial Warehouse, Raed Hijazi, whose association contributed close to N$24 500 last year for staging the expo. Oshikango is one of the business hubs of the town and the gateway to the lucrative market in Angola, the DRC and other SADC countries. Being one of the most active business centres in Ohangwena, the OBA’s Hijazi told the gathering that the businesses operating at Oshikango have provided employment to about 2 500 people in trading, the service sector, transport, banking, security, government, advertising and others. According to the town mayor, Medusalem Handjaba, who spoke at the event, the Business Expo has received overwhelming interest from both exhibitors and customers since its inception last year. The number of applications received for the event proves the interest. Last year, 168 exhibitors participated but this year the number increased to 190 out of 300 applications received of which the rest could not be accommodated due to lack of space. The expo started on Friday November 24 and will end on December 4. Apart from Namibian exhibitors, there are also those from the SADC countries of Angola, Zambia, South Africa, Botswana and beyond such as Kenya.