The moral and political beat of BEE is lost

The moral and political beat of BEE is lost

THE leitmotif of any policy is to address existing loopholes in the socio-economic life of a state.

This is above all the context within which the debate around Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) should locate itself, albeit the inexistence of any coherent policy to guide its direction in Namibia. As such, BEE has assumed a Frankenstein-like life of its own and has come to mean many and all things to different people.For some, the rallying cry around BEE is blatantly uncomplicated; “there’s nothing wrong with black people getting rich”.For proponents of that munificent strand, any meaningful critique has become synonymous with jealousy and trivial-mindedness.On the opposite side are those who argue that BEE is excessively narrow and the “same faces” continue to crop up at every deal.The caveat one should posit does not a priori lie in a face-value debate between the “same faces” and “non-faces,” but should rather be placed on the rug of the Office of the Prime Minister which after so many years failed to present a BEE policy.Herein lies the rub, and the argument can be made that if there’s a policy vacuum around a specific issue area, actors will take their cue from elsewhere.By virtue of key Namibian businesses serving as satellite South African entities, BEE deals would not in any meaningful way depart from the line articulated in South Africa.Thus, it is no coincidence that in many instances BEE deals are concluded in Namibia after the mother companies have concluded theirs in South Africa.In essence, what this tells us is that the existing structure of our economy and the connected debate around BEE should not be blamed on those who operate satellites in Namibia.Equally so, we could not call (in the absence of government policy), the heads of these South African satellites an uncreative bunch for repackaging and juxtaposing South African-inspired BEE deals in Namibia.A relevant and general question merits an answer: Is there any robust philosophy on the economy (developmental or social-democratic) on the part of our leaders? It is of no use to ponder on BEE if we have not answered the pertinent questions around the vision of government with regard to our economy, notably ‘Namibianisation’ and its direction in a coherent policy framework.On the abovementioned, the “engaged spectator” (borrowing the phrase of the French sociologist Raymond Aron) is left with no plausible answers because government responses to these issues do not only tend to be overtaken by events, but for the most part tend to be frail and ad-hoc.The BEE debate underlines this cogently.If government was smart at the time when it started conceiving its BEE policy in 2002, it would have been bold enough to put a moratorium on BEE deals until it was ready to provide strategic direction.With hindsight, we would probably not be sitting with the problem of the “same faces and non-faces”.Undoubtedly a political imperative exists for the empowerment of blacks after years of apartheid domination of the economy.Such an assertion does for its part explain the moral obligation on the part of white business to promote black ownership of businesses in this country.But, it is bunkum to think that such a process will be the result of some unmanaged capitalist accident.Government as an actor, must end the conundrum sooner rather than later and provide that much-needed direction.It must not only identify who is to be empowered, but it must clarify who is empowered, who has been empowered and who is not.Is a permanent secretary or the CEO of a state-owned enterprise an empowered individual or not? One would be tempted to say yes! Should businesses be compelled as a matter of policy to diversify their empowerment partners in order to reach a much larger audience? To respond to these; BEE must first situate itself in a moral and social project before it is economic.For that, government has plenty at its disposal in the form of government tenders to sanction businesses that renege on these commitments.In the final analysis, in the absence of policy, BEE has become the paradox that it is, since it is both a solution to the re-ordering of the apartheid economy, but also a nuisance in the sense that in its current shape, it is crassly materialistic and lacks a moral and social character because few benefit from its boon.Alas, due to that interregnum, the foot-dragging and obfuscation on the part of government, and both the political and moral imperative that should drive it, is lost.* Alfredo Tjiruimo Hengari is a PhD fellow at the University of Paris-Panthéon Sorbonne in France.As such, BEE has assumed a Frankenstein-like life of its own and has come to mean many and all things to different people.For some, the rallying cry around BEE is blatantly uncomplicated; “there’s nothing wrong with black people getting rich”.For proponents of that munificent strand, any meaningful critique has become synonymous with jealousy and trivial-mindedness.On the opposite side are those who argue that BEE is excessively narrow and the “same faces” continue to crop up at every deal.The caveat one should posit does not a priori lie in a face-value debate between the “same faces” and “non-faces,” but should rather be placed on the rug of the Office of the Prime Minister which after so many years failed to present a BEE policy.Herein lies the rub, and the argument can be made that if there’s a policy vacuum around a specific issue area, actors will take their cue from elsewhere.By virtue of key Namibian businesses serving as satellite South African entities, BEE deals would not in any meaningful way depart from the line articulated in South Africa.Thus, it is no coincidence that in many instances BEE deals are concluded in Namibia after the mother companies have concluded theirs in South Africa.In essence, what this tells us is that the existing structure of our economy and the connected debate around BEE should not be blamed on those who operate satellites in Namibia.Equally so, we could not call (in the absence of government policy), the heads of these South African satellites an uncreative bunch for repackaging and juxtaposing South African-inspired BEE deals in Namibia.A relevant and general question merits an answer: Is there any robust philosophy on the economy (developmental or social-democratic) on the part of our leaders? It is of no use to ponder on BEE if we have not answered the pertinent questions around the vision of government with regard to our economy, notably ‘Namibianisation’ and its direction in a coherent policy framework.On the abovementioned, the “engaged spectator” (borrowing the phrase of the French sociologist Raymond Aron) is left with no plausible answers because government responses to these issues do not only tend to be overtaken by events, but for the most part tend to be frail and ad-hoc.The BEE debate underlines this cogently.If government was smart at the time when it started conceiving its BEE policy in 2002, it would have been bold enough to put a moratorium on BEE deals until it was ready to provide strategic direction.With hindsight, we would probably not be sitting with the problem of the “same faces and non-faces”.Undoubtedly a political imperative exists for the empowerment of blacks after years of apartheid domination of the economy.Such an assertion does for its part explain the moral obligation on the part of white business to promote black ownership of businesses in this country.But, it is bunkum to think that such a process will be the result of some unmanaged capitalist accident.Government as an actor, must end the conundrum sooner rather than later and provide that much-needed direction.It must not only identify who is to be empowered, but it must clarify who is empowered, who has been empowered and who is not.Is a permanent secretary or the CEO of a state-owned enterprise an empowered individual or not? One would be tempted to say yes! Should businesses be compelled as a matter of policy to diversify their empowerment partners in order to reach a much larger audience? To respond to these; BEE must first situate itself in a moral and social project before it is economic.For that, government has plenty at its disposal in the form of government tenders to sanction businesses that renege on these commitments.In the final analysis, in the absence of policy, BEE has become the paradox that it is, since it is both a solution to the re-ordering of the apartheid economy, but also a nuisance in the sense that in its current shape, it is crassly materialistic and lacks a moral and social character because few benefit from its boon.Alas, due to that interregnum, the foot-dragging and obfuscation on the part of government, and both the political and moral imperative that should drive it, is lost. * Alfredo Tjiruimo Hengari is a PhD fellow at the University of Paris-Panthéon Sorbonne in France.

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