DBN focuses on industrialization - Akwenye
The Development Bank of Namibia (DBN) will continue to drive its focus towards financing infrastructure projects, industrialization, and helping Namibian entrepreneurs to start new enterprises according to its Chairperson, Penny Akweenye.
As part of its growth plan, the bank has, in the past few years, grown its loan book to over N$2.3 billion.
Akwenye, who is tasked with shaping the focus for the Developmental Finance Institution (DFI) in the next few years, believes the medium to long term aim of the bank will not simply be to grow its loan book, but also to make targeted interventions, aimed at achieving its objectives.
Akwenye, arguably one of the few women with a visible footprint in the Namibian business world holds a Master’s of Arts Degree in Economic Development and Planning degree from the African Institute in Dakar, Senegal. She also has a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Economics, which she attained in August 1984 from Agraengineurschule, Weimar, Germany.
“It was a privilege and honour to come back to DBN as a Chairperson of the Board of Directors. I will forever be indebted to the Government of the Republic of Namibia for the trust bestowed upon me to lead this promising financial institution,” she says.
In the first 11 years after independence, she worked as an Agricultural Economist in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry and later as a Deputy Director of Planning in the same ministry. Thereafter, Akwenye spent three years at National Planning Commission Secretariat as the Director of Planning.
Akwenye, who is no stranger to the DBN, previously worked there for two years as a General Manager of the Special Development Fund (SDF), before going back to the National Planning Commission to coordinate the preparation of a programme proposal to be funded by the USA government through the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
Akwenye also says she is eager to drive the bank to a level where it is accessible to all Namibians across the country. “DBN is a development financial institution and not a commercial bank. Therefore, we will not aim for an extensive network of branches, but will have strategic physical presence that will enable the bank’s stakeholders to have reasonably easy access to the Bank”.
Akwenye says, “I am aware of the challenges entrepreneurs, in particular in the far south and far north eastern parts of Namibia have, in accessing the services of DBN. We will be looking into practical and cost effective solutions in this regard”.
Akwenye adds that she is open to any comment about the service of the bank, “Throughout my professional career, I have always had an open door policy, and I want to retain that. If the clients want to talk to or see me personally, they can contact DBN and get my contact numbers,” she says.
Being a chairperson of a bank, in a sector which is predominantly patriarchal, Akwenye says she overcomes the male dominance in the industry by being assertive and proving to the world that she has what it takes to stand up tall and face the challenges of the banking sector head on.
“I have been chairperson of DBN for only a few months now, but I have not yet encountered any obstacles from my male colleagues. When I am in the work situation, I do not see male or female, but colleagues. I concentrate more on what the individuals bring to the table or the positive contribution they make to the discussions. It has never been an issue to me and will never be,” she says, adding that at DBN, the board comprises of 50% males and 50% females. So far, her experience is that it’s really about business issues rather than the gender of the individual.
Akwenye believes that although DBN has significantly contributed to the economic wellbeing of the country, a lot can be done to improve in the eradication of poverty in the industry.
“Enough” is relative. Amidst poverty in the country, unemployment, unequal distribution of wealth or high Gini-coefficient no institution can claim that it has done enough. Each job created will feed six family members and DBN has made a humble contribution so far,” she says.
She adds that, “Financially, despite the number of players in the local banking sector, DBN has been able to advance over N$ 3.77 billion in loans to enterprises and projects in Namibia between 2005 and 2014. The current loan book is well in excess of N$ 2.39 billion.”
She adds that in the previous years, many new enterprises have come into existence with the support of DBN funding. “DBN is just ten years old. In my view, the Bank has been funding major projects in the Government priority areas such as logistics tourism, manufacturing and infrastructure, “she says, adding that, “If I look into the DBN loan and investment portfolio, I can count many clients; among others- the likes of the Namibia Dairy super farm outside Mariental, a major supplier of fresh milk for Namibia, Ohorongo Cement, the only local cement producer in the country. Meatco is serving the local cattle farming community on the back of a N$200 million loan from DBN. The Bank has financed a number of significant value adding enterprises.”
Akwenye explained that DBN, alone, does not have capacity to make that big push which the economy needs but the Bank is determined and committed to be among those institutions that will be remembered in the history of developing our country.
She adds that the major challenges will be adequate capital to meet the requirement of large infrastructure projects.
“These are however challenges that can be overcome as the Bank evolves and grows. The challenge at client level is for the Bank to have a full understanding of why some clients are not honoring their commitments. The question remains whether we have developed deep rooted trust and relationship with them but efforts are being made to assist some DBN clients by mentoring them in order for them to have a better understanding about financial management of their activities” Akwenye says.
Akwenye further says, “Besides everything, the loan book is N$2.39 billion as at the end of February 2015, and the biggest exposure is to the manufacturing, transport and logistics sectors”.
Akwenye explained that, “In my view, the challenge is perhaps not so much about who owns the Bank, but rather that of the bank’s ability to compete and capture a market. It’s obviously a challenge to compete and catch-up when others have made a head start.”
Akwenye also believes that the repayment rate of the bank is very high because the bank charges friendly and reasonable lending rates. “The interest rate is the cost of money, therefore whenever you borrow money it will come at a certain price. Beside the interest rate charged, DBN being a development institution, considers the development impact of a project, and is able to accept a reasonable degree of risk when financing such a business project,” Akwenye says.
By Rosalia Davids
Originally run in Prime Focus Magazine, our sister publication.