In a recent interview, Trade Union Congress of Namibia (TUCNA) Secretary-General Mahongora Kavihuha raised challenging issues. He makes one major misfire in his points and yet, he brings other issues to the table that can stimulate the national debate.

He decried the supposed ‘deliberate’ destruction of parastatals. He believes that private companies are killing the SOEs so they can buy them up and control strategic portions of the Namibian economy.

In the context of bemoaning ‘schemes’ about parastatals, Kavihuha asks whether the “pandemic itself was purposefully crafted to push some hidden agendas.”

Perhaps the unionist’s real intention was not reflected in the words he reportedly used. It is not reasonable to believe that this global pandemic that has caused 8.8 million infections and 706,000 deaths, was “purposefully crafted” by someone in Namibia with “hidden agendas.”

There is an informal tradition that union leaders often speak in the most extreme terms possible. They do this not because they necessarily believe their alarmist words, but to attract attention to their wider agenda. If Kavihuha meant those exact words, he is out of bounds. Let us join together to fight the pandemic and help keep our people safe. Let us not mix COVID with unconfirmed theories and politicized debates.

The TUCNA head also says that there is a parastatal agenda.

He claims that SOEs were created to be purposefully run into the ground. This is happening, according to him, so that private sector “capitalists” can buy them when they are eventually privatized.

Conspiracy theories are always on the fringe and this one is no exception.

The condition and viability of commercial SOEs has been a thorn in Namibia’s side for a very long time.

Originally, the main role of SOEs was to occupy a part of the economy that was devoid of necessary and strategic services or products. Profitability per se was not the main raison d’être for SOEs. Namibia is a small country. The return on investment that would attract Foreign Direct Investment to non-mineral sectors, is not very high. The SOEs, therefore, were envisioned to be a tool to ensure service and product delivery in those investor deserts.

In addition, 30 years ago the smoke from the war of liberation was not yet dissipated. Parastatals were one way to unseat whites from their command and control positions in the economy.

For example, at independence, the entire diamond industry was dominated by white South Africans and other foreigners. They were making a fortune. It took decades to force skills transfer and make a change. Imagine foreign companies possessing majority shares in Namwater or Nampower? What is national independence if owners from other countries or people with other ‘allegiances’ dictate prices for water and electricity?

These were the ideas behind supporting SOEs and they remain valid.

The breakdown came when greedy people used political connections to ‘get inside’ SOEs and start filling their pockets. Checks-and-balances were not in place. Nothing was prepared to block the wave of kleptocrats, tenderpreneurs and private sector companies from the previous dispensation that wanted to milk the inexperienced government.

In addition, many of those appointed to SOEs were not up to the task (whether line ministers, cabinet committees, board members or management). They made huge mistakes, did not understand the business, and ended up causing most SOEs to lose value. The uphill slog now is to reverse this damage at commercial SOEs.

We would not agree in some convaluted plot where ‘someone’ is undercutting SOEs so that faceless ‘capitalists’ could step in. Rather, the agenda of the home grown capitalists is plain. They are unashamedly looting the SOEs, acting out of ignorance or gobbling up excessively high salaries. The problem is not as complex as Kavihuha opines. Uncorrected poor performance has been killing parastatals for decades, not a ‘capitalist’ conspiracy.

The unionist makes a good point that the privatization of SOEs is close to being a reality. Once the International Monetary Fund (IMF) climbs into bed with the Namibian government much will change. These skilled structural adjustment purveyors will loan us the money to fill our budget deficit gap. Then, they will ‘redirect’ as many Namibian assets as they can, including SOEs to pay themselves back.