WHEN Prime Focus sought to interview the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industries (NCCI) Northern branch’s new chairman Tomas Koneka Iindji, the rendezvous was the newly revamped Monaco Lounge in Windhoek.

The upmarket bar and restaurant opened its doors in June this year and is owned by some local business partners who are also members of the NCCI. It was perfect timing then to chat in a more relaxed atmosphere that offered a chance for good conversation.

“I usually come here to relax and meet other businesses people whenever I’m in Windhoek. This place is a unique example of what local SMEs should aim at. It clearly shows that standards are high and anyone from any part of the world can come. It’s also good for the tourism industry,” says Koneka.

The NCCI northern chairman was in Windhoek with an undertaking to acquaint himself with the latest on what’s happening within the NCCI circles. It was also during the time of the NCCI Annual General Meeting and a celebration of the Chamber’s 20th anniversary. All regional representatives were in town and what a perfect timing for business it was. That aside, the interview was about NCCI activities in northern Namibia, where business seems to be growing and thriving because of the bigger population.

The NCCI Northern Branch consists of more than 700 members who are involved in many forms of business including agriculture, manufacturing and retail. Informal traders are also being encouraged to register so that they can benefit from the skills of the other established businesses.

Koneka took over the reigns in June this year at an extra-ordinary meeting that voted him into the position after the resignation of former chairman and well-known businessman Ben Zaaruka. He is deputised by Joseph Endjala and Modestus

“It was very unfortunate that Mr Zaaruka had to resign due to work commitments as he had offered some valuable input into the running of the NCCI Northern Branch. However, with the team that we have I am sure we should be able to pull through and tackle some of the problems being faced by businesses in this region,” Koneka says.

According to the new chairman, problems being faced by businesses in northern Namibia are not unique but could be exacerbated by the fact that they are still recovering from the effects of the floods and the global economic crunch that hit them over the past two years. However, he says, the most crucial issues among SMEs in the north include lack of knowledge on financial matters, the tendering process and pricing, access to finance, unfair practices by established and foreign businesses and access to big events such as the Ongwediva Annual Trade Fair (OATF).

“Many small businesses in the North do not see the importance of keeping financial records and this often creates problems whenever the taxman wants to collect his dues. Most businesses have their VAT payments in arrears and often cry foul when their goods or businesses are attached for non-compliance. We are appealing to the Ministry of Trade and Industry for an amnesty on businesses that have not submitted their tax returns over the years that the region was hit by floods. We are also in the process of identifying a consultant who can train our members on proper business methods so that they don’t make the same mistake,” he adds.

Another problem, he says, emanates from the bidding of tenders. Most SMEs do not usually succeed because they either under or overprice for their bids and some do not have knowledge in filling in the required documentation. The NCCI Northern Branch, he says, will make it a priority this year to have its members trained on how to make successful tender bids.

The question of access to finance from the established commercial banks, while it may be prevalent elsewhere, becomes more pronounced for businesses in the North because many do not have title deeds for the properties they are operating from. Lack of collateral as a requirement from the banks becomes an issue and many entrepreneurs are selling their cattle and other livestock to raise capital, but more often than not, it is very insufficient.

“To overcome this problem, we are soon going to appoint a commission of inquiry where the affected members can register their complaints against rejected applications for loans, municipal land and other requirements so that we can report these to the NCCI Executive Committee for further action.”

Many northern businesses suffered severe losses after the 2008 and 2009 floods and a number of them have still not recovered. Although government responded by assisting the general public with shelter, food and other needs, businesses were left out to fend for themselves. In this respect the NCCI, together with local authorities from the affected regions launched “Project Efundja” in a bid to assist the affected businesses.

Since the project was launched in 2008, a lot of ground was covered to assist the NCCI members in the North. However, without the much-needed financial backup, the NCCI has faced challenges in overcoming the disaster apart from calling upon all financial institutions that had extended loans to the affected businesses to be considerate and arrange for easy repayment terms with their clients until they have fully recovered.

With all this, Koneka sees a very formidable task ahead of him and his committee, but he says, “We are going to do everything within our means to overcome the situation so that we can help one another to grow.”

Born at Olukonda, in the area of Ombuga-ya-munyoko in Oshana Region on 1 February 1980 in a family of five, Koneka attended his primary education at Ombuga Combined School till Grade 9 and attended both the junior and senior secondary education at Oshakati.

Having worked for Game (Oshakati), Koneka worked at Bank Windhoek from September 2000 where he served in the lending division. He was instrumental in the implementation of the Small Business Credit Guarantee Trust Scheme and the establishment of the SME Unit at Bank Windhoek Oshakati Branch.

From 2004 to date Koneka has been with the First National Bank, Oshakati Branch.

“The position of Senior Sales Consultant required me to carry out duties such as selling and promoting FNB’s products and supervise the sales staff, among others. I was later promoted to the position of SME Business Analyst for the Far North. In this role, I was responsible for assessing and evaluating business plans and proposals, recommending SME projects for financing, identifying viable business opportunities and advising SME clients,” he says.

He became Manager: New Business (Oshakati Branch) in October 2007. He is now Lending Manager (Oshakati Branch) responsible for lending and credit related issues.

Besides numerous short courses, Koneka holds a Diploma in Marketing with the Institute of Bankers in South Africa.

He says, “I am a true believer in the role of the NCCI. Not only in the North but the whole of Namibia. It is crucial to have a representative for the private sector. The NCCI uses its role to advocate for the interests of its members. Part of our initiatives is to have an adhoc committee to look into the issues or complaints of our members.

The variety and scope of Chamber activities are unlimited. The Chamber represents and promotes members’ interests, and encourages business and industrial investment, broadening the tax base and providing employment.

The northern businesses have been affected most importantly at the Oshikango border post by the flood. What we need to do is to advocate consumer confidence. We need to ensure that the ball is rolling, that the government and the private sector advocates customer and consumer confidence. That will definitely bring the situation to a normal level, hopefully.”

As he embarks on the journey to lead business in the North, Koneka concludes by noting that his ambition is to help businesses further their dependency on technology, innovation and creativity.

“I believe that any initiative including the Namibia Vision 2030 cannot be implemented without involvement from the private sector and the adaptation to the IT.”PF