Thursday, 17 September 2015

Protecting your family on Social Media

(First appeared in New Era 16 September 2015)

A few years ago my eldest daughter called me during a training session I held in the capital. At the time I was freelancing and training officials at a large OMA about how to use Facebook. When my daughter heard this she had to express incredulity and stated, “But how do you teach something which is so easy to use?” She was of course mistaking using the social media platform with managing the platform and the interaction you can have with the system when understanding how your followers or “likers” react to posts and photographs.
I of course had to protect my business model and had to explain to her the difference. In essence, posting comment, publishing pictures or commenting on posts is all easy to do and allows your friends to see where you are, when and with whom. However, you want to know more about the people seeing your posts entails a lot more work in the actual engine room of the programme. Thus I was training managers of information pages rather than the social usage of Facebook. She still thought it funny that people would pay me N$ 750.00 an hour to learn something she felt they could teach themselves.
Today most of us learn how to use social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Youtube and find that we can “instinctively” find the information we need while sharing our innermost thoughts and ideas with ease.
This led me to think about how to protect me and my family from the evils of social media – and more specifically about the careless mistakes we all make when posting about our personal lives.
First things First: Never give out information that you would not want a stranger knowing. Typically you would not tell every stranger walking in your neighbourhood that you will be leaving your house unguarded for the next two weeks while you go on holiday. Even though we would not do this to strangers in real life, many of us are sharing on social media how our holiday is, how long before we go home, etc. without considering that we previously shared pictures of our home, or even our jewellery or precious objects on that same site. Many criminals are becoming aware of information you share and are using it to target you specifically.
Your children: Most of us allow our children to access the Internet through smartphones or home computers without much thought to what content they access. In studies carried out in 25 European countries it was found that around one-third of parents worry about what their children access as content online and this is more than the number of parents concerned about their children’s use of alcohol or drugs.
The following tips are useful when it comes to your Internet usage:
Always keep in mind that the Internet is permanent. Even though you might delete a picture or post does not mean somebody has not already saved a copy. Taking it off does not quite mean the same as deleting it forever.
Be very careful when accepting a new friend request. If someone in real life asked to be your friend out of the blue. Only accept friends you actually know in real life – it is too easy to make a fake profile and pretend to be someone you are not.
Be very cautious when clicking on a link. The most common trick these days is to tell you that a certain friend likes a video or specific page and tries to get you to also look. Remember that anything too good to be true often is.
Get to know your privacy setting an how to change them. Check regularly which information you want to share with whom. Especially if you play games in a social media site, make sure they cannot post to your wall. Your boss will not find it funny that you have just “cracked level 31” after playing Game B for the past two hours.
Lastly, turn off your GPS function on your smartphone. When you post a picture taken with this feature on, anyone can access the data part of the photo and will know your exact location and time at which a photo was taken.
Always use as much caution about the information you and your family share in real life as you do on the Internet.

Debt counselling can assist indebted consumers

(First appeared in New Era 9 September 2015)

One of the biggest problems is starting a family is that most of the things I want such as furniture, motor vehicle, etc. costs more money than what I earn in a month. The only option for purchasing these high cost items is to either save or to take it on credit. For myself, I have learned the hard way that it is better to save and buy later, rather than purchase on credit and not be able to afford the monthly payments later. Unfortunately, most consumers still prefer to buy on credit and can find themselves lending recklessly and then becoming “over-indebted”.
In many countries of the world, a law has been enacted as a National Credit Act that promotes an effective, fair and accessible credit market and to help protect consumers from "reckless lending" and "over-indebtedness". Unfortunately, Namibia has not yet enacted many such consumer laws yet.
Under such a credit environment, debt counselling is included as a tool to help consumers get out from under debt. These debt counsellors must be trained and certified so that they can assist consumers with debt problems, help to design debt repayment plans and negotiate on behalf of the consumer with creditors to enable the consumer to afford their monthly debt payments. (This process is called Debt Review). The idea behind Debt Counselling is to help clients reduce their overall debt with creditors in the most cost effective way.
At present, with no legal framework in place for debt counselling, the consumer only has two remedies when they cannot pay their debt: administration and sequestration. There are however severe disadvantages to both of these and disempower you as a consumer.
If your debt is lower than N$ 50,000 you may apply to have your debt placed in administration. Under administration order a large part of your disposable income can forcibly be taken to repay your debts and comes with an administration charge of up to 12,5% of each instalment you pay. This would mean that for every N$ 100.00 you pay in debt, N$12.50 would go to cover the cost of the administrator.
Under sequestration you lose all your assets as they are sold to cover as much of your debt as possible and you will need permission from a court-appointed trustee if you want to borrow any money.
This disempowering of the consumer needs to be addressed and this is the core reason for introducing debt counselling under a Credit Act. The biggest attraction is that under a credit law is that the process is regulated and is designed to prevent your creditors from harassing you and prevent the loss of crucial assets. In addition, unlike with an administration order, as much as 95% of your monthly payment will go to pay your debts under a debt counselling plan.
There is a cost to debt counselling – after all the service is being provided by a trained and certified professional. In the regulations of the law, the Credit Regulator will be able to determine fees for an application fee, rejection fee – if you are not found to be indebted, the debt counsellor fee as well as after-care fees.
One of the further benefits is that such a law will enforce more rigidly the “in duplum” rule which under common law limits the interest that a creditor may charge on any debt you incur. (This common law rule holds that the creditor may not charge more interest once the unpaid interest equals the outstanding debt. – See previous column in this regard)
I hope the Ministry of Finance will look urgently into the matter of over-indebtedness – which I believe affects more than 15,000 households in the country.

Phishing for airtime

(First appeared in New Era 2 September 2015)

“Phishing is the attempt to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and sometimes, indirectly, money), often for malicious reasons, by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.”

