Banning imports not so simple

27 May 2019 | Opinion

We laud the instruction by finance minister Calle Schlettwein that public entities may only procure locally and that this must include production north of the red line for consumers north of the red line. The announcement, although 29 years late, is good news.

Gone, finally, will be the days of Nestle mineral water in parliament and other government institutions.

The directive is much like capital projects where the state ploughs tax dollars back into the local economy. And yes, it will provide a much-needed injection into our stagnating economy and will certainly provide incentive to invest into businesses, especially knowing that there are lucrative orders coming from government.

One can imagine the impact of a local order of consumables by the health or education ministries, for example.

However, we agree with experts that unless there is support to local small businesses from government, this may backfire on us.

Are we sure that we are able to substitute imports with local products? Are our production levels, not forgetting levels of quality, good enough to supply the demand? And probably most importantly, are our skills levels at the standard to manufacture and supply?

Possibly not.

And then, what of the Namibian Defence Force? Their procurement is a private matter altogether not even having to declare their chicken imports? A matter of security, we are told. And it is the ministry that receives one of the biggest budgets annually. Will they procure locally too?

And then of course, the piece de resistance… what of construction? While Schlettwein explained that there were no local bidders for the Swapo headquarters, it is a tad ironic that on the day he bans all imports, the news breaks that the party's headquarters will be constructed by a Chinese firm.

China has made millions, if not billions, off our construction in our little corner of the world and Namibian companies have seen very little of that. We are hoping to see this change under the new directive.