IF I was Minister Jerry Ekandjo I would be not sleeping nights, and would be burning the midnight oil in trying to get my head around a solution to this growing crisis, which is particularly affecting, not necessarily only rural, but less urban centres of the country. The Minister of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development has one of the most critical portfolios, and it is arguable whether he has done anything tangible with his mandate over the years or made a difference in the lives of our people. Hardly any other Ministry has more influence of socio-economic conditions affecting the people. Yet, ironically, Ekandjo remains one of the more ‘popular’ ruling party candidates, perhaps even for the presidency.
Recent reports in the media show some scary debts, mainly but not only to NamWater, on the part of some of these village and town councils. To mention just a few: Maltahöhe N$3.1million, Tses N$2.5 million, Bethanie N$2 million and the list goes on.
The two southern Governors, Katrina Hanse-Himarwa of Hardap and Bernardus Swartbooi of Karas, met recently with local authority representatives in search of a solution. I haven’t been privy to the detail in the report they were presented with by town councils of the two regions, but media reports maintain it argues that funds are needed to bail out six local authorities which are primarily in debt to NamWater; electricity payments are also a problem, and a hefty total of N$224 million is needed to meet their financial commitments. The proactivity of the governors is commendable, albeit somewhat belated, but if it is so that Hanse-Himarwa herself is in debt to the Mariental municipality, then she really doesn’t deserve to hold the position of governor if she cannot sort out her own arrears.
This, then, is the crux of what I’m trying to get at. Local authorities compiled a report, but what the greater public would really like to know is whether all the outstanding debt has accrued only from the impoverished section of the population, and not the likes of the Hanse-Himarwas of this world who simply renege on their responsibilities, even though they’re paid adequately to look after their own affairs. Government, if it intends to agree to the bailout, needs to know the detail of all these debts, otherwise they risk simply accumulating once again.
One would also like to hear that the Minister himself is, if not an insomniac at present, then at least fully engaged in his working day in an attempt to solve these problems. Both water and electricity prices are on the increase, and town councils need also to assure Government that their management of these debts will improve in future. How much of the problem is not due to shoddy bookkeeping and lack of proper supervision of accounts? The few people in these towns who are paying up, even though they may have their own difficulties in doing so, will be deterred from doing so in future if they think others, especially like the Hanse-Himarwas, are getting away with it. Bailouts, unless the terms and conditions are strictly spelled out, do not encourage good and responsible citizenry.
The Minister of said critical portfolio needs to do more homework if he hasn’t already done so. Regional governments are largely sponging off a Treasury which is in dire straits, and really don’t do much to justify their existence. The few governors (and Swartbooi appears to be one of them) and regional council officials who truly earn their pay are few and far between, and Ekandjo should be taking a hard look at their raison d’être, and if necessary, propose some drastic changes to a heavily bureaucratic regional and local government system which is absolutely overkill with a population the size of ours.
So enough of the mumbo-jumbo and excuses from local government. The ones already shouting for help, and those that are bound to follow, must open themselves up to thorough scrutiny in the process, and if incompetencies are revealed in addition to public debt, then this must be dealt with as well. Training, for town council leadership, should not be an issue. No one who is not properly trained should be in a position of public trust, and if they are, then the consequences for economic progress are dire and could well have contributed to the situation we now find ourselves in.
Good and responsible governance needs to happen across the board.
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