“Hi, I need some airtime urgently. Please send and I will refund you. This is Milton Shaanika-Louw.” A few hours later, the same cellular number sends another similar message but claims to be from someone else. Really, is this scam not easy to see through? After all, surely a famous and rich person would not need telephone credit. Perhaps our free calling now allows people to send this kind of phishing scam at little or no cost?
This week I was very angry that people are still so gullible, but had to stop myself thinking like that because the confidence artists (con man) is making use of the good inside people to steal their money from them. Thus I should not be angry at the good intentions of people, but rather help to educate consumers about the tricks used by these con men. Many people want to make a quick buck and will use dubious or even illegal methods to separate the victim, known as the mark, from their hard-earned money.
This week in Consumer Court, I look at some of the most common confidence tricks and scams out in the world today that can be found here in Namibia as well.
Get-rich-quick schemes: The main theme in this type of scam is that you can make money very quickly, IF you invest a certain amount now. These include fake franchises, sure investments in property, get-rich-quick books, wealth-building seminars, self-help gurus, chain letters, fortune tellers, witch doctors, miracle cures, Nigerian money scams and donations to churches. These often include you participating to make other people give you their money in a pyramid type scheme.
Persuasion tricks: These type of tricks is one of the oldest scams known. There are several variations including Grandparent scam, romance scam and fortune-telling fraud. In the grandparent scam, the target is convinced that someone they know needs money urgently and will pay them back as soon as they can. The phishing airtime scenario mentioned above is this kind of scam. The romance scam involves getting the person to feel loved, or promised sexual favours in exchange for money. In Namibia there has been rumours of people (especially men) being sent an SMS from someone they don’t know and when they enquire the sender claims to be a young women still at school. You can imagine that once money is sent, the victim will surely not tell another person of what their intention was with an underage girl! Fortune-telling scams (or witch doctor scams in the African context) involve informing the victim that they or their money is cursed and needs to be “cured, prayed for, or blessed”. Of course the money that is cursed then gets in to the pocket of the con artists rather than being cured.
Gold brick scams: Many people hope to buy something for cheaper than its normal retail selling price. In the gold brick scam the item being sold looks like gold put turns out to be only gold coated lead. The most common scam of this type in Namibia is the white-van speaker scam. In this scam the buyer is left with a product worth less than they thought (and more than it actually costs) but is scared to inform the police because they have to admit they were doing something illegal.
Extortion tricks: In the extortion trick the victim is already in a comprised position and then they are forced to pay non-existent claims. These tricks include the badger game where married men are targeted and forced into a supposed affair and then threatened with public exposure unless they pay the blackmail money. It can also involve consumers requesting a cash loan which means they must give up a lot of personal information. This information is then used to harass the customer while pretending to be a real debt collector. The “fake collector” often threatens the victim with calls to their workplace, threats about listing at the credit bureau or even arrest. This underlying debt either does not exist, or is not valid due to a statute of limitations (prescribed debt over three years old). Nevertheless, the victim pays out of fear and the con man has once again made his “mark”.

Land of Milk and Honey

(First appeared in New Era 19 August 2015)

During the 1980s I was told that Namibia (and specifically Rehoboth), is the land of milk and honey. I did not know at the time that the name “Rehoboth” had biblical significance. In the Bible, the story is told of Isaac that had dug two wells and the people of the communal area had argued both times on who had rights to use the water. When Isaac dug a third well there were no quarrels and he thus called it Rehoboth and said, "Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land".
The Rehoboth Gebiet had a medium-sized dairy industry and its own supply of milk from the Swartmodder dairy farm that had been set up with funding from the Rehoboth Development Corporation. Both these businesses flourished and was able to supply their immediate local market with enough dairy products at an affordable price. Shortly after Independence, the market forces were such that the largest dairy producer could apply economy of scales and provide milk products to the Rehoboth area at prices well below the production cost of the local producer. Unfortunately, this “price war” and other local factors led to the closing of the dairy farm and eventually the dairy as well.
There was considerable personal interest in this development as the grandfather of my youngest daughter was the founder of the Rehoboth Dairy. I took time to evaluate the impact of low cost imports to the area, high cost of imported inputs, the local labour situation as well as the long-term effects on the local economy after the closure of the local dairy industry.
The findings were clear: a) local jobs were lost; b) the price of the imports shot up immediately after the closure of the dairy; c) the local consumers only benefited for a short time; and d) the cows that were milk producers were slaughtered for meat.
Last week I was invited by the dairy farmers and industry to attend a meeting lamenting the over-supply of milk on the international market and how this has led to low cost imports flooding the Namibian market. This “dumping” has led to a “price war” where foreign producers sending dairy products to Namibia at a much cheaper price that what our local producers can manufacture at.
The meeting ended with a tour of the storage facilities where we found more than seven months of long life milk standing on the shelfs. Obviously, as consumers we welcome the extra few dollars in our pocket when buying cheap alien milk, but must also be cognisant of the fact that a local industry is in dire straits and needs saving.
Bluntly put: A Namibia cow, let us call her Daisy, is spending her life on a Namibian farm, being looked after by Namibian employees and producing milk for our Namibian homes. Daisy has been part of our lives and would quite willingly continue to share her milk with us but it would mean we as Namibian consumers would have to dig deeper in our pockets for the privilege of keeping Daisy alive, keeping Namibian jobs, and, in the long-term, ensuring we have a Namibian industry that can supply us with this staple product.
As the writer for Consumer Court, I pledge to purchase Namibian milk at around the N$ 17.00 price even while price of alien milk is cheaper. In the short term it will cost me more, but from experience we had better put Namibia first or face the same losses of the Rehoboth area when the dairy industry closed there.

(The words “dumping” and “price war” are in inverted commas as they might not meet the criteria as applied under World Trade Organisation rules.)

Put Namibia first

(First appeared in New Era 11 August 2015)

During the past week I attended a consultative workshop by the Ministry of Industrialization, Trade and SME Development in Windhoek on the National Policy for micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises. I was glad that the Ministry is revisiting the previous policy which is at least 18 years outdated. During the discussions I brought up the issue of whether this policy will clearly stipulate that it is to support Namibian owned businesses. This brought out differing viewpoints, with one side arguing that we cannot discriminate against foreign owned business while the other side argued that a policy should be put in place that specifically assists Namibian entrepreneurs to increase the size and scope of their business.
As consumers we are often requested by (mostly) big businesses to support Namibian products and services through the “Buy Namiban”, Team Namibia and other promotions. This is often at a cost that we as the consumers have to carry as these same businesses promoting these efforts are in fact asking us to do so at the expense of cheaper products from elsewhere. This type of infant industry protection is apparently aimed at creating local jobs and making it more profitable for a foreign investor to set up such a facility within the country.
Thus I must question not whether the Government should develop policies that allow more Namibian ownership, or perhaps even promote our own method of broad based economic empowerment, but rather; what affect would promoting Namibian owned businesses through preferential treatment have on a consumer?
First, we all as consumers would benefit as more Namibian ownership getting more benefits would allow for more jobs to be created. Secondly, it would mean that the profits of these enterprises would remain in Namibia and be available to uplift our own economy. Third, it would put a stop to unfair competition from foreign companies as they are already benefiting from export policies of their own country. We need only to look at what occurred in the construction industry when cut-throat competition was allowed in the construction industry. Economists argue that competition increases a consumer’s choice and lowers prices. Not so. The prices of houses have not gone down and neither has the quality for consumers. If we use this industry as an example, we also see how a local skill base has been reduced to sub-contracting or even closing down as even the lowest level of construction opportunities have been opened up to foreign owned companies.
We have seen xenophobic attacks happening in many African countries as consumers (citizens) become enraged by the number of foreign owned companies being allowed in all sectors without creating more jobs, or lower prices, but only an increase in the profits being syphoned out of their communities.
As a consumer activist and business owner, I cannot ignore that Namibia has one of the most liberal Constitutions that guarantee no discrimination. However, I must also point out that part of the preamble to this constitutions states: ‘whereas we the people of Namibia are determined to adopt a Constitution which expresses for ourselves and our children our resolve to cherish and to protect the gains of our long struggle…” Surely this means that we must ensure that our children remain the owners of our not only our land but also of our economy.
At the present rate we have already sold our birth right on the land issue where there is no control on foreign ownership. Is it not about time we take control of our economy and ensure that we the people also benefit from the profits of ownership?
I encourage you as a consumer to think twice before buying a product that you could source locally. Why buy that fake wallet when you can invest in a better product when you buy from the Namibian leatherworks businesses.

