17 September 2018

Namibia: 'Don't Spend Chinese N$10b On Your Own'

President Hage Geingob must call for an economic summit to discuss ways on how to effectively spend billions acquired through foreign loans to avoid failures, says opposition leader McHenry Venaani.

The Popular Democratic Movement (PDM)'s leader made the call on Friday during the opening session of his party's national executive committee (NEC) meeting in Windhoek.

During the meeting, he said the proposed economic summit would bring experts together to plan on how to effectively utilise foreign loans, especially those from China, to avoid mistakes made in the past with foreign-funded projects.

The Namibian reported last week that the government wants to borrow N$10 billion from China in the next five years to fund infrastructure projects, including the upgrading of the Hosea Kutako International Airport.

Venaani added that the proposed economic summit would also come up with a "multi-sectoral approach to resuscitate jobs".

"Don't spend the N$10 billion that you borrowed from China on your own. It's going to become an epic failure. Call for an economic summit so that you bring experts together to resuscitate industries that would create jobs and kick-start the economy to take our country to greater heights," he stressed.

Venaani added that foreign loans should not only be spent on infrastructure which creates short-term jobs, but must also be channelled through value-addition to create permanent employment, referring to the Targeted Intervention Programme for Employment and Economic Growth (Tipeeg), which he said was a failure.

He condemned finance minister Calle Schlettwein for his statements that the government had no "regrets spending close to N$14 billion on Tipeeg" in three years.

Schlettwein was quoted last week as saying the government had no regrets spending those billions, but that the returns could have been higher and more jobs created.

Through Tipeeg, the government intended to create 104 000 jobs over a three-year period, between 2011 and 2014. When the programme came to an end in 2014, N$11 billion had been spent.

Tipeeg has been widely criticised for creating mainly short-term jobs, despite the huge budget. The programme reportedly only created 83 000 jobs in three years, of which only 15 829 were permanent.

The PDM leader, however, said the government needs to recognise that it made a big mistake with that project, and should be cautious not to repeat similar errors with other foreign-funded projects.

"We are anxious because of what happened under Tipeeg because it is one of the reasons why the economy of the country is bleeding today. All our biggest procurements went to Chinese companies. They brought their materials, they brought their labour, and they took all the money, and there was no economic trickling down effect," he stated.

He added that President Hage Geingob must order Schlettwein to withdraw his statement and apologise to the nation, as it shows that the Swapo government has "no feelings about the suffering being endured by Namibian people to pay back loans after the mismanagement of project after project".

"Tipeeg targets were not met, the money was stolen, and the projects were not completed. We have everything to say sorry for about Tipeeg because that is money that went to waste. Everything went for the loot, our economic figures are dwindling, and we are being told that there are no hard feelings. We find it very arrogant," he said.

The PDM will also table a motion in the National Assembly to call for all deals signed by the government with foreign countries, especially China, to be made available to members of parliament, "so that we look at the finer details of those loans that we are taking", Venaani said.

Schlettwein yesterday maintained that "I had no regrets for Tipeeg. However, I wished to have had better outcomes with employment-creation, improved productive capacity, and generally better returns on this huge investment".

The minister added that the current economic pressure the country was experiencing cannot be attributed to Tipeeg, but was "to a significant level caused by external factors such as the commodity price crash and oil price increases, amongst others.

"The factual situation reflects good achievements in most of the economic targets. The statement by Venaani is not supported by facts, and must be dismissed as unfounded," he said.

According to Schlettwein, significant infrastructure improvement was brought about by the Tipeeg investments; food security was significantly improved, "with self-sufficiency levies significantly up for vegetables, horticultural products and grains".

Extreme poverty was also reduced from 15,4 % to 10,7%, and absolute poverty plummeted from 28,8 % to 17,4%, the finance minister said.

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