THE high unemployment rate and huge income disparity in Namibia are not sustainable and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, as one of the key drivers of the economy, needs to play an even bigger role to help remove these obstacles to the country’s development.
Trade and trade relations are important, but for now, his main focus as new trade and industry minister will be at home, Calle Schlettwein said yesterday.
When he spoke to The Namibian yesterday afternoon, Schlettwein was already sitting in the office of predecessor Hage Geingob, who on Tuesday became the country’s new prime minister.
Schlettwein, who had been the deputy finance minister since 2010, said he was “grateful and honoured” for President Hifikepunye Pohamba’s confidence to choose him as new trade and industry minister. He was equally thankful for the solid foundation Geingob laid at the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
Schlettwein, whose public career also included being the permanent secretary at the ministries of Agriculture, Fisheries, Labour, Youth and Finance, said his focus would now be on driving industrialisation, which would create jobs and reduce the income gap between Namibians.
“Of course, we should not forget that we are part of the world,” Schlettwein said, adding that Namibia’s attractiveness as investment destination should be “nurtured”.
Polishing Namibia’s image will be a mammoth task as the country has plummeted nearly 50 places on a global index measuring the ease of doing business in just eight years. ‘Doing Business 2013’, released by the World Bank recently, ranked Namibia 87th overall out of 185 countries worldwide, a far cry from the 39th position it held in 2006.
According to ‘Doing Business 2013’, it takes on average 66 days to start a business in Namibia – compared to 19 in South Africa, 39 in Malawi and six in Mauritius.
Handing over the reins to Schlettwein yesterday, Geingob highlighted the issue of business registration as one of the areas the new minister will have to address.
“I need not emphasise that business registration continues to be one of those areas where our country has consistently been rated poorly by the World Bank and other indices, and I believe this ministry should drive a coordinated national effort to improve our performance in this area,” Geingob said.
“The ministry needs to as matter of urgency come up with ways to shorten the time it takes to register a business,” he said.
Geingob also highlighted other areas where “improvements are urgently needed”.
The existing Small Business Policy of 1997 and programmes should be reviewed, as well as the relevance and effectiveness of current SME programmes. Trade and Industry branches throughout the country should be reorganised, “so that these offices are truly able to effectively provide all the services that the ministry is tasked to provide”, Geingob said.
There should also be a “general improvement in the rate at which applications for assistance (equipment and others) are processed and services rendered to the public,” he said.
Geingob said the ministry should “explore some form of partnership” with the private sector to set up trade centres in Luanda in Angola, Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Pointe Noire in the Congo Republic. This will facilitate market opportunities for Namibian products.
Geingob also urged Schlettwein to “realign and combine” the Namibia Development Corporation (NDC), the Offshore Development Company (ODC) and the Namibia Investment Centre into “one effective industrial and economic development body, which is adequately resourced and capacitated”.
In addition, the capacity of the Namibia Competition Commission (NaCC) and the Namibia Standards Institution (NSI) must be “boosted so that they can effectively deliver on their important mandates”, Geingob said.
Geingob said he had confidence in Schlettwein’s ability to “lead this important ministry to greater heights”.