There is a ringing in my ears

(First appeared in New Era 5 August 2015)

On March 10, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell got the first telephone to work and uttered the words “Mr. Watson—Come here—I want to see you”. He as the inventor realised early on the intrusion a telephone could be and refused to have a telephone in his own study. The past few weeks I have been getting very frustrated with this invention and the intrusion it is having on my privacy. It all started when MTC started sending me SMSs about a competition that I could participate in to win if I first gave them three of my hard earned dollars.
Come on. That is gambling. If I, and all the other entrants must pay a participation fee, but only one of us actually wins a share of the money we all contributed, then this means that not only is it a gamble, but also a money earner for MTC. Upon enquiry with MTC, I was informed that I should send an SMS to request them to not send me any further SMSs about the competition. Yep, that’s right. I have to spend three dollars to get off the list of people who receive the message. This whole process by MTC is wrong and I consider it an invasion of my privacy. Further, as a company they are making use of my data for a purpose that I did not agree to.
Let us look first at the invasion of my privacy. The Constitution of Namibia clearly states that “No person shall be subject to interference with the privacy of their homes, correspondence or communications save as in accordance with law and as necessary in a democratic society….” Sending me an unsolicited message on my cellular phone is a clear interference with my communications. As an aggrieved person you and I are allowed under the constitution to approach the Ombudsman to provide us with legal assistance or advice as we require. I am approaching the Ombudsman in this regard and will keep you updated in later columns.
Secondly, let us look at the fact that MTC is using the fact that they know my number, as I am a client of their service, and now using it for a purpose for which I have not granted them the right. This is considered unsolicited advertising or SPAM. The most widely recognised form of spam is email spam, the term is also applied to similar abuses in other media: instant messaging spam, Usenet newsgroup spam, Web search engine spam, spam in blogs, wiki spam, online classified ads spam, mobile phone messaging spam, Internet forum spam, junk fax transmissions, social spam, television advertising and file sharing spam.
In the United States, a law called the “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003” was passed. Under this law, (and similar laws elsewhere), companies are required to be provide a clear and free method of unsubscribing from such messages. It further allows for the establishment of national do not call/ sms / email list that allows consumers to register their details and be protected from unsolicited advertising. Of course, the law also allows for fines and penalties for companies that do not adhere to these regulations.
Some readers might feel that I am making a mountain out of a molehill by insisting that companies like MTC and others should be prevented from sending us junk mail via our telephones. I would however remind you that our telephones are a communication method that not only allows outward communication, but also is often used for inward communication relating to families and friends. Take an example of the grandmother who cannot read at night getting an unsolicited advert in the middle of the night. She will have to wait till morning to know what is in the message and meanwhile she fears the worse news until then.

Great Expectations

(First appeared in New Era 29 July 2015)

(Great Expectations is a novel by Charles Dickens that was published in 1861 and tells the story of an orphan named Pip)
This coming week it will be my first wedding anniversary. Traditionally, (since the Middle Ages), each wedding anniversary requires a specific gift depending on the number of years you are married. For example, the tenth wedding anniversary is tin or aluminium celebrating ideas and symbols while the fifteenth anniversary gift is traditionally crystal.
The first wedding anniversary is traditionally symbolised as being paper while in modern times we also give gifts of clocks. I have spent some time considering the various gift ideas from money, photographs, books, stationary, event tickets, love letters, calendars and poems. After much consideration, I decided what I will by my loving supportive wife for her anniversary. But back to the consumer issue at the heart of this decision making. One of the ideas is to purchase a coupon for a service or product that your loved one can take up at their own time. For example, a coupon for a day being spoilt at a wellness/spa/beauty parlour counts as a paper gift.
This got me to thinking what would happen if the gift I purchased as a promissory note, does not meet the expectations I have of the gift I wish the give the other person? After all, as the customer who purchased the gift I too have an expectation of the service of product even though I am not the intended recipient.
Under the present legal environment (or rather of legal environment), there would be very little recourse to me if the expected, and advertised, service does not meet my expectations. Obviously expectations can be very subjective as they are based on my personal expectations, but should there not be a recourse to at least the minimum expectation any reasonable person would expect?
In the proposed draft consumer protection law, it is proposed that a consumer can sue under the principle of “tort”. A tort, in our common law jurisdiction, refers to a civil wrong that unfairly causes someone else to suffer loss or harm resulting in legal liability for the person who commits the tortious act. This person who commits the act is known as the tortfeasor. This harm or loss is not limited to physical injuries and can include emotional, economic or reputational injury as well as violations of privacy, property or constitutional rights. In general torts can refer to carried topics such as motor vehicle accidents, false imprisonment, defamation, product liability, copyright infringement and environmental pollution. As a consumer, this will lessen the burden of proof required when instituting an action against a supplier of products or services.
The proposed Consumer Protection Commission will also be able to handle “class action” lawsuits where consumer protection organisations can bring claims on behalf of consumers. (A class action is a type of lawsuit where one or several person can sue on behalf of a larger group of persons, who are then referred to as “the class”.) This will help consumer activists as class action allow for two factors important in consumer protection, namely that 1) the issues being brought to court or government agency are common to all members of the class; and 2) the persons affected are too many and this will make it impractical to bring all of them before the court to testify.
This bring me back to the question of whether I will have legal recourse if the beauty parlour coupon does not meet my (or the recipients) expectations. After all, they do offer beauty treatment?

