‘SME Bank's N$79m back in Namibia’ read the headline of The Namibian newspaper last Friday.
My first impression was that N$79 million out of the N$200 million lost by the SME Bank through dubious investments in South Africa has finally been recovered; I was wrong. The money was returned for individuals to benefit from it and not for investment in the country.
The SME Bank was founded by government following the dissolution of the Small Business Credit Guarantee Trust (SBCGT), which was transformed into a fully-fledged commercial banking institution.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) in its SME policy from 1997 defines SMEs as manufacturing companies, employing less than 10 people, reaching a turnover of less than N$1 million and having a capital basis of less than N$500,000.
The SME Bank was supposed to have provided special attention to projects of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and those catering to rural communities, micro-enterprises and previously disadvantaged individuals. It also offered banking services to individuals and companies that were not necessarily SMEs, through personal banking (retail) and corporate banking, while also offering facilities to treasury and for international banking.
The SME Bank robbers robbed Namibian entrepreneurs. These are ordinary Namibians, especially those with ambitions to either start or grow their small businesses.
Most of these entrepreneurs had solid plans to make a difference in the lives of their family and communities by creating jobs and contributing to the welfare of this country.
The SME Bank looters have stolen money out of the mouths of Namibian families, and to date, no arrests have been made.
Former SME Bank chairperson and current Home Affairs minister Kapofi served as the bank's first chair, from 2012 to 2015, after which secretary to Cabinet Secretary George Simataa took over up to February 2017, when the Bank of Namibia took administrative control of the bank. They are among the individuals who must be accountable.
An assessment done at the beginning of 2017 by the Ministry of Finance revealed there concerns about the structure of the SME Bank, which failed to deliver on its core mandate of providing affordable financing to small businesses.
All of us are aware that the majority of Namibians remain landless, underfed, houseless, unemployed and that youth are badly represented at senior managerial positions level. The state of our healthcare and education system remain as they were for the past 15 years, if not worse.
Vestiges of the past and its economic patterns, ownership and control remain intact, despite the attainment of political freedom. Are we aware that political freedom without economic emancipation is meaningless?
The SME sector has the greatest potential to bring about socio-economic development in the country and foster economic growth and poverty alleviation. Why? Because the contribution of the SME sector to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2003 was about 11 percent and the share of the labour force employed full-time in this sector was about 20 percent in the same period.
An interesting detail is that the cluster with the highest number of SMEs - the food sector - is one of the categories with the lowest average contribution to the Namibian GDP. It also has the highest degree of informality. So through the SME Bank, government could have kick-started a true employment and economic growth revolution in this and other informal sectors.
The SME Bank was robbed because government failed to fulfil its mandate of providing poor families with financing to venture into businesses of their own.
Instead, the bank went on to dish out millions of loans to already well-established businesses such as supermarket chain Woermann Brock (N$34 million), medicine supplier Global Pharmaceutical Exchange (N$18 million) and United Africa Group's United Property Management (N$12 million), amongst others.
Real examples of SME owners are not individuals that are running the above-mentioned businesses, they are business like Mondesa Knitting Centre in the Erongo Region, Adolf Weaving Enterprises in the Hardap Region, Southern Gemstones in the Karas Region, the Hakusembe Project in the Kavango Region, the Ogongo Pottery Project in the Omusati Region and the Khorixas Craft Centre in the Kunene Region, amongst others.
The country’s unemployment crisis continues unabated and with tens of thousands losing jobs over consecutive quarters, youth unemployment could well be touching 50 percent.
Corruption, if it remains unpunished, makes a joke of the so-called ‘Year of Accountability’. No country can be corruption free, but we can reduce graft in Namibia by sending the corrupt to prison for many years, and this must start with perpetrators who are seemingly powerful and untouchable.
As a country, our greatest enemy is not that we don’t have knowledge of what to do, our greatest enemy is how we continuously continue to protect those at the helm of corruption. The enemy is within.