Do we really want to have business with Russians?
RECENTLY the 30th anniversary since the establishment of the Russian-Namibian Diplomatic relations was celebrated. This newspaper published an interview with Russian Ambassador V. Utkin for this event. Answering the questions of the Confidente journalist the Ambassador lightly noted that the present stage of the bilateral relations between our two countries leaves much to be desired. This remark is diplomatically modest. In real terms, the bilateral affairs can be described as unsustainable.
Take for example, our cooperation in education. Every year the Russian Government offers 25 scholarships for Namibian undergraduates and five more for postgraduate studies. But not more than 30-40 percent of them are utilised by the Namibian side. Moreover, our students studying in Russian Institutions are frequently complaining about their late funding by the Ministry of Education.
Another example is the development of a framework. For years the Namibian Government has delayed conclusions of several bilateral treaties. Among them are important works on peaceful use of nuclear energy and reciprocal protection of investments.
Approval of the first one will bring modern technologies to Namibia, since a ‘peaceful atom’ is used in power generation, medicine and many other economic fields. Usage of these technologies promises creation of new jobs and consequently reduction of unemployment in the country.
The second agreement is crucial for the fully-fledged development of bilateral economic relations. Without this treaty Russian businessmen are not certain about safety of their investments in the Namibian economy.
Even so some Russian businesspeople risk working in Namibia. However, the Namibian authorities take lightly some of their proposals or simply ignore them.
For instance, at last year’s Economic Summit Russian businessman R. Sardarov announced his readiness to invest a total of N$21 billion in creating an oil refinery plant, power plant, as well as a seawater desalination plant in Walvis Bay. He also emphasised that he is not trying to interfere in existing business, as NAMCOR, NamPower and NamWater would oversee these projects. He further stated that these projects would increase Namibia’s technical capacity in terms of its labour force and will directly employ graduates from Namibian universities.
Isn’t it a brilliant proposal? Nevertheless, these days we hear from Tom Alweendo, Minister of Mines and Energy, about the plan to finalise negotiations with another company on the 37 500 bpd barge-mounted refinery in Walvis Bay. This situation raises a question about advantages of such a project mentioned by the Minister over Mr Sardarov’s initiative. It seems that the Russian proposal is more reliable because it is supposed to be built onshore unlike a barge-mounted refinery, which may sail away at any time and Namibia risks to lose its productive capacity.