Man of the house

(First appeared in New Era 22 July 2015)

The past few weeks I have been traveling around the country for work and not spent as much time at home (or on writing this column) as I would like to. The cultural perception of the Namibian family is such that the “man of the house” is expected to earn the income even if it means traveling long distances from home, while the wife is expected to raise the children, earn an income and still be there to “spoil” her husband when he returns from his work far from home.
This week I was reminded of how much men in general take for granted the rights of privilege and put forward the argument of “it is my right as a man”. This happened when my baby, Captain Adorable, spoke his first words. Yes, you guessed it. His first word was “Mamma”. So much for forcing him to say “Dadda” to someone who is so often out!
In Namibia, we have quite a few “rights of privilege”: from the white person born before Independence who cannot understand why a black person does not stand up for themselves; to men who assert that they are the man of the house and get upset when the woman insists upon her rights too; to the shopkeepers who have the attitude of you should be glad I am here to provide you with products to purchase.
By the time you the reader have read this far, you must be questioning who I have not yet annoyed with my column this week. This is not my intention at all. Rather it is to have us question, and get the understanding between what is a right, and what is a privilege. Hopefully, by the end of this column you will also be able to distinguish between the two, and know when sometimes it is abused as a right of privilege.
Rights are defined as something belonging to you as an individual and these cannot be taken away from you. For example, in Namibia you have the right to freedom of speech and expression and this is guaranteed in the Constitution. A privilege on the other hand is something that is owned by another person or entity who then gives you the ability to do something. An example of a privilege is the owning of a drivers licence. The government is the entity which grants you the privilege of driving, but this can be taken away from you if you do not adhere to certain rules and regulations.
Taking this point further to discuss consumer protection we must continue to fight for our rights to be recognised. You have a) The right to basic goods and services that guarantee survival; b) The right to be protected against the marketing of goods or the provision of services that are hazardous to health and life; c) The right to be protected against dishonest or misleading advertising or labelling; c) The right to choose products and services at competitive prices with an assurance of satisfactory quality; d) The right to express consumer interests in the making and execution of government policy; e) The right to be compensated for misrepresentation, shoddy goods or unsatisfactory services; f) The right to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to be an informed consumer and g) The right to live and work in an environment which permits a life of dignity and well-being.
These are your consumer rights and must be recognised by the government through legislation which will enshrine your rights, and protect you from having them taken away from you.
As a well-known consumer activist I often find my personal consumer issues being sorted out very quickly because the store or service provider is scared of how I will portray this issue in the newspaper. This is unfair to the rest of the consumers because I am now reaping the reward of “rights of privilege” whereas this should be a right for all.

It’s just another winter’s tale

(First appeared in New Era 24 June 2015)

The past week I was forced to pay an extended visit to my bed to get rid of the flu. In my family, my Mother believes in quite a few “home remedies” including Boegoe Brandy, Jamaica Ginger and of course the trusted vaporub and med-lemon. Some of these remedies are also known as “Hollandse medisyne” (Dutch medicines) and can be found in most supermarkets. There are “cures” for stomach aches, headaches, burping children and even chasing away evil spirits. Yes, one of the medicines are used in drawing a cross on the forehead of a child when you have no idea what else to try – and this chases away the evil! Some of us may ridicule these “cures”, but ask any parent whose child has the hiccups whether putting a piece of paper on their forehead helps?
While being in bed I came across an insert in one of our daily papers for the services of a witchdoctor. Normally I would refer to a person giving advice handed down from our forefathers as a traditional healer, but in this case the advert was for a witchdoctor, or how else could he also offer cures for being lovesick? I looked through several of our newspapers and found one paper that had thirty-two (32) classified adverts for traditional healers. A typical advert reads: “Dr Mwita: Bring back lost lovers, bad-luck, witchcraft protection, men power, employment, pregnancy, remove tokolosh. Money in your account in 20 minutes to get rich.”
When reading these adverts I realised that the people placing these adverts must obviously get clients otherwise why would they continue to place the adverts at their expense every day. Secondly, it does not seem to worry them that the issues they offer to resolve are not medicinal, but rather emotional. Lastly, most readers would question why these same traditional healers are offering to make you rich but are themselves not endowed with much riches themselves.
As a consumer activist, my conscience is prickled by this dilemma: “What recourse would a client have if after they have paid for the services of the traditional healer, they do not receive their monies worth in product or service? The Ministry of Health and Social Services is working with traditional healers and trying to cut out the obvious jokers or scammers, but this will only work if there is a set of criteria for these practitioners as well as a method of punishing those who abuse their position.
Having grown up in a western Christian culture, I must also ask of myself is there a major difference in going to a building, praying for what I desire and then paying money into the collection plate? What recourse do I have if my prayers are not answered? How far may a religious organisation go in promising me certain rewards (on earth) and when can I demand my money back if these are not kept?
While most welfare organisations and churches are doing a good job in Namibia, unfortunately, some have not. They have abused their mandate or become a vehicle for an individual who is seen as the driving force or even “responsible for the success of the organisation”. This leads to the next question, “How do we distinguish between a good and bad Non-governmental organisation?”

The following questions provide us with a litmus test:  a) Are their financial statements open for scrutiny? b) What percentage of their budget is spent on salaries and perks for the organisations employees?  c) What part of the budget is contributed by governments, directly or indirectly? d) How many of the NGO's operatives are in the field, catering to the needs of the NGO's constituents? e) Which part of the budget is spent on furthering the aims of the NGO and on implementing its programmes?

I suggest that we have Non-Government Organisation law. In this law we should be address the issues of mandate and good governance, and the mechanisms in the case of abuse. It should include a restraint on creation of new, frequently unnecessary, NGOs (that are mostly more helpful to the creators of the NGO than the people they are designed to serve).

Investing in education pays the best interest

(First appeared in New Era 17 June 2015)

The past few weeks have been very hectic in the Shaanika-Louw household as Captain Adorable starts on the journey of “real foods”. Waking up at night to soothe a crying child brings reality to a parent on what we do in the hope of giving our child the best opportunity in life.
Regardless of how young our children are, all parents worry about the day the child is going to be grown up enough to leave the nest. This is why we take out study insurance policies etc. as we consider whether we, as the parents, will be able to give our children that “right start” to life with a quality education.
The Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and SME Development is in the final stages of submitting the Consumer Protection Policy and Act to Cabinet before it goes to the legal drafters for submission as a Bill to Parliament. The technical committee responsible for the process must be commended for looking at a principle-based approach rather than a rule-based regulation environment for Namibia.
Without going into too much legalese, this means that under the proposed Namibia Consumer Protection Act, the regulator will work on the “ex post” application principle. In other words, the regulatory principle is applied against specific conduct of a regulated entity ONLY AFTER the conduct has occurred. This is in comparison to a “ex ante” determination principle where the regulator must state exactly what the regulated entity must, or must not, do to comply with the rules before the business engages in the conduct.
Lying in the dark after the Captain has fallen back to sleep allows me to reflect on what exactly the consumer protection environment will mean – not only for me and mine, but also for you and yours in this country. For most of my life I have been engaged in the teaching profession, first as an IT Junior Lecturer and later as a distance tutor at a local education institution offering Cambridge University qualifications.
This very important industry (yes it is a business) has mushroomed in the past few years with the only regulations seeming to come from the Namibian Qualifications Authority (NQA). The NQA has the responsibility of evaluating the educational institution, and more specifically the actual courses the institution provides. In other words, the education institution you send your child to might be accredited, but the actual course your child is following might not be a recognised NQA qualification.
Under our present laws there is very little that a parent can do once their child has completed course and they find out that it is not recognised in the work environment. After all, we all expect that once our child has received a quality (expensive) education that this will allow them to get a good paying position that they may be able to care for themselves. If this happens to you, you have very little recourse to the law as Namibia still adheres to the principle of “buyer beware” or in Latin, “Caveat Emptor”.
Under the proposed new consumer law, the regulator will be able to take action against such educational institutions which mislead the consumer as to the specifics of the course or area of study being NQA recognised compared to just being a “NQA registered” institution. This will be done not only through a complaint resolution given by a consumer, but also formal investigation and the civil investigative demand (CID).
Plainly put, under the new proposed law, the Consumer Protection Commission (CPC) will be able to research and identify seller(s) that violate the principles of the law, and undertake formal investigation on behalf of a group of consumers experiencing similar problems. If the CPC finds that there has been a violation of the law, they will be able to enforce the appropriate remedial action as well as penalties for the violation. This penalty or fine might also include refunding of consumers monies, even if that specific consumer was not one of the consumer who originally brought the complaint.
Knowing this law is on its way will certain make my sleep come a little easier, that is if Captain Adorable allows it.

