The 3 000-strong membership of the Namibian Agricultural Union (NAU) yesterday rejected the proposed National Equitable Economic Empowerment (NEEEF) Bill.
The NAU added its voice to the 4 000 voices of the Namibian Employers Federation (NEF), who have done the same and called the bill “a huge error”.
Firing the opening salvo at the start of the 70th NAU Congress in Windhoek yesterday, chairperson of NAU Sakkie Coetzee said it is a wait and see game with the proposed NEEEF Bill, after the NAU made specific recommendations to government regarding the bill.
Coetzee spoke on behalf of NAU members, who have called the bill “totally unacceptable” after the NAU did its own in-depth investigation into the implications of NEEEF.
The NAU and the entire white business community are deeply concerned that the current structure of this bill is unworkable, is in several respects unconstitutional and will have negative effects on the economy.
The NAU recommended that the focus should be on accelerated growth in GDP and per capita income and to ensure a general conducive investment and business climate, in which role players are willing to actively engage.
It also recommended that the direct and indirect costs of doing business be driven down and that economic partnerships and entrepreneurship be developed at especially grassroots level.
During questions and answers from the floor it became apparent that NAU members believe one cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.
The NEF previously said: “If this were to mean legal action, so be it, but we will only decide once there is something concrete to challenge.”
The NEEF Bill has sparked widespread concern and uncertainty among white businesspeople and farmowners.
While many support the Harambee Prosperity Plan, they have serious issues about the NEEEF Bill.
The bill stipulates, inter alia, that any private sector enterprise established after the enactment of the bill “may commence business only when such enterprise has secured 25 percent ownership by a racially disadvantaged person, or persons, or such higher percentage as may be determined by the minister”.
It also stipulates that “despite any other legislation to the contrary”, no private enterprise owned and controlled by a white person may allot, issue or register the transfer of any portion of its ownership to anyone other than a “previously disadvantaged or to a domestic or foreign enterprise”.
The NAU yesterday said that makes it especially difficult for farmers, as not all farms are one-owner enterprises. Many are owned in closed corporations, have shared ownership, and are held in trusts or companies.
The NAU also explained that farming is unlike any other business due to the high risks involved and natural disasters, for which there are no insurance policies.
The NAU says it has understanding for the concept behind the empowerment framework and the bill, but that a lot more research needs to be done after more than 120 objections from all sectors of the business community were lodged against it.
The extremes of the bill were compared by one participant to that of a doctor who cannot establish a practice, because he has not got a previously disadvantaged partner.
Some NAU members are also of the opinion that there will probably be a slowdown in development and/or expansion by local investors, who may be unable or unwilling to find a suitable partner.
They also fear a slowdown in foreign investment, where potential investors may be unwilling to place shareholding into local hands without suitable guarantees.
It was also noted that over the past 26 years a large number of previously disadvantaged people have made huge economic advances and can most certainly not today be considered disadvantaged. It would be grossly unfair that they benefit from this legislation, some observed.
Tim Parkhouse, secretary general of the NEF, has said the bill will lead to increased unemployment.
“The poor will remain poor and their lot in life will remain unchanged, while the wealthy will become wealthier,” he argued.
The NEF has already appealed to government to withdraw the bill and to commence with in-depth research and consultations with the private sector, especially business owners, executives, economists, foreign missions, donor agencies and workers, so as to collectively draft an alternative framework, which can work to the benefit of all and meaningfully reduce poverty in Namibia.