Unemployment veiled in mystery
The unemployment rate in the country is much too high, that is all we know; the rest of the facts are veiled in mystery. The unemployment rate is a political tool.
The political leaders are merely throwing the figures at us. We have to thank Martin Mwinga for raising new issues on the unemployment rate.
We really have to establish now who counts under the unemployed or not. We have to enhance the quality of knowledge about unemployment in our context. The meaning of ‘unemployment’ in Namibia will differ greatly from that of other societies in the world.
Can we, for example, say that someone who works as a gardener for one or two different house owners on different days of the week and earn between N$30 and N$50 a day is really employed? Or is he underemployed, or unemployed? Is he an entrepreneur? Even if others crowding the street corners envy that person, we have to say that such a person is trying to avoid starvation only – factually, he is ‘unemployed’.
Factually, everyone who cannot be found in the books of the receiver must be regarded as unemployed! The minimum wage in relation to the minimum cost of living also plays a role in establishing and understanding the unemployment rate. The cut-off points that we used are wrong because if there is a single mistake, the whole exercise is corrupted.
The ILO’s questionnaire is not good enough for Namibia.
It will greatly differ from sector to sector to establish who is employed or self–employed or if not employed at all – and the seasons play an important role, too. There is the subsistence farming sector, there is the ‘informal’ sector and both are rather closed books for us. We have to look at the sectors dominated by Asian employers, another closed book. And what about the highly busy, notorious and all-embracing criminal sector that nobody has ever seen statistics about? What about the many who are too shy or too embarrassed to answer the questions honestly? Many regard being jobless as a sin and others are too afraid to speak up.
I would like to see a serious approach to plan and construct a Namibian questionnaire before we do the fieldwork. We cannot leave this in the hands of the labour ministry or the workers unions alone – it has to be an open and transparent exercise of an independent, able organisation. The questionnaire has to be fair, unbiased and should be examined by us all before use! And such an exercise is useless if not repeated regularly. The results have to show the trend so that a society can react on wrongs immediately.
The unemployment rate can make or break a government. It is a very important measuring tool and can tell us how effective, how good or bad a government and its policies are. In an enlightened democratic society, it is one of the main guiding lights for government.