Windhoek-The country’s biggest trade union federation, the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), last week said the blame for the ongoing crisis at SME Bank, which faces possible closure, should be placed squarely on foreign expatriates at the institution.
The federation’s secretary general, Job Muniaro, said the NUNW fully supports the proposal by Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein to close the bank, which is owned jointly by the Namibian government and private investors from Zimbabwe. SME Bank made headlines earlier this year when it emerged that it had invested – rather recklessly it appears – about N$200 million with little known institutions in South Africa.
Senior officials were cited in the press last week saying the money is “likely lost”. The Bank of Namibia has already disempowered the SME Bank board of directors and removed three bank executives, including the CEO.
Muniaro last week urged the finance minister to proceed with his mooted plan to close down the bank, which was originally meant to provide support to emerging small and medium entrepreneurs. “Close SME Bank Comrade Calle, we support you on that idea,” Muniaro said.
“Namibians have a habit of trusting foreigners with our country’s affairs and this has always been giving us bad results. Look at the inflation of tenders; they made our country financially weak. Terminate all contracts of foreign engineers, let them go back to their countries,” Muniaro charged.
Muniaro also called on trade unions affiliated to the NUNW to condemn and reject any plans to privatise the national rail transport company, TransNamib.
Public Enterprises Minister Leon Jooste is pushing ahead with the reform of state-owned enterprises and has suggested the closure of Roads Contractor Company and the radical restructuring of TransNamib, but has denied that steps are being taken to privatise TransNamib.
Muniaro said the privatisation of TransNamib, as suggested by some, would plunge the country into deeper economic crisis and would have an adverse effect on the working class.
“The board of TransNamib is apparently worried about the financial situation of the company, but has just increased their sitting fees, which they approved themselves without any authorisation from the government,” Muniaro alleged.
“Who should suspend whom for their wrongdoing?” he wanted to know.
“Get rid of the board too,” he suggested, saying there was tension between the ministers of public enterprises and that of works and transport over who should appoint the board of TransNamib.
Muniaro says some leaders are trying to place the burden of unemployment, poverty, lay-offs, privatisation and the commercialisation of public enterprises, such as TransNamib, Air Namibia and RCC, on the shoulders of workers.
He said these state-owned companies operate in sectors of strategic importance to the Namibian people, yet it appears some people are trying to exploit the situation to capture all enterprises for themselves.
Muniaro advised that TransNamib should remain under the Ministry of Works and Transport, led by former trade unionist Alpheus !Naruseb, as per the law.
He also wants NamPower to remain under the authority of the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
Further, Muniaro bemoaned the situation of Namibian truck drivers currently stuck in neighbouring country Zambia.
“Truck owners are suffering as their businesses were brought to a standstill. These trucks are bought for business and [now the] loans cannot be paid. Both governments also do not benefit from taxes that are supposed to be paid.”
He said the families of the drivers were also adversely affected and that “Zambia should get their house in order”.
Muniaro was of the view that as a SADC member state Namibia should promote the economic development of neighbouring countries.
However, “SADC must protect our workers all over for the best of our economies,” he said.