The outflow of capital from the Namibian economy

Part 3

By Lazarus Sheefeni Uaandja

OF late, many Namibian stakeholders and interest groups have become more pronounced on the role of foreign investors in the Namibian landscape. The outcry has come as a result of the alleged unabated mistreatment of Namibian workers by some transnational corporations (TNCs), by foreign and national investors.

At issue would seem to be whether foreign investors comply with Namibian labour laws, regulations and directives or whether some prefer to do their own things in clear and staggering violation of Namibia’s laws?

Chinese investors, although they may not be alone in mistreating Namibian workers, have been singled out as leading abusers of their workers in terms of paying very low salaries, not paying their workers on time, allegedly subjecting some Namibian workers to bad working conditions, and stashing away billions from the Namibian economy, hovering around N$12 billion annually.

Yet, no Namibian critic or stakeholder would give comparable amounts of inflows of Chinese investments into Namibian economy per annum. Equally, in spite of the fact that Namibian government officials had severally engaged Chinese government officials represented in Namibia both publicly and behind the scenes, some Chinese investors seem to continue to not only subject some of their workers – including the Namibian worker who was shot to death in Kavango-East recently – and would also sometimes illegally siphon money from the Namibian economy.

As mentioned, some stakeholders raised such national discussions from high pedigree to drive home the desired end-results pertaining to ownership interests in TNCs registered within the legal framework of Namibia.

Countries that have successfully engaged TNCs to part with substantive shareholdings would have done so through negotiations involving high stakes and skillful give-and-take incentives and moral suasions.

Generally speaking, TNCs bring to the table a host of technical services host countries do not have and would require to advance and develop. Host countries, in turn, offer TNCs what such firms do not have and would want. In the end, both parties have something to offer the other party.  After negotiations are concluded, practical platforms, processes and systems are put in place to memorialise institutional back-up systems; ensuring customer after-care services requirements are continuously met. This requires resources to be put to effective and efficient operational use.

Some Namibian registered TNCs, to simplify things, sometimes have like-minded and strategically placed previously disadvantaged Namibians as either their meager minority shareholders or as substantive shareholders. Irrespective of the size of shareholdings Namibians may hold in any TNC, such TNC would assign realistic and achievable tasks to its Namibian shareholders, Namibian board members and Namibian top management executives to accomplish set work targets, so as to gain work inflows from the host government or host market to the TNC, including, but not limited to introducing high-level national executives, top management level and middle management executives, as well as private sector leadership to the leaders of such TNCs.

Notable of such broad stroke of generality, some TNCs get to compete for high-level access to strategically placed rare Namibian human capital in terms of being correctly and perceivably connected to some government decision-makers and or other Namibian dignitaries with the singular hope of gaining voluminous and rewarding government tenders in future, bringing into play endless coordinated lobbying activities, readily available only to well-organised or resourceful Namibians.

As they say, democracy mostly benefits those who are well-organised in getting the attention of those responsible for the dishing out, allocation or distribution of national resources. In this respect, since the dawn of Namibian independence in 1990, available national resources have been placed at the disposal of central, regional and local governing structures and this opened up a whole new trajectory of distributing or allocating national resources among their beneficiaries (electorates) within set institutional processes and systems supporting platforms, including but not limited to investments wherein a new world of national budgetary allocations would be availed to many TNCs, Namibian companies and other people to compete for.

An increasing number of local stakeholders have expressed concern about the Namibian government’s current minority shareholding in some TNCs. Concerned Namibian stakeholders would seem to be on the rebound in encouraging government to seek increased an ownership stake in some TNCs, up from the current minority stakes to at least 50% shareholding. These calls would hold true, especially for TNCs investing in, owning and operating strategic resource-based entities and related service assets within the Namibian market.

Other concerned stakeholders call for an increased role of small and medium Namibian registered companies (SMNRC), mostly owned by previously-disadvantaged Namibians co-existing and cooperating with TNCs within the ambit of the local market, to be aligned to joint venture work activities of such TNCs so as to gain and expose SMNRCs to real know-how, technology transfer, effective and efficient operational management expertise and relevant industry and or professional contacts.

The government has on numerous occasions awarded lucrative work to SMNRCs in agriculture, construction, fishing and other service industries in order for the SMNRC to learn from such TNCs.  However, the output experience would show that because many SMNRC owners wish for a get-rich-quick scheme as they do not want to do the hard work, most owners of SMNRCs choose to take cash over diligent work that would have ended up exposing them to requisite acquisitions of know-how, technical expertise and technology transfers.

In not so doing, owners of such SMNRCs seemly squandered such rare opportunities offered to them. Worse still, there may be other serious SMNRCs that wish to get aligned to joint venture activities of TNCs to diligently acquire experience, but would not get that opportunity because they may not know how to access set processes to be assigned to such joint venture activities.

This clarion call of concerned Namibian stakeholders would require the owners of SMNRC to undergo a transformative mindset and a shift from merely taking cash to solve temporary household problems, as well as buying attention-seeking and fancy toys rather than taking on enduring and enriching lifelong learning expeditions to amass knowledge, skills and wealth.

No one is saying the journey that owners of SMNRC opt for will be always smooth. Sometimes, such chosen lifelong journeys prove bumpy and rocky, so as to be gradually rewarding in the end.  Of course, some such journeys lead to slippery slope, as mountains of unmanageable debt can become all together ferocious.

Be that as it may, the government should give increasing more opportunities, as some leaders among the targeted owners of MNRC would do a good job to gain more experience from working closely with TNCs operating within an array of Namibian industries.

Whilst I do not work in close cooperation with TNCs, I have taken that long expedition in my career and I am learning a great deal, although the cash inflows are not easily coming in due to tough economic times that would not last forever, as what goes up, would eventually have to come down. Have confidence in yourself, do things, never postpone.

As for the rest, leave it up to the Almighty God to sort out.

(Note: Edited for brevity.)