Making the poor consumer pay for the privilege of the rich

(First appeared in New Era 3 June 2015)

In 2006, I was privileged to attend the public meetings at Parliament in Windhoek to address the high cost of finance (especially bank finance) in the country.  The late Hon. Reinhard (Kalla) Gertze, Member of Parliament, had proposed an investigation into the financial institutions through public hearings of the Parliamentary Committee on Economics, Natural Resources and Public Administration. (This Parliamentary Committee was then under the chairpersonship of our present President, Dr. Hage Geingob.)They held public hearings on bank charges and regulations and one of the submissions, by a banking institution, outlined why interest is charged.
In their submission, the bank explained that in the beginning of banking, interest was used to offset the risk of providing the credit to the borrower. There are four risks (hazards), namely a) The costs incurred by the bank while providing the loan had to be repaid; b) Inflation means the lender will be able to buy less for the money as time passes; c) Scarcity – in other words once it is lent to a borrower at a specific rate, it cannot be used for another loan; and d) That the borrower cannot pay back the loan. Further, the bank indicated that of these four, the only real difference the government can make is in reducing the risk of borrower’s inability to repay.
This topic has been written about before in my newspaper columns and blogs and the reader is encouraged to learn more about credit risk and how to minimise their perceived risk, as this the amount of interest they would be paying on their loans.
This week however, I was reminded about the topic of interest for an entirely different reason. I was reading an article wherein one of our municipalities was quoted as stating the varying prices for pre-paid and post-paid electricity is. What had me sit up and take notice was that the prepaid electricity was at least one-third more expensive that the post-paid price per unit.
Let me repeat that again: If I give my money for electricity that I will use in future, I have to pay a lot more that the customer who has already used the electricity and only has to pay some thirty days or more after using it. Somewhere this flies totally in the face of the market economic rules that I have been taught.
In my limited understanding, a bank or service provider would like to get the money from your pocket into theirs as soon as possible. If they can get you to purchase the service before you even use it, it means they have money for something they have not yet created. If however, they give you the service or product on credit, it means that they have already spent the money on creating that product and now have to wait to recoup their investment. Thus any properly run business would give you the same product for cheaper IF you paid for it before usage as they would be having the money before they have to spent it in creating the product.
Now why are municipalities (and cellular providers) charging you the consumer more for a product which by free market definition should be sold to you for cheaper because you are paying for it before the product was actually consumed? This opportunity cost being lost due to post-paid accounts is not seen in their bill, but rather in the bill of the poor consumer - who has no choice in having a prepaid meter - and is being made to bear the cost.
If we in Namibia are to talk about being “pro-poor”, we have to recognise that these business practices by private and public business are deliberately making the lower-income consumers pay more because of their ignorance.  In my mind it is even worse because the product or service being sold is easily manipulated by the seller to increase their profits without any interference or agreement by the consumer.

We are all pirates

(First appeared in New Era 27 May 2015)

In the past few decades, most consumer have started to question the high prices paid for “branded” products and have shown their willingness  to but similarly branded products made in developing countries for much cheaper prices. In addition, with new technologies, many consumers are using the Internet and file-sharing services to get hold of digital products such as music and movies that would previously have to be bought but are now “shared” – with no costs to the consumer. Some consumers especially question products made by for example vehicle manufacturers and compare their prices to pirate products that seem to do the same job for a much lower price.
The World Intellectual Property Organization, WIPO, states that, “systems to protect intellectual property rights, currently in place across the world, have many loopholes that are being exploited by those producing fake goods, especially of well-known international brands. Counterfeit and pirate goods have huge negative economic and social impacts on any country and should be addressed collectively to stop or minimize losses.”
In Namibia recently there has been complaints by musicians and other artists that their copyrighted products have been copied or used without their permission. They have in their sights not only individual consumers, but also radio stations and the proliferation of jukeboxes throughout the country. They feel, quite correctly, that they have invested their time and money in producing a product (music, etc.) and other people are making money without giving them their fair share or reward for what is their Intellectual Property.
One of the main arguments for the protection of Intellectual Property (IP) is that without the financial incentive, artists and businesses would not invest in producing new products. In fact many businesses state that they would not invest in Research and Development (R&D) if they were not ensured IP protection.
While agreeing with WIPO and our local musicians, there is also a need to look at when a “pirate” or “generic” product can be of use to the consumer’s bottom line.
Let us first look at branded clothing products. Upon investigation it was realised that many international firms that started out as manufacturers have become marketing or branding firms. Quite a few such have in fact no production or manufacturing facilities at all but only look for products that they can associate their name with and have consumers purchase these products as being “originals”. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to visit clothes manufacturing facilities across Southern Africa to see how these factories work and the products they manufacture. Imagine my surprise to find that the same factory is often the manufacturer for products that are branded differently. For example, one factory made socks and t-shirts that were practically the same in design and product quality and were branded for Edgars and Pep Stores respectively. Of course, when investigating the selling price, it was found that one store had a much higher selling price. Of course the companies involved explain that they have different customer types as well as the availability of credit at the upmarket store. While these arguments do make financial sense, the consumer is never informed that the different products originate from the same factory.
Another example that is starting to gain momentum for discussion is the high price of medicinal products that receive IP protection and provide huge profits to international pharmaceutical companies. In a sense, the high prices are justified for the amount of research costs, but does that imply that a poor consumer who cannot afford this price should be allowed to die? Many developing countries are looking at the high cost of medicine and introducing generic products (non-branded) at much lower prices to ensure each citizen has the right to quality medical care. It is necessary for Namibia to also start balancing the need for Intellectual Protection against the needs of its people.

