What is e-commerce?
Electronic commerce, commonly known as e-commerce, is the buying and selling of product or service over electronic systems such as the Internet and other computer networks. Electronic commerce draws on such technologies as electronic funds transfer, supply chain management, Internet marketing, online transaction processing, electronic data interchange (EDI), inventory management systems, and automated data collection systems.
For the consumer, e-commerce manes greater access to products, the ability to compare prices between products and services and save money on the cost of physically visiting the place of business.
The topic of e-commerce and its impact on countries such as Namibia have been researched since the late 1990s and found that the greatest impact on whether a country (and its entrepreneurs and consumers) will benefit is largely dependent on the attitude of government and its legislature. In short the following are identified as the government policies which have a detrimental effect on the creation of e-commerce Namibia. They include:
• The insistence of government to hold onto and protect the state owned telephone network and in actual fact not allowing competition as all three cellular providers are actually owned by one government owned Mother Company (Namibia Post and Telecom Holdings). This results in inferior and high communications costs making e-commerce activities unnecessarily costly and uncompetitive.
• The lack of government strategy or support to develop world class enterprises. A poor business, even if connected to the web and e-commerce enabled, will not succeed in a competitive world. Companies in Namibia are generally ignorant of international opportunities, the needs of those markets and how to service them properly. To a large extent the Investment Centre and other government institutions focus on FDI (foreign direct investment) and not in assisting local enterprises expand to international markets.
• The governments should be doing more to help enterprises identify international opportunities and take advantage of them.
• Government insistence in maintaining ownership and management of logistics networks such as ports and airports resulting in inefficient, costly and unreliable services, which are incompatible with an e-commerce environment.
• Bureaucratic export and import procedures result in lengthy customs clearance times which nullify the benefits of speed in transactions offered by e-commerce. This affects service levels and increases the cost of business operations.
• Restrictions on imports and exports such as permits and licences, and the time taken to obtain these permits, place barriers in the way of fast efficient e-commerce activities.
• Namibia has exchange controls that provide a barrier for transacting in a foreign currency on the Internet.
• Lack of an e-commerce friendly legal framework to provide recourse for companies. Current laws do not accommodate electronic contracts and signatures. Our country does not have legislation that deals with e-commerce concerns including enforceability of the validity of electronic contracts, digital signatures.
• Lack of progress in setting government institutions to accept declarations electronically. This forces e-commerce enabled companies to produce paper and undermines the concept of paperless trading.
To have e-commerce, a country needs rich computer infrastructure, a functioning telecommunications network, and cheap access to the Internet. Its citizens need to be reasonably computer literate, possess both a consumerist mentality and a modicum of trust between the players in the economy - and hold credit cards.
E-Government is needed as well
For the consumer, e-commerce should also extend to government services as well. This is known as e-government and the Office of the Prime Minister has been responsible for establishing this as an integrated ministerial function at all levels, especially to our rural citizens.
The type of services should include:
· Receiving notifications of the readiness of documents such as birth certificates, passports etc. through SMS or email
· Payment allowed through electronic financial transactions (EFT) – including payments in regional and local level such as school fees, water and electricity accounts
If Namibia is to achieve goals such as Vision 2030, we must ensure consumers are part of this project and are the beneficiaries of political, economic, social and technological advances in the modern world.