Contrary to the recent requirement for South African Nationals to acquire visas before travelling to Namibia for business activities, the Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, has revealed to this publication that the country is in the process of negotiating for the permanent removal of business visa requirements at a Southern African Development Community (SADC) and continental level.
The requirement, which came into effect in March this year and was met by heavy criticism from the business fraternity, culminating into an agreement between the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration for South African citizens to acquire business visas at the point of entry, has been put further into question by the Iivula-Ithana admission that they were negotiating with other SADC member states to permanently remove the business visas, with the presumed aim of fostering intra-regional trade.
“These are just aims. We need to put processes in place when it comes to how we do things, but negotiations are underway at the SADC level with regards to how we can remove visas,” Iivula-Ithana told Prime Focus Magazine, in an exclusive interview this month.
This notwithstanding, Iivula-Ithana emphasized that visa requirements for business people will remain in place despite the negative impact this has on fostering intra-Africa trade in general and Namibia-South African trade relations in particular.
“The issue that business people need work visas when coming to Namibia is a long standing agreement by government and right now we are in the implementation stage, this does not happen in Namibia alone but other countries. You can’t just go to work in Germany or China without such a requirement,” says the Minister.
However, she points out that certain countries were exempted from visas while others were mandated to furnish the travel document before setting foot on Namibian soil.
“Visa requirements are not enforced on everyone, it depends on what country one is coming from as some countries have visa exemptions while others do not,” she says.
Chief Executive Officer for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry laments these double standards as not logical and disregards government’s promotion of free travel at a regional level and doing the opposite at a national level.
“These are double standards, we cannot say we are promoting intra-regional trade but the people coming from countries that are participating in that free trade area have their movements restricted, it does not make sense,” says Shaanika.
Public Relations Officer for Home Affairs Salome Kambala scoffs at the prospect of allowing freedom of movement by Africa within Africa as a mere aim that is far from reality and which would take long to materialize and implement.
“Dismantling of trade and travel barriers by having a single continental passport is just a mere aim which will take long to bring about to implement,” says Kambala.
The paradox of it is that Namibia is at the forefront of promoting the gospel of free movement and trade within the region and the rest of the continent.
Shaanika emphasises the visa restrictions as unnecessary particularly for South African business persons and came in time to bite back on the gains the nation had achieved by appending its signature to the SADC protocol on Trade which lays the ground for regional economic growth.
“There is no need for Namibia to impose visas on South Africa and foreign business people coming from SADC member states, we are restricting the movement of business people and therefore we are reversing the gains we have achieved by signing the SADC Protocol on Trade which has effectively established the free trade area in the region. You cannot say goods can come freely but people cannot move freely, you cannot achieve integration in that manner,” he opines.
Shaanika takes a swipe at government as being lost in understanding the role played by free travel of business people that throng from Africa’s second largest economy.
He points out that visa requirements have consequences on the local business environment and economy since the southern neighbor remains Namibia’s trading partner.
“The government does not understand the need for business people to travel freely. When it comes to South Africa, it is the largest source of investment and they are also our largest trading partner and restricting on their free travel impacts negatively on between the two countries,” says Shaanika.
Executive Director for Economic Association of Namibia, Klaus Schade pours cold water on the requirements for visa applications on the part of potential investors as a time consuming and unnecessary bureaucracy.
“We sometimes rely on foreign experts that bring certain services, applying for a visa makes unnecessary delays. I believe that it is an unnecessary bureaucratic obstacle for visitors, we should create a conducive environment so that business people have easy access to Namibia because we benefit from foreign investment,” Schade says.