If you want to make enemies, try to change something

(First appeared in New Era 20 May 2015)

This week, I take a quote from Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) who was the 28th President of the United States of America (1913-1921). He held a PhD in Political Science and was the President of Princeton University (1902-1910). He wrote various books including a textbook used in colleges in which he argued that government should not be deemed evil and advocated the use of government to” allay social ills and advance society's welfare”.
The past week it was my privilege to have my ten year-old stepson staying with us during the school holidays. At one point, I was playing a game involving Star Trek characters and he asked what that was. I tried to explain but found that the generation gap of what we had watched on television was too broad. Nevertheless, it was good to again watch an episode together and hear the words “To boldly go where no man has gone before”.
The present Housing Crisis (yes it is a Crisis with a capital letters), needs bold actions to address the plight of the landless. No citizen can truly feel the rewards of Independence, without being able to state, “there is my home - it belongs to me”.
Let us look at some bold measures that could be enacted to help the Namibian consumer achieve that dream.
1. Create a National Mortgage Association. The NMA should provide banks with state money to finance home mortgages. This will raise levels of home ownership and the availability of affordable housing. The state should also regulate that at least 55% of these mortgages should be allocated to low- and moderate-income housing.
2. Rental income should be taxed. In many countries rental income is taxed on a progressive basis and helps to cap the greed of landlords. In Tanzania for example, rental income is taxed at 31.45% 0 definitely a barrier to capitalistic tendencies in the market.
3. Have higher property taxes for home owners with more than one property. This should also put a dampener on the view that individuals can become rich through renting at exhorbitant prices.
4. The lands register should be investigated and all companies (close corporations, etc.) should be taxed at a higher rate on residential properties if this is not their place of business. In other words, companies that own property for the purpose of residential leasing should be taxed higher to reduce the undue pressure on house prices.
5. Introduce a Capital Gains Tax (CGT) that will tax non-residents when they sell a property. This will help to reduce the number of foreign investors who see the Housing Crisis as an opportunity to make money through speculation of property. This can also be expanded to include companies owning property to reduce speculation by businesses in the home market. Namibia has the lowest rate of 0% compared with 25% and 40% in Botswana and South Africa respectively.
6. Remove price increasing legislative effects in the housing market. At present too many industries receive “infant protection” and other measures to allow them to increase their selling price without meeting competitiveness in the market. If, on the one hand we argue for a free market economy in housing, why do we introduce statutory false selling prices by giving infant protection to industries such as cement manufacturing? The prices in Namibia for many of the materials used in housing are high because of legislation within Namibia and the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). Creating jobs that do not allow the working population to own property will only continue the history of an indentured labour.
7. Establish a Rent Control Board. I have written about this in last week’s column and hope the readers have looked at the arguments put forth. The rent control should peg the amount of rent charged to the bond repayment such a property would have to repay.

The bottom line issue of the Housing Crisis remains: Without home ownership, a citizen feels like a foreigner in their own country.

A man’s home is his castle and fortress

(First appeared in New Era 13 May 2015)

The saying “A man’s home is his castle” is an old English proverb and is often attributed to Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), an English jurist, member of parliament and writer, who used this principle to state that no one may enter a person’s home without permission.

The past two years I have been renting a double story flat in a complex close to the Social Security Commission. As my family has expanded to include a wife and baby I have had to start looking for a free-standing house or at least a flat without stairs as we fear our baby will be a little rough with his new walking ring. As I was looking through the various rental options, I once again realised that the price of rentals in Windhoek is going through the roof. This led me to look once again at the issue of rent control and its applicability in the Namibian situation.
The idea to enforce rent control is in place in at least 40 countries across the world. The idea of rent control is to promulgate laws or regulations that sets renting prices on residential housing as a price ceiling for certain types of accommodation. Generally speaking such laws dictate the frequency and degree of rent increases and is commonly indicated at a level less than the rate of inflation.
The arguments for rent control are a) a moral ground that housing is a human right which supersedes the property rights of a house owner. In this argument, the income a landlord may receive from a property should for example be no higher than 20% of a bond repayment for a house of this value; b) price control also gives the tenant the right to insist upon certain improvements being done on a minimum standard without the landlord being able to improperly adjust with higher rentals fees; and c) most importantly, the social dynamics of rent control (or to use the term correctly “rent stabilisation”), is an important one for consumer protection as the laws or regulations provide assurance to the consumer that they can maintain stability in their housing situation.
At present, there is a tendency among some landlords to insist upon an increase of 10% and sometimes higher from renters and they inform the renter to either pay this increased amount or move.
It has become painfully obvious that the main problem is not that rentals are increasing, but rather that the shortage of housing has led to there being many more people looking to rent than the number of houses available on the market. The local authorities have caused this problem through the slow speed of serviced land being available for new housing which has put a lot of pressure on potential home owners who now need to rent as there is no other option available.  Thus the market is being skewed by the supply and demand equation that stipulates that prices will go up and where there is more demand than what can currently be supplied.
Thus looking at rent control and applying it in certain areas will help to keep the market in check, but in reality it is a solution that also has its downside. Most free market believers will point out that controlling rent leads to a reduction in the quantity and quality of houses available. While this argument is valid once all other factors are equal, we must realise that this could be short-term strategy to ensure that greed tendencies do not lead to the further impoverishment of our consumer especially in the lower and middle income families.
Perhaps a new debate should take place to talk not about land (as in farmlands) but rather a discussion of how to increase the availability of housing (a man’s castle) to more of our people.

We are in an African standoff

(First appeared in New Era 6 May 2015)

