The public holidays in April and May are very disruptive to business. When these align with public and private school holidays, the dearth of people actually working starts having an impact on all businesses.
Although not as protracted, the poisonous combination of school holidays and public holidays, may have a bigger impact on business than the summer holiday period. The main reason is that at the end of the year, there are bonuses aplenty and solid motives to spend. In May however, these incentives are absent so trade takes a beating.
With a new government confidently installed, riding an unprecedented electoral mandate, it is time our leaders sit down and seriously talk about reducing the number of public holidays. There are several public holidays which are obsolete in the sense that very few, if any, people celebrate them for the original consideration. They are just excuses not to work and their impact on productivity is tremendous.
It is not the odd public holiday that robs us of our lawful right to work, but it is the endless succession of so many holidays in such a short period, that has a significant impact on businesses’ bottom line. Contrary to first observations, it is not the retail sector that suffers but mostly the services and the production sectors. Retail flourishes when there is more time to shop, so do companies who offer leisure and entertainment. But all those companies that need to keep factory doors open, are hampered by double rate shifts, reduced output and impeded distribution lines. In other words, the productive side of the economy suffers most. Given that the secondary sector is supposed to be the main growth point under the fourth National Development Plan, our planners need to engage our lawmakers to revisit the public holidays, one by one, and scrap the obsolete ones.
Pet issue number two is our ridiculous winter time adjustment. This is euphemistically called daylight saving time, but it is nothing of the kind. Namibia, by nature of its locality on the continent is slightly out of kilter with both its two biggest neighbours. Going by solar angle, we should be about half an hour behind South Africa, and for convenience sake, another half an hour ahead of Angola. Now we are synchronised with SA for seven months and then with Angola for five months. It is not working, and I am hoping that the new government will have the confidence to figure out for themselves it does not work. I suggest that we set our summer time back half an hour and advance our winter time half an hour, and that we stay on this single time zone for the whole year, regardless of the season. There are several places in the world where countries opted to adjust their timetable by only half an hour in relation to their neighbours. A quick search showed fourteen major cities with uniform perennial time zones but half an hour displacement from their neighbours both east and west. Most noticeably is Mumbai. If the business centre of such a large economy can work on half an hour increments instead of the customary one hour time zones, then so can Windhoek.
Pet issue number three is the ugly pictures on cigarette boxes that are popping up in all their nasty bloodiness on supermarket shelves. Since the cigarettes are invariably stacked in a display behind the cashier, I as an unsuspecting customer am confronted by these horrible images every time I get to the point of sale. I find this so disgusting, I have threatened my local cafe owner that I will patronise another establishment if he does not move his cigarette shelf to another spot where I am not accosted by worse-case images every time I only want to buy a white bread and a coke. If all manufacturers of all consumables must have an equal playing field in the market, then it is high time that we insist the MVA Fund must start forcing auto dealers to paint ugly pictures of mutilated crash victims on each car’s bonnet, all four doors, and on the boot. And for good measure, just to drive home the point exactly how dangerous all vehicles are, the largest image must be painted on the roof. Cars are ten times more dangerous than cigarettes and the damage they cause in Namibia is a thousand times more than the few suckers who opt to continue smoking. Only difference is, every time I see a nice car, I am not reminded by gory visuals, just how dangerous that car is.
I have often heard the opinion from foreign visitors, that the most dangerous activity they have engaged in while visiting all the nice travel brochure places, is driving. The statistics certainly corroborate this notion. So, in a free market, if you want to force the tobacco companies to show what their product does, then so the car makers must be forced to show what a car can do to you.
Hopefully, when the public holidays are streamlined, the perennial time zone has been set and all cars have horrible pictures on them, then perhaps we can get back to serious business again.