Govt inaction on unemployment is worrisome

22 February 2019
This week, IUM Founder and Chairperson, former Minister of Education, David Namwandi, made a speech at the opening of his university’s Nkurenkuru Campus’ academic year, posing a vital question:  how is it that high unemployment in Namibia is not a major issue?  We echo his query.
The most recent Namibia Labour Force Survey (NLFS) is from 2016, but its statistics remain relevant to the discussion of rising unemployment in Namibia. 
The NLFS report states that as of 2016, over 35 percent of Namibians were without jobs and a stunning 44 percent of the youth were sitting home with no income.
The IUM leader’s question highlights the reality that there has been near silence from the halls of government specifically about unemployment and tangible job creation incentives and programs.
How can it be that there is a lack of well-funded, specific employment programs when more than one third of the potential Namibian workforce is on the streets? 
Namwandi noted that other countries go into crisis mode when they have a 5 percent unemployment rate while our government seems nonplussed at 35 percent.
In most countries facing an election year, a government or political party in power, running for re-election with a 35 percent unemployment rate, wouldn’t have a prayer of maintaining power. 
Double-digit unemployment is usually a fast way for a ruling party to become an opposition party.  In Namibia, however, this will not apply and voters probably will not use high unemployment as a guide to their voting preferences.
In our view, the flood of speeches, rhetoric and photo opportunities around local and national governments making more serviced land available, fulfilling the promise of the mass housing program or even managing a drought emergency, are just words if people do not have jobs to earn an income, to buy and maintain homes and property or buy food to eat when their subsistence farms are failing.
The bottom line ought to be the creation of sustainable, permanent employment for the Namibian people who can earn a living wage and thrive, not just survive.
‘Once Upon A Time’, back in 2011, there was a dream called: Targeted Intervention Program for Employment and Economic Growth (TIPEEG).  This fairy tale declared that the Namibian government would borrow N$14 billion in order to create 104,000 jobs over a three-year period.
This program was specifically undertaken to reduce a crisis unemployment rate of 51.2 percent in 2008 (this figure was challenged as it included people working on subsistence farms and students in university as ‘unemployed’).
But, just like the empty promises of fantasy storybook endings where a Prince charming comes riding a white stallion from a shining palace to sweep a would-be princess off her feet and take her away to live happily ever after, TIPEEG also fell flat. 

When the program came to an end in 2014, N$11 billion had been spent.  Many economists and pundits criticised the program for creating mostly short-term jobs. 
Reportedly, the program created 83,000 jobs, of which only 15,829 were permanent.  In other words, only 15 percent of the jobs promised were permanent offering employment tenure and increased stability for Namibian households.
And yet, the price tag for that 15 percent success rate of eight years ago still requires financial management that is draining our depressed economic coffers.  Arguably, that huge amount spent with little returns, is a part of the reason our financial coffers are empty now.
With the furore about Harambee, NDP 5, the Mass Housing Program, Food Banks, a new Poverty Ministry, and other band aids on poverty in Namibia, talk about job creation via TIPEEG is rare.
All who cheered for TIPEEG in 2011, are very quiet now.  Remember some of the same decision makers back then are still in the governance game now.  Our current Prime Minister was Minister of Finance; our current Minister of Finance was Deputy Minister of Finance, the current Minister of Mines and Energy was the Minister in the Presidency in charge of National Planning and our current President was Minister of Trade and Industry.  
Back in September 2018, Schlettwein said he did not regret TIPEEG, but then went on to denigrate the program by saying it should have created more jobs, and that better returns were expected, but not received. 
Understatement of problems, doesn’t help in the search for solutions.
The hide-your-eyes treatment of the results of the TIPEEG program is as if Prince and Princess Charming of storybook fame, got a quickie divorce and people are too embarrassed to discuss them anymore.
The roar of the unemployed cannot be long ignored.
As most government jobs in our bloated civil service are frozen, students expecting employment when their studies are completed are frustrated, the private sector isn’t creating enough jobs to meet the entire need, jobs at non-governmental organizations are disappearing, and nearly every sector is retracting during this economic crisis, what is the employment creation plan? 
 This question, as Namwandi put it, is unaddressed, and that should not be the case.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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