The man at the helm of one of the biggest companies in the country is of the opinion that the current form of the National Equitable Economic Empowerment (NEEEF) policy is counter-productive and will result in undesirable economic consequences.
Sven Thieme, executive chairman of the Ohlthaver and List Group and president of the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told New Era that the NEEEF policy in its current form could cause more harm than good and said the proposed legislation requires a major review, both in terms of its context and approach, if its purpose is to help create a more equitable society.
“In its current form I don’t see NEEEF achieving the desired socio-economic transformation. In fact, as it is currently written it widens the income gap between rich and poor Namibians, while it could further exacerbate poverty, as it may discourage investment and negatively impact on the sustainability of existing businesses”, Thieme said.
Responding to questions from New Era, Thieme said he believes there is a requirement for a policy framework that supports transformation, as poverty erodes the dignity of all of those affected by it.
“It is common sense that the patience of the poor has a limit and if we do not accommodate them at the Namibian dinner table, the time will come when they may throw sand in the food and thus spoil such dinner for everyone. I have always believed that if we do not take the people from the streets they will take us into the streets.
“However, in creating opportunities for all Namibians, and working towards an equitable society, we should ensure that no Namibian should feel sidelined. The government’s intention of coming up with the NEEEF policy and the NEEEF draft Bill is, therefore, understood in this context as a means by which Namibia would strive to build an equitable society,” Thieme explained.
He added that the NEEEF legislation would take the focus from business entrepreneurship, as many targeted business people may be pre-occupied with NEEEF compliance.
“This Bill will actually introduce many cumbersome processes and bureaucratic red tape, which will frustrate industries and render our country to be least attractive for private sector investments,” charged Thieme.
He continued that it is essential that the NEEEF Bill should rather address the needs of currently disadvantaged persons, as opposed to those of “previously disadvantaged persons”, as per the current draft.
“It’s common knowledge that there could be some “previously disadvantaged persons” of yesteryear, who are economically advanced already today and who have both the means and the ability to prosper in life.
“We need to be mindful also not to create over-expectations, and not to force businesses to give up ownership without being fairly compensated for what it is worth, as this might be contravening the basic principles of human rights.
“On management control and employment equity, due consideration needs to be given that many countries, including Namibia, are not blessed with an abundant supply of skills and expertise required to build and grow businesses. Forcing business compliance beyond what is feasible can, therefore, have disastrous economic consequences for the country,” he warned.
He said the NEEEF legislation should help grow the local economy, drive the country’s industrialisation, create employment and alleviate poverty by advancing the local sourcing and consumption of Namibian-produced goods and services.
“It must help attract investments to Namibia and help the private sector create more jobs, by encouraging and recognising business expansions and new investments.
“It is important that the NEEEF legislation helps improve easy/affordable access to basic amenities, such as housing, education and better healthcare by most of the Namibian working class by encouraging and recognising businesses that are helping their employees to access these services affordably.
“And it must take into account experiences from past empowerment initiatives, which led to the emergence of a few black elites, while the income gap was widening even further,” Thieme said.
He noted that it is equally important to consider including a sunset clause in the NEEEF legislation, as opposed to having it open-ended, and to make NEEEF compliance not only mandatory to private sector businesses, but also to all commercial public enterprises (State-owned enterprises) if the NEEEF objective is to address poverty and help create an equitable society.
He also suggested it is critical to consider including a Code of Conduct for those who benefitted from the NEEEF legislative intervention to minimise conflicts within empowered groups and for beneficiaries to provide feedback on how those transactions helped improve livelihoods.
“We have to unite and fight poverty together, and for that we need every available manpower and skill, whether green, yellow, black, pink or white. Let us learn from the past and not repeat what was done wrong back then,” Thieme concluded.
During a workshop on the NEEEF Bill at the beginning of February Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said NEEEF recognises that there may be differences in approach between the different sectors of the economy, due to their diverse characteristics and strategic importance.
“It, therefore, makes provision for further sectoral charters that will make sector-specific requirements in accordance with parameters provided in the scorecard. These will be adopted after consultation with sector stakeholders, once the NEEEF is enacted into law and the institutional structures are in place,” the prime minister said at the time.