Today’s column is a play of words on the saying “It is a Mexican standoff”. A Mexican standoff refers to when two or more opponents have their guns drawn and unless there is an agreement to stop, all parties will die regardless of who pulls the trigger first. This remains unresolved until some outside event makes it possible to resolve it. It is used in today’s column to symbolise the stand-off on issues of land and specifically access to urban land.
The past week I was working in Onyaanya constituency of the Oshikoto region.  Unfortunately there were no suitable accommodation establishments that had place for the period within the immediate vicinity and I had to book into a guest house just outside Ondangwa. As it was a long weekend, I managed to take time in the evening to do some “window shopping” in the towns of Ondangwa and Ongwediva. I must add that I was glad that my employer had not paid my salary by the end of the month and I was actually glad (not really) as it was definitely tempting to go on a real shopping spree. I found almost all the retailers that you will find in Windhoek and even some that had not yet made it to the capital city.
The bad news was that more and more of the small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) belonging to Namibians ae being displaced to make space for these multinational (mostly South African) companies. While appreciating the convenience of having a large range of well-priced goods within the modern mall environment, it is worrying that the only employment being created is for low-level front-end jobs and that more of our indigenous entrepreneurs are going out of business.
The same issue, foreign ownership, comes up in discussions of how property developers in the housing market are only catering for up-market, high-income earners and neglecting the indigenous low-income earners.
It would really be a good initiative for our local authorities to insist upon “Inclusionary Zoning”. This term (which was coined in America) refers to local authority and other planning regulations that require a given share of new construction to be affordable by people with low to moderate incomes. For example, the local authority or the Ministry of Local Government, Housing and Rural Development can insist within the purchase deed that 10% -30% of new houses and townhouse complex space be allocated to lower-income earners. The term specifically uses the word “inclusionary” to indicate that the policy is aimed at countering “exclusionary zoning” whose aim is to exclude low-cost housing from certain areas in a local authority.
While investigating this use of local authority regulations to provide a wider range of housing options I was immediately impressed by the two issues that will be addressed such policies. Firstly, the apartheid past has caused certain areas to still be markedly different based on the skin colour of the inhabitants and is considered one of the racial divides we need to address in an Independent Namibia. Secondly, the free market (or as our constitution states – mixed economy), has been driven by profits and these are obviously at the high end of the market where top dollar can be charged and profits are the primary purpose.
The biggest benefits include, but are not limited to a) the creation of income-integrated communities, b) reduced bussing and commuter costs borne by the local authorities as they must presently provide subsidised travel for low-income earners who provide the home work force in high income areas; c) equality in access to schooling and other government services across communities; and d) perhaps most importantly speed up the process of reconciliation by eroding the apartheid land usage policies based on colour.
I must end this column with a reminder that what started me on this route of thinking was the shopping malls mushrooming all over the country that are not catering for our SME’s. The Government of Namibia must implement a policy of inclusionary zoning that will force property developers to include an SME park area within their complex. This will encourage entrepreneurship and decrease the feeling of “loss of participation in the economy” experienced among the people.

Too Good To Be True

(First appeared in New Era 18 April 2015)

The heading of today’s column was originally from the title of the essay “Siquila too good to be true” by Thomas Lupton in 1580. The term “too good to be true” expresses the unconvinced view that something that seems fine must have something wrong with it.
The past week I was looking at various options, I came across a number of businesses that promised me various levels of income and most of them indicated that it would be “easy”. I researched different businesses from online selling, private blog networks, Tupperware sales, Herbalife and even looking at becoming a Golden Products agent. Each of these businesses had very low entries into the business and was built on a multi-level marketing strategy (MLM). A Multi-Level Marketing is a marketing strategy in which the sales force is compensated not only for sales they generate, but also for the sales of the other salespeople that they recruit. This recruited sales force is referred to as the participant's "downline", and can provide multiple levels of compensation.
The selling point for each business was that I would make a lot more money if I recruit people who would also sell the companies products and I would make a percentage commission on their sales. To put it a little broadly, I would make more money if I have more people recruited, and they were doing the actual sales.
As a consumers we always dream of having more money to spend and we need to differentiate between a legitimate business opportunity and a business opportunity that “is too good to be true” and which will lead to you losing your money.
One of the most harmful scams that happens to people is when such a scheme turns out in fact to be a pyramid scheme. For you to be sure you do not get caught – and lose your money – is to learn how to identify a pyramid scheme and which regulatory authority you can contact if you believe you might be involved in such a scheme.
So what is a pyramid scheme? Any multi-level marketing company must have a product or service that they sell to a client. Normally a business that has a product you personally can, and wish to, use makes for an easy product to sell onwards to clients. If a company is selling overpriced and difficult to sell products you should already be wary of the business. As a consumer (and potential entrepreneur) you will have to purchase a minimum amount of product from the company which you in turn must sell for you to make money. Once you purchase enough of the product to qualify for commissions you will start to realise it is difficult to resell the inventory.
At this point you will learn that recruiting others to become agents or distributors is the only way to have a chance of recovering the money you invested. The person or company that recruited you will start to pressure you to increase your sales through getting others to become distributors. This emphasis on “recruiting your downline” is an indicative sign that you are dealing with a pyramid scheme. A pyramid scheme can only survive if there is a constant flow of new consumers to buy in the bottom or entry level.
So, how can you protect your hard money? The following questions should help you to check if the company meets the pyramid profile. Does the opportunity offer a large monthly income for very little work or even simply for working from home? Does it require you to put some of your own money into then business by buying a product or service? Does the company insist you pay a membership fee? Is there a strong emphasis on how much money you will make according to the number of people your recruit? Is the commission structure very complex?  Does it sound too good to be true? If so, it probably is.
If you believe that an opportunity might be a pyramid scheme you can contact the Bank of Namibia which is continuously refining the provisions relating to illegal financial schemes also known as pyramid schemes.

Home is where the heart is

(First appeared in New Era 15 April 2015)

The heading of todays’ column is a quote from Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23 – August 25, AD 79), a Roman better known as Pliny the Elder. He was amongst others an author, naturalist, and philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire. He is also well-known for the quote, “There is always something new out of Africa.” (Source: Wikipedia)

As a newlywed couple, my wife and I have started looking at a house to purchase as the present place we call home is a rental and is not putting any long-term value on our balance sheet. The cost of housing is already well-known and most of us have heard the cry of “Affirmative Repositioning” which seems to imply that land for housing must be made available for all Namibians. However, regardless of whether you purchase an existing house, or get a serviced erf from the local authority, you must still be aware of the hidden costs in the purchase of a property.
Most buyers are not aware of these hidden costs which include costs to transfer the title deed onto your name, registration of the bond, service connection costs to your property and most importantly your loan repayment that could increase due to interest hikes. As part of our homework into purchasing our ideal home, I have tried to define these hidden costs. To provide an indication of what these costs can be, I have used a house purchased for N$ 1 million in the example and placed the estimated hidden cost in brackets where possible.
(a) Transfer Costs – this is the legal cost of having the house registered in your own name and includes deeds office fees (N$ 300); Stamp Duty (N$ 4,000); Transfer Duty calculated as a percentage of the property value (N$ 4,000); Transfer Fee (N$ 10,000); Admin fees (N$ 400) and VAT at 15% (1,560). Total Transfer Cost = N$20,260.
(b) Bank Charges – most commercial lenders charge a bond initiation fee as well as a bank administration fee. These are charged up front and added to your account. Once the property is registered in your name, (and this might happen even before you move in), your monthly repayment will start.
(c) Service connection costs – most local authorities and other suppliers of water, electricity and telephone expect a deposit before the connection is made and then charge monthly according to usage. Usage can fluctuate and be unexpectedly high during periods of personal problems and cannot always be accurately reflected on a statement due to “usage guessing”.
(d) Property Rates – this is a monthly fee charged by the local authority based on the municipality estimated market value of the property. This rate tends to increase by 8% per year and is presently N$ 0.000914 times the site value and N$ 0.000471 times the improvement value in Windhoek. Thus a property with erf valued at N$ 300,000 and improvement value of N$ 700,000 would have a monthly rate of N$ 603.90 or N$ 7,246.80 per year. (NOTE: Before buying a property, ensure that all previous service charges on the property are paid in full.)
(e) Monthly levies – these are only applicable if you are buying in a complex (sectional title). You will need to pay a monthly levy for shared services in the complex and these can be costly.
(f) Maintenance of your home – there are always thing that break and need to be fixed. Even if you rent out your property, remember that certain items are still your responsibility to maintain.
(g) Insurance – you will need homeowners insurance that will cover any unforeseen circumstance such as your house burning down, etc. In addition, the bank will probably also require you to take out life insurance that will cover the rest of your bond owed in the event of your death.
If you can budget properly and identify all these hidden costs to ensure no surprise, you will enjoy your home for many years.
As for my wife and I, we have decided to go back to the drawing board and find an additional form of income to increase our ability to own a home.

