By Victor Angula <<Editorial Comment>>

Namibia’s state-owned enterprises (popularly known as parastatals) do play a crucial role in the economy and the efforts to build the country.

While there is a host of problems plaguing most of the country’s State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) it is not a problem unique to Namibia but a global situation. Even as these government-owned companies are not the best in the efforts to make money and ensure self-sustainability, they are necessary to the country.

The number of SOEs have increased over the past three decades, and I expect a few more created during the early years of this new decade. It is because the government constantly tries to trim and get smaller, so that it has to give away some work to the hands of the commercial sector.

And so I disagree with those who say having more SOEs is disastrous.

In fact any company can be made profitable just if it is in the right hands, no matter who owns it. The government can own companies too, and if such companies are placed in capable hands then the companies will be profitable.

The problem is that too often people in whose hands the government trusts its businesses are not people with business sense. Sometimes they are groomed in the spirit of self-interest at the expense of public-interest.

Other times it is because the government (the owner of the business) has no power to demote, suspend or even fire those people who were tasked with running the company.

This is mostly because the managers of these companies become powerful through the law. They hire lawyers who will fight for them all the way to the bank; so that even if someone has to go he goes away with a golden handshake.

Sometimes the politicians are too busy with legislative tasks and with administrative activities of their ministries that they simply do not have time to watch over the interests of their parastatals. The establishment of the ministry of public enterprises was a good and strategic move to ensure constant and consistent oversight over the SOEs.

Just if some parastatals are able to become sustainable and even pay dividends to their shareholder, it simply means that any parastatal can do it too.

It is necessary that the parastatals which are not performing are given incentives which make them move out of mediocrity. And these incentives may not just mean pay-rises for their top managers; it may also include proper motivation and inspiration from every side.

Anybody is likely to do a better job if he or she is given a breathing space at work instead of being choked by the demands for profitability.

And at Omutumwa this is what we are trying to do.