Friday, September 18, 2009

Namibia News Update: Debate Rages on Privatisation; Hamutenya on New Political Party

To privatise or not to privatise

By Felix Njini in Windhoek
Zimbabwe Herald

Namibia has re-ignited debate on privatisation of state assets but warned that off-loading public firms to private investors only works if the process is tailored to local market conditions and poor citizens have access to affordable essential services.

Government and economic experts noted that whilst privatisation of state assets has been a success story in Asian economies, it has not been the case in most African economies, with some having abandoned the programme mid-stream.

In layman's terms, privatisation is the process of transferring ownership of a business, enterprise, agency of public services from government to the private sector.

Since two decades ago privatisation was seen by many as a panacea for Africa's economic woes and its introduction along with other Bretton Woods prescribed economic reforms was described as a catch-all for inefficient state run organisations and a cure-all medicine for ineffective services provision.

The policy of state withdrawal from essential services and economic endeavour was a major component of the Bretton Woods institutions' poverty reduction and enhanced structural adjustment plans.

It was tied to financial aid from the multi-lateral lenders.

But two decades down the line, the programme has been a dismal failure. In countries where it has recorded some success, it has resulted in huge job losses and impoverishment of the majority of the citizens.

Namibia's minister of trade and industry Hage Geingob told business executives at a Bank of Namibia (BoN) annual symposium that the question dogging government was how to address the privatisation issue.

Geingob said Namibia's private sector "has not even penetrated the local market, much less the regional market" adding that there is no improvement in goods market efficiency, casting doubt on the potential of the sector to take over government entities.

He said the private sector should target non-performing state entities but warned companies of strategic interest to the nation such as Namwater should be left in government hands.

He said privatisation should be aimed at addressing the twin goals of poverty reduction and economic development.

"Privatisation has to have a purpose other than asset transfer.

"It should not be for the sake of it but must be done with a purpose," Geingob said.

Citing an example of the global economic crisis, which analysts say was triggered by excessive greed on Wall Street, Geingob said: "We have seen how the excesses of capitalism have played havoc on the global economy...the question is which sectors should be privatised-most sectors are already in private hands."

He added that sectors such as water provision should not be privatised.

"The idea of water for sale is unheard of in Africa. Even the western economies are rethinking privatisation through large scale bail outs," Geingob said.

He added that private investor tend to go for the most profitable companies "and laugh all the way to the bank."

Tracing the history of privatisation, Bank of Namibia head of research John Steytler said over the years, public companies had failed to live up to expectations, had drained the state coffers and had failed to produce sufficient, quality products and services.

Steytler said in some cases state-owned enterprises fail due to weak management, running losses of between 5 percent to 6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Steytler however noted that some fears of privatisation are unfounded.

"Most of the fears of privatising might be unfounded and under certain circumstances there might be modest or even big net gains, especially at firm level."

He added that privatisation strategies "should be duly informed by the lessons of previous privatisation cases" adding that programmes should be tailor-made to domestic market conditions.

Jin Park, a professor from Korean Development Institute in South Korea warned Namibia against off-loading into private hands infrastructure related industries and networks industry.

"If these industries are to be privatised, foreign capital's dominance in the economy will be much more serious."

But more importantly, privatisation can only succeed if there is political commitment, said Park. "It is better not even try to consider privatisation without strong political determination."

I have no beef with Swapo — Hamutenya

By Charles Tjatindi in Windhoek

Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) President Hidipo Hamutenya says he does not hold any grudges against Swapo, or its leaders - as they are not his enemies but political competitors.

Hamutenya told The Southern Times in an exclusive interview that no bad blood exists between him and his former political colleagues in the ruling party, as he regards them more as political competitors than enemies.

The RDP president said despite popular belief that political parties formed by

defectors of the ruling Swapo party did not last in the local political arena, the RDP would stand the test of time.

He said it was false and misleading to form such conclusions on the basis of "isolated incidences" based on case studies of only some parties.

"It is false to conclude that all political parties formed after Swapo will not fare well in elections. Let us allow people to express themselves at the ballot," he said.

