Mayors, Councils and Governors fail economic development in the regions
By Josef Kefas Sheehama.
For more than 32 years, the Namibian government has invested hundreds of millions in various strategies to support all regions. And yet, our regions still struggle with high unemployment, lack of opportunities and shrinking entrepreneurship development.
The local authority leaders should be subject to public interview in order to appoint more suitable mayors, councillors and governors. The appointments should be based on expertise, not political affiliations. I am sure that parties do have well-qualified loyal members.
The individuals who want to be elected as mayors and councillors, or appointed as governors should have the experience and expertise in commerce. The process of appointment must be clear and transparent, and appointments must be made for those who are suited to take those positions with the correct qualifications.
These leaders are killing the regional economic development. They are not innovative and creative at all. They are killing businesses in their regions. The lack of vision and inefficiency of these leaders have resulted in a decline in service delivery. There has been a total lack of quality leadership in the entire 14 regions. The magnitude of this failure is astonishing. It is unfortunate that many of the regional leaders lack basic economic skills which is one of the reasons why the regions have not made much progress.
Therefore, any leader that wants to be successful must have a good knowledge of the economy but some of our leaders do not even understand demand and supply, which are the most basic concepts in economics. In all fourteen regions, they are not there yet, but, we would be deceiving ourselves if we do not speak the truth.
Furthermore, the mayors, councillors and governors are the cause of SME failure because they are not disseminating useful information. The Bank of Namibia and the Ministry of Finance and Public Enterprises have re-launched the SME Economic Recovery Loan Scheme on 02 February 2023, but yet these leaders failed to set up meetings with SME owners. It’s dangerous to reduce citizenship to a shopping trip, where leaders only fork out cash for things personally benefitting them. That’s not how a society works. We build society through give and take, doing what is in the public interest.
Hence, it is important for all governors, councilors, and mayors to come to the party. They are not elected to be office-bound. Innovation, creativity and agility need to be cherished and celebrated. They need to provide SMEs with valuable expertise and guidance, and help businesses develop leadership skills and build strong teams. Equally, mentorship and coaching programmes can also foster innovation and entrepreneurship, contributing to a dynamic business environment.
Against this background, there is a need for an SME information Centre to be established across all fourteen regions specifically to provide information to the SMEs on developments relating to market movements, latest developments and to assist linking SME operators to service providers at affordable rates.
Thus, it is crucial that regional leaders integrate the informal economy issues into the overall youth development issues rather than isolating the youth and the informal economy. So, across all fourteen regions, SMEs do more than create employment. They will develop your region and reduce unemployment. They are also engines of economic growth and social development. The SMEs contribute more than 12% of GDP, and some global estimates put this figure as high as 70%. This contribution varies across sectors, and is particularly high in the service industry, where SMEs account for 60%. SMEs are a vital lifeline in a country, as they represent the grassroots that keep the local economy going by encouraging growth, employment and income.
The local authorities remain an important instrument in any government’s toolbox for societal and public value creation given the right context and collaboration with other stakeholders. They can be catalysts for sustainable value creation for the wider public, and can also build trust by being transparent and accountable through proper communication and reporting of objectives, activities, relationships and performance.
Unfortunately, local authorities made only a minor contribution to government revenue in recent years but required significant budget support and pose sizable fiscal risks, as the portfolio lacks financial viability. This is total lack of tools, economic insights and expertise. Being unprepared to develop a corporate sustainability vision, strategy and framework is a monumental risk. Consider social decisions in which the decisionmaker’s gains come at the expense of costs inflicted on others.
Leaders should support regional economic development committees so that the local Economic Development Strategy focuses on providing support to local SMEs, identifying regionally significant employment areas, promoting the region as a location for business investment, and streamlining the planning process while cutting red tape.
I recognize there is a vacuum of leadership at regional level which delays economic development for the betterment of the region. Our regions remains plagued by profound structural poverty and high unemployment. Expectations to solve this at local authority level are doomed. It is bad if all mayors, councillors and governors are only relevant during election time. The failure of these leaders have an impact on households, small, medium and micro-enterprises and other investors in local economy. Economic growth, job creation and local economic development initiatives depend on the strong vision of the region. The business sectors become constrained when the leaders failed to function well. Households directly suffer the consequences when basic service delivery is poor.
The failure of leaders to apply innovation and creative ideas contributes to poverty and unemployment which is caused by lack of capacity and essential productive skills for both creative employment in existing organizations and for self-employment.
In conclusion, mayors, councillors and governors really need to create working models that empower SMEs, and that can be replicated across a whole region or sector.
Therefore, I urge the regional leaders to pull up their socks on service delivery. The SMEs are losing hope in the local authorities and the leaders. We want mayors, councillors and governors who will be coaching and mentoring our SMEs today not tomorrow.