Corruption has cost us - !Gawaxab

04 June 2019 | Economics

CATHERINE SASMAN



President Hage Geingob’s instruction to the 22-member High Level Panel on the Economy (HLPE) to help bring in an investment of US$1 billion (or about N$15 billion at the current exchange rate) within the next two years has raised eyebrows among economic pundits, who have questioned the panel’s mandate.

The pundits, among others, commented that the brief should rather be handled by government ministries, agencies and offices – including Namibian embassies around the world that have a mandate to attract investment to the country.

With the appointment of the panel chaired by Johannes !Gawaxab on 4 April, the impression was that it would serve as a presidential economic advisory council formed as a voluntary platform to strengthen collaboration between the government, labour and the private sector.

!Gawaxab said it would help revive the economy by private-sector-led initiatives.

He said the panel was furthermore tasked to “help create jobs, propose recommendations, address bottlenecks”.

Such bottlenecks could be structural, legislative, regulatory, or simply bureaucratic, which are slowing down the economy.

The panel is also expected to come up with recommendations to promote Namibia as a preferred investment and tourism destination and to help attract domestic and foreign investments in priority areas.

Finally, the panel is to coordinate the hosting of the 2019 Namibia Economic Growth Revival Summit expected to take place at the end of July.

In common parlance, !Gawaxab said, the panel’s task is to formulate a “practical and fact-based” strategy for restructuring and reorienting the flailing economy towards growth, particularly from a private sector view to help fight the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

“To do this we are conducting rigorous analysis of existing economic policies, analysing data and the regulatory environment. We are looking at the ease of doing business to identify the bottlenecks that are undermining the attraction of potential investments,” !Gawaxab said.

He acknowledged that the mandate for a voluntary platform is very broad, but said the expert panel’s terms of reference make it a “tactical programme” which is “profoundly specific”.

“It is very much complementing what others are doing; yes, there are some overlaps,” !Gawaxab acknowledged.

The panel’s term will be until February next year if the current government is there until the end of March. By then it has to deliver its final recommendations.

The first set of recommendations is expected to reach the president during June, and the second in August.

Consultations

Since the inception of the panel its subcommittees have had more than 35 meetings. These subcommittees deal with policies and regulations, value addition, job creation, branding Namibia, investments, and the economic summit.

The subcommittees have met with the banks, the non-banking financial sector, the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI), business people in Ondangwa, the GIPF, the Chamber of Mines, youth groups, labour unions affiliated to the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), and entrepreneurs.

They also plan to meet with various ministers, ministries, and executive directors.

!Gawaxab said the panel’s doors are open to any views from all corners of the Namibian nation, all those who “feel they can make a contribution on how the economy can be revived”.

The US$1 billion investment

!Gawaxab said attracting a US$1 billion investment domestically and internationally over the next two years is “quite doable”.

Apart from consultations with local players, the panel will split up in groups of two or three to visit New York in September, and host investor conferences in Singapore and in Europe where two or three big infrastructure projects will be pitched for investment.

!Gawaxab would not say what these big projects are, merely saying: “We are trying to analyse it and think what is it that these projects [should be].”

The economic summit

The summit is to be sponsored domestically and it is hoped to attract 500 people.

Its aim is fourfold: to raise US$500 million, to work towards consensus amongst Namibians on how to create jobs, to identify and address bureaucratic red tape, and to build confidence in the Namibian economy both locally and internationally.

“The long-term potential of Namibia is unquestionable. We have an economy that used to grow between 3% and 4% and 5% and 6% between 2010 and 2015,” he said enthusiastically.

But he thinks Namibia will see a further economic contraction, aggravated by the drought and the acrimonious trade talks between China and the US.

How we got to the slump

!Gawaxab said the economic decline was only partially caused by global developments and a dip in Sacu revenue.

Domestically, he said, the slump was caused by corruption, inflated pricing in the public procurement processes, non-delivery or non-implementation, overruns and delays on some public projects that have cost the country dearly.

What has also been costly to the nation, he said, is overinvestment in unproductive infrastructure – like huge government office buildings - and underinvestment in railways, water infrastructure, and the energy sector.

“We are going through a very difficult time. We are facing very serious headwinds but as Namibians we should not lose hope,” !Gawaxab said of the current economic decline.

He added: “It is not the end of the world. If the work we are doing is listened to and we prioritise the economy, we will get out of it.”

He said since Independence there has been an overemphasis on politics but that it is now time to prioritise the economy.

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