A one-time prominent Swapo stalwart, Ben Ulenga in 1999 defected from the ruling party to form an opposition party, the Congress of Democrats (CoD).

Ulenga was preceded by veteran Swapo politicians including Andrew Matjila, who in the early 1990s left the party to establish the Swapo-Democrats (Swapo-D). Both parties failed to chew into the electorate of the ruling party, contrary to expectations.

Asked to comment on the poor performance of the RDP in the two by-elections - in Eenhana (northern Namibia) and Windhoek's Tobias Hainyeko constituency- the first polls the RDP participated in since its formation, Hamutenya blamed alleged intimidation of RDP members.

"The outcome of those village elections was influenced by fear. People were told RDP will bring the (liberation) war back. Others were told they will lose their jobs if they vote for the RDP, and as such people got scared and never voted."

Hamutenya claimed that most of those who supported his nomination for the party's presidency in 2004 had been witch hunted - leading to summary dismissals from their jobs, victimisation and threats of physical harm.

"It is an open secret that all those who supported me were labelled with derogatory names and victimised as they were seen as threats. Some people are threatened by change and would do anything to avoid it," he said.

In May 2004 Hamutenya sought Swapo's nomination as its candidate for the presidential elections which took place later in 2004. In the first round of voting for the nomination, Hamutenya won 166 votes, behind Pohamba, who won 213; in the second round, he was defeated by Pohamba, receiving 167 votes against Pohamba's 341.

As the leadership contest intensified Hamutenya was "relieved" of his position as Foreign Minister by President Sam Nujoma on 24 May, reportedly for inciting division within the ranks of the party in the country's Omaheke region.

In early November 2007, Hamutenya resigned from Swapo and from his seat in the National Assembly, where he had served for 17 years, and on November 17, he launched the Rally for Democracy and Progress, together with another former minister, Jesaya Nyamu.

However, the RDP has been accused of being a tribal-based party as many of its members are from the Kwanyama sub-set of the Ovambo people.

Hamutenya told the Southern Times that he does nonetheless not regret jumping ship, as "change was needed", hence the launching of the RDP.

Veteran Swapo politician playing cards close to his chest

By Charles Tjatindi in Windhoek

Veteran Swapo politician Ben Amathila says he will only ponder on a return to the national assembly when such opportunity presents itself, opting to concentrate on his personal life in the interim.

Amathila, who in April 2007 resigned as Swapo representative in parliament and consequently as the party's Chief Whip, told The Southern Times that he is still to make a decision on whether he will return to parliament when asked to do so, opting to shelve such a decision "until the time warrants it".

Amathila is one of only a handful of ministers who did not make it back into Cabinet since independence and the only one to remain an MP for a considerable time afterwards.

At the recently concluded Swapo electoral college, the veteran politician came in on number 54 on the 72-member National assembly aspirant list, prompting speculation that he would be returning to the National Assembly.

The ruling party has 55 members in the National Assembly.

He however noted that he would only make his decision on whether he will accept nomination back into the national assembly when the time is right.

"I will have to consider such a decision if and when Swapo gets 54 seats on which number I fall, and make a decision then.

"As for now, all I can say is that I am still a Swapo member and have pledged to avail my services where and when necessary," he said in an interview.

Amathila said he had resigned as a member of parliament to "concentrate on his personal life", as it relatively took a back seat to active politics.

Asked whether his time in active politics could have passed, Amathila maintained that experienced politicians like himself, were needed and continued to form an integral part in the ruling party politics.

"The party has a large reservoir of leaders whose wealth of experience could be used to the benefit of new political entrants.

"As is party policy, there is nothing wrong with blending the energy of the youth with the experience of the elders."

Amathila first became active in Swapo's forerunner - the Ovamboland People's Organisation (OPO) - in Walvis Bay in 1959.

Despite not gaining full ministerial status in the national assembly, he remained popular within the party.

Namibia goes to the polls on 27 and 28 November in presidential and national assembly elections, with the ruling Swapo party widely expected to retain its dominance on the country's political scene.

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