> Mpho Tebele
Gaborone- The newly appointed Bureau of Employers’ Activities (ACT/EMP) regional representative Maria Machailo-Ellis said the SADC private sector should participate meaningfully both at member state and regional levels to ensure the needs and interests of business are an integral part of the integration strategy by SADC.
The Bureau for Employers’ Activities (ACT/EMP) is a specialized unit within the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Secretariat. Its task is to maintain close and direct relations with employers’ organizations in member states, make the ILO’s resources available to them and to keep the ILO constantly aware of their views, concerns and priorities.
Machailo-Ellis who is currently the Chief Executive of Business Botswana will take up her position effective January 2016. Machailo-Ellis will be in charge of the Employers Activities in 10 countries in Southern Africa and other regions among them Botswana, South Africa and Rwanda and she will be based in South Africa.
In a wide ranging interview with The Southern Times, Machailo-Ellis said in line with her mandate of ensuring a relevant and a strong voice of Employer Organisations, her vision is to see the status of employers in the region being elevated in terms of the quality of their advocacy agenda and their partnerships with both governments and labour movements.
“The quality of services provided to member companies should be top class in terms of meeting their needs of being competitive.
Through a strong partnership between the three, the SADC agenda will result in accelerated economic growth and a real improvement in the lives of our people in the region through employment and wealth creation by private business,” said Machailo-Ellis.
According to Machailo-Ellis, the SADC sub region has enormous opportunity to grow and benefit from its resources both through responsible resource exploitation and value addition.
“The private sector is better placed to effectively utilise these resources in our region,” she said.
Asked how she intends to assist the SADC region in realising its revised Regional Indicative Strategic Plan and the Industrialisation Roadmap, Machailo-Ellis says through interventions at country level, the private sector will be assisted to identify major impediments to their respective business environments.
She said individual employer organisations will be provided with the requisite technical and resource support to advocate for an investor friendly environment and to take part in the ongoing regional integration agenda.
To Machailo Ellis, this should result in increased investment in the region.
“At a regional level, the ILO plays a very important role in supporting regional employer organisations, in this case the SADC Private Sector Forum (previously known as SADC Employers Group: SEG) to make interventions through the Employment and Labour Sector of SADC and other divisions of SADC,” she said.
She said great effort will also go towards building cooperation with other development partners who are already doing a lot to support business such as the European Union, the GIZ, and Southern Africa Trust.
“The ongoing tripartite discussions with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Community (EAC) are key to expanding the market for SADC companies and our employers’ organisations should be at the centre of the debate. They should collect information and channel feedback from business to policy makers so that overall we end up with good and pro-business policies and initiatives,” said Machailo Ellis.
She believes that she is what the doctor has ordered adding that having served at a national level for nine years had given her the skills and the experience to serve on a higher and wider scale.
“My move to work in an international organisation is a natural growth path for me. I am driven by challenges and after having done my bit in Botswana I believe I can contribute to the wider Southern Africa region.
I know the challenges will be more and complex and my agility will be put to the test. As usual I will give it my best,” she said.
Machailo-Ellis said moving to the ILO allows her to continue working with business.
“It is a place I feel very comfortable in.
I enjoy being part of the initiatives to grow the private sector. My new job creates a golden opportunity for me to learn more about the economies in the SADC region. More importantly I will be charged with the responsibility to identify best practices from the region and beyond and use these to support employers’ organisations under my responsibility to improve,” she said.
Although there is still more that needs to be done at Business Botswana, she said, sometimes results can be achieved at an organisation by giving others a chance to contribute.
“This time, it’s giving others an opportunity to move the organisation to the next level. I believe I have done my bit and it is time for others to take the baton and run with it,” she said.
Asked what needs to be done to ensure that the voice of the private sector in the region is heard and what should the private sector do to influence policy within the region, Machailo-Ellis said firstly a unified voice is strong and louder.
“Building a unified voice of business at a regional level is not an easy task especially given that in the majority of cases, membership to the employer organisations is voluntary.
“Secondly the varying political and economic situations in the different countries present a different challenge to building a cohesive voice as priorities will always be different. Technical and financial capacity of employers’ organisations is critical. The ILO through ACT/EMP has been and continues to do a lot to promote strong and relevant employers organisations,” she said.
Machailo-Ellis joined Business Botswana (then BOCCIM) in January 2007 as its executive director and has seen the organisation through major milestones such as organisational restructuring, the Private Sector Development Strategy and the Private Sector Development Programme (PSDP) as well as many major policy regulatory reforms to improve Botswana’s business environment.
On whether the private sector is playing a meaningful role in employment generation, wealth creation and growth of Small and Medium Enterprises within the region, Machailo-Elis said the private sector in the region is doing its best but it can do more.
“Employment creation is a natural result of business growth and expansion. Only so many jobs will be created by the public sector.
The rest remains to business to create.
Through the assistance of many interventions and through various forms of organised business, a lot has been achieved in employment creation,” she said.
However, she noted that there still remains a huge gap between the current employment created and the potential that is out there for business in the region to create jobs.
“A lot depends on the policy framework that creates an enabling environment for increased investment. Issues of regulation, infrastructure and movement of people within the region need to be addressed adequately to harness the potential of the private sector,” said Machailo Ellis.
She said the last decade has seen an increase in youth unemployment while the issue of skills development and the mismatch of the demand and supply of labour are still critical matters requiring the attention of all stakeholders.
More importantly, she said, a great focus on entrepreneurship is necessary to boost the momentum by young people to go into business.
“Therefore, SMEs in the region like anywhere else in the world still remain an important part of private sector development if any contribution to job creation is to be realised. The policy imperatives such as access to finance, land and skills need to be addressed so that countries in our region can harness the potential of its aspiring youth and that of those engaged in running small businesses,” she said.
Asked how the private sector can contribute effectively to SADC integration programmes, Machailo-Ellis said the SADC private sector should participate in the implementation of the strategies, particularly the Industrialisation Strategy which should serve as a champion for economic and technological transformation.
She called on the SADC Secretariat to share the implementation matrix of the strategy with the private sector and both should work towards achieving the agreed timelines.
“The private sector should continually share their experience on the ground when it comes to non-tariff barriers because the pillar of growth in trade will come from the successful conclusion and implementation of both the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) and the SADC Free Trade Area,” she said.
Machailo-Ellis said failure to address incidences of non-tariff and technical barriers to trade will stifle the intended good of the two trade agreements.
She said the private sector faces these impediments to cross border trade and should feed the governments with the real facts on the ground.
“The SADC private sector should clearly articulate their needs for infrastructure, free movement of people and skills development which are the key ingredients for a vibrant private sector.
The governments should engage the private sector in all areas of policy formulation to ensure that regional policies are geared towards facilitating a private sector led growth,” she said.
She called for a policy framework that will promote Private-Public Partnerships in the region especially in infrastructure development.
This, she said, will also enable the private sector to bring on board technology and finance through joint venture with the international private sector thus empowering private companies in the region.
Business Botswana President, Leta Mosienyane said his organisation recognises Machailo-Ellis’ career move as a positive one as she will continue to drive the cause of the private sector in Botswana and in the region.
“The move could not have come at an opportune time when the SADC region has just revised/finalised both its Regional Integration and Industrialisation strategies.
The role of the regional private sector is critical in the roll out of these two strategies and with her being at the helm of initiatives that will support the capacity of business, it is indeed good timing,” said Mosienyane.