Nothing can be said to be certain, except Death and Taxes

(First appeared in New Era 8 April 2015)

This weeks’ column heading comes from a letter written by Benjamin Franklin, to Jean-Baptiste Leroy in 1789. The full quote is “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Last week I read with great joy that the pensioners would from now on be receiving an amount of N$ 1,000 per month. This news was provided by our President and confirmed by the Minister of Finance. If you remember dear reader, I wrote in the Consumer column of 28 January 2015, “.. would it also not be a sign of a mature country to provide sufficiently for our elderly with a state pension of at least N$ 1,200 per month? If we give this a little thought, perhaps we too can honour our mothers and fathers that our days on earth might be long.” It appears our political leaders have heard the voices of the masses and have shown their respect too for our elderly.
The 31st of March typically indicates the end of the financial year for government for government and the start of a new contract period for people like myself who work on an annual basis with a government department or institution. This brought me to the payment of personal taxes as I have to receive my Pay As You Earn (PAYE) slips and submit to the Ministry of Finance. This personal tax is after all the money that the Government earns and allows them to provide for bigger pension pay-outs for our elderly.
As consumers and taxpayers not all of us have the ability and expertise to always fill in our tax forms to the best possible advantage and thus receive the “tax breaks” enjoyed by some. For some taxpayers there even periods of time that they were unemployed and did not perhaps fill inn their tax returns.
I would like to propose to the newly appointed Minister of Finance that the government introduces a tax amnesty. A tax amnesty is a limited time opportunity for taxpayers (or a specified group of taxpayers) to pay a defined amount in exchange for which they receive forgiveness of a tax liability relating to a previous tax period without fear of criminal prosecution. In terms of an amnesty, I propose that the Minister give ALL Namibians an amnesty for all previous years that tax returns have not been submitted on condition that all outstanding returns are completed – especially for the period ending 28 February 2015 – before a set date. For example in this year, amnesty could be given until 30 June 2015.
An amnesty will allow the government to collect as much tax revenue as possible in a very short period of time. Typically all taxpayers should submit their returns before the amnesty closing date and in return the government can reduce penalties or even waive all penalties completely. This will allow taxpayers an opportunity to pay any outstanding taxes with fewer penalties (or no penalties) than might otherwise apply. For a taxpayer to qualify for the amnesty, they must pay the entire amount of taxes due by the program’s deadline.
Having spoken to many consumers, especially in the lower income brackets, it was noted that many did not have a lot of knowledge of taxes and simply accepted that the tax deducted by the employer (if they have a job) is done correctly. In quite a few cases it was found that taxpayers have not done the necessary paperwork and submitted their tax returns as expected.
Thus an amnesty must go hand-in-hand with a taxpayer education programme to assist in ensuring they too can benefit from the process. Taxpayers not only benefit through the services such as roads, etc. that the government provide, but can also benefit through tax returns if they qualify and know how to go about filling in the forms correctly.

Mother knows Breast

(First appeared in New Era 1 April 2015)

The past week has seen me working in Swakopmund again. As luck would have it, my wife and son could also join me at the coast so that we could spend some of the weekend – especially Easter weekend - together. After all, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. This proverb means that without time off from work, a person becomes both bored and boring.
One night we visited the Tug Restaurant near to the jetty for dinner. The place was reasonably busy and my wife and I enjoyed the excellent food that was served by a gracious waitress that timed each of our three courses perfectly. At one point my four month old son needed his “meal” and informed us in a rather melodious cry that he would wait no further. The restaurant had no problem with my wife sitting in our corner and breastfeeding him under a cover. None of the other patrons seemed disturbed either and I felt pleased that he was able to complete his meal without any disturbance.
This is definitely the type of service we expect from restaurants and I am glad to see that the breastfeeding was a “non-issue”.
Namibia as a country has a very positive culture towards breastfeeding and our health professionals are encouraging mothers to breastfeed until at least six months of age. For the first three months it is suggested the child only gets breast milk and even water is discouraged. Only if a mother has a medical condition will the state clinics make available baby formula (for free).  At first, this sounds like a cost saving measure but after careful investigation it also turns out to have very solid science behind the advice.
“Breast milk is best for your baby, and the benefits of breastfeeding extend well beyond basic nutrition. In addition to containing all the vitamins and nutrients your baby needs in the first six months of life, breast milk is packed with disease-fighting substances that protect your baby from illness.”
During my first marriage, the wife and I were very “career-orientated”. This meant that we took the children off the breast early to allow the mother to return to work as soon as possible. Looking back, it seems we could have done a little bit more to ensure the long-term health (both physical and mental) of our children. In the recent past, researchers have found a correlation between children’s susceptibility to diseases, their ability to deal with vaccines and the foods that they start eating before six months of age.
Doing a little bit of research I came across the following universally accepted advice: 1) If you can, breastfeed for at least a year.  2) Minimise sugar and junk food as sugar weakens the immune system. 3) Minimise chemical exposures from the food your child eats. Eating organic fruits vegetables, etc, means a good way to help insure a healthier body and brain. 4) Use Omega-3 oil supplements (which breast milk is full of).  5) Make sure your infant gets enough Vitamin A as this can limit vaccine reactions.
As consumers (and all busy with the rat race), we have very little awareness of what we actually put into our mouths to ensure a healthy body and brain. More often than not, we get side-tracked in the importance of earning a living that we forget to invest in living a life rather than just earning.
That is why it is important for the consumer movement to stay vigilant on the foods that we buy – whether raw or processed – to ensure the long-term health of each of us. Wherever business puts in additives or genetically modifies or foodstuffs, keep in mind that it is being done for a profit motive – not necessarily to ensure the longevity of their consumers.