Geingob’s fixers under fire

Experts say new economic panel is ‘bloated’

08 April 2019 | Business

OGONE TLHAGE



President Hage Geingob’s announcement of an economic advisory panel, which he hopes will facilitate much-needed jobs and economic growth, is being met with some reservation by analysts.

As if predicting some sustained fallout from the appointment of his panel, Geingob last week already moved to defend the body.

“Some have questioned the need to establish a high-level panel on the economy. The single-minded intent for reconstituting this panel is to solicit evidence-based recommendations, strategies and interventions that will prove effective in reviving and accelerating inclusive economic growth and employment-creation through private sector-led investment,” Geingob said following the establishment of the panel.

Economist Omo Kakujaha-Matundu said he feels the 22-member panel, which will serve a one-year term only, is bloated.

He said the panel could also easily become a platform for lobbying.

“Perhaps what the panel will do is to highlight to the president the things that government already knows and fails to implement. Finally, the panel is just too big to come up with anything meaningful,” he said.

“It could also easily become a lobbying platform for diverse business interests and rent-seeking. So I don't have high expectations for the panel.”

Geingob recently appointed the 22-member panel chaired by EOS Capital chairman Johannes !Gawaxab.

It also includes South African chartered accountant Vuyo Jack, Nigerian telecommunications businessman Joseph Okpaku and Guinea-Bissau economist Carlos Lopes.

Kakujaha-Matundu said any attempt to fix the economy should be applauded.

He, however, said the economic problems are known to government already.

“Any attempt to fix our economy must and should be applauded. However, the appointment of the panel begs the question: What is it that is not known as far as the bottlenecks in the Namibian economy are concerned, which the panel is going to find out?” he asked.

“Much work has been done at ministerial level; what is lacking is implementation. What is lacking is accountability and consequences for the non-implementation of government projects and policies.”

Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) leader McHenry Venaani said the panel’s existence meant there was little space for the National Planning Commission (NPC) to advise government.

“One has to question what is the National Planning Commission doing in terms of advising government on economic policies which need to be pursued, that we need a panel of 22 persons, with three international experts,” said Venaani.

He also wanted to know if the creation of the panel was as a consequence of former presidential economic advisor John Steytler resigning.

“It means we have replaced John Steytler’s economic advisory job with the other 22,” said Venaani.

“What needs to be questioned is how much is this panel going to cost the country? I am sure many of these people will not come for free; their flight tickets need to be paid, they need to sit on boards, so how much is this panel going to cost us? Is it the same salary as Steytler’s?” he questioned.

“We wait for what this panel is going to produce, but one year in my view is very short, but let’s see how it goes.”

Labour analyst Herbert Jauch questioned the size of the panel and said it would be difficult for it to reach consensus.

Jauch had served on a presidential economic advisory committee under former president Hifikepunye Pohamba.

“I think the panel can only work if it is a smaller group of like-minded people. If you have a large group, it is almost impossible to agree,” Jauch said. The group, he argued, should also have members with “strong macroeconomic knowledge”.

Jauch added he was surprised to see some members on the panel who have business interests.