By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Namibia’s development will continue to lag behind if the issue of skills shortage is not addressed. And, as the country strives to reach the status of a developed nation by the year 2030, skills shortage will remain the most critical factor that will determine whether the country will get there or not. Already there are concerns that problems the country has with implementing government programmes and projects emanate from lack of capacity, especially in the public service. President Pohamba said recently that the success or failure of government programmes is determined by the calibre and capabilities of those who are charged with the functions of public policy implementation. And the Director-General of the National Planning Commission, Helmut Angula, said a visit to any public institution bears witness to this as it takes ages to come up with solutions to problems because people are not capable of addressing certain issues. Speaking bluntly, Angula said: “Even if the Ministry of Finance comes up with a budget, it takes very long to disburse the money because people do not know the procedures.” Namibia is classified as a Low-Middle-Income country because of its per capita income, which is above that of least-developed nations. Although this is the case, the reality on the ground is that of a country with high inequalities as far as income is concerned. And inequality is a basis of poverty. Statistics indicate that 10 percent of the population consumes 60 percent of the gross income, which shows that the majority of the citizens have not yet reached a point where their basic needs have been met. Even though the county has made significant strides in development pertaining to the road network, people’s access to potable water, telecommunications infrastructure – among many others – the country is yet to reach a point where it can say the growth of the economy has helped improve the living standards of the whole population. In the past five years – that is from independence to year 2004 – the economy has grown by 4.7 percent on average; numbers of people living in relative poverty have decreased by 10 percentage points; absolute poverty has also gone down by five percentage points, while income inequality has only reduced by 0.1 percent from 0.7 percent to 0.6 percent in 2004. While economic growth has been on a positive trend, Angula says it is not yet at a level with which the country can be comfortable. Namibia aspires to have an economic growth of 5 percent while the country’s road map, Vision 2030, aims for a seven percent annual growth rate. “If we take the income, we are better off, but if this income is disaggregated, regarding the advantaged and disadvantaged, the status leaves a lot to be desired,’ said Angula, who spoke to New Era about Namibia’s development. The sectors that have led to the country’s development are transport through the TransCaprivi and TransKalahari corridors, telecommunications, education infrastructure, agriculture, fishing, mining and tourism, and other factors such as political stability, macro economic stability and good governance, among others. These have put Namibia on the world map, for it to become a popular destination especially as far as tourists and investors are concerned. He was quick to mention, however, that where there is development, there should be no poverty. “Growth and development have been positive, but we need to do better in distributing the growth equitably for the fruits of this development to be seen,” he said. To improve the country’s development status where many Namibians will enjoy a better living standard, Angula said the government was looking, in the short term, at increasing safety nets such as old age pensions, orphans’ grants and disability grants to vulnerable groups who, he said, must receive a meaningful portion of the growth experienced at national level. The area to be targeted will be improving the rural economy and also the development in rural areas. Up until the present, it has proved difficult to motivate people to settle in rural areas, resulting in thousands of people flocking to towns in search of jobs to improve their living conditions. The president recently said that 2007 should see more attention given to rural communities in terms of development, services and infrastructure, realizing that many rural communities are in dire need of basic amenities such as water, electricity, shelter and agricultural inputs for increased food production. “Indeed, they need those things that make life worth living. They need those basic amenities each and every human being is entitled to as a matter of course,” he said during the last cabinet sitting. Rural areas hold the potential of creating employment and reducing poverty, which would enable Namibia to realize its short- and long-term development goals. In concurring with this, the Director-General said the situation called for government intervention in addressing rural development. “We need to allocate finances to roads, small and medium enterprises, markets, infrastructure for livestock-marketing, incentives for crop production in the form of subsidies and agricultural inputs,” he said. Other aspects on which Angula said the government should concentrate are empowering small miners, aquaculture farmers and communal area conservancies, all of which would help boost the economy in rural settings. “We need to develop small towns and Rural Development Centres, which will create new markets and link up with international markets to give value to rural areas,” he said. However, looking back, Angula believes Namibia has every reason to smile because the Namibia Household and Expenditure Survey found that things were getting better. “We are no doubt on the right course. We are developing in a positive direction and we will meet the MDG obligations,” he said. Due to this, Angula also said the country is convinced it will reach the goals of Vision 2030, which is the sum total of NDP 1, 2 and 3. At present, the government has embarked on drafting a Vision 2030 Implementation Strategy, which will show how it will be implemented, how much it will cost and how the constraints that could prevent Namibia from getting there will be mitigated. This will be the first component of Vision 2030, which may be ready by September 2007. Namibia this year appealed to its development partners to be recognized as if it was in the Least-Developed category because of the poverty, income inequalities and also HIV/AIDS which prevalence remains high. In response to this, Namibia has not only been selected to benefit from the Millennium Challenge Account, but has also seen some of its donors who were pulling out, renewing or extending their commitments. “Some development partners who decided to end their assistance, extended or renewed,” he said, adding that some of the countries which have renewed their commitments are Iceland, Luxembourg and Sweden, among others. Considering that overcoming the skills shortage has been identified as one of the most critical factors that will lead Namibia to development, Angula said the country is pinning its hopes on the Education and Training Sector Improvement Programme (ETSIP), whose first five years of implementation will be dedicated to skills development.