25 September 2003

Namibia: Privatisation of Power, Water 'Throttling Poor'

Windhoek — THE National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) has come out against the outsourcing of water and electricity networks to a South African-owned company, the Southern Electricity Service Company (SELCo).

Last week The Namibian reported on how SELCo secured 15-year contracts that give it exclusive rights to operate and manage the electricity infrastructure of almost all the local authorities in the Hardap and Karas Regions.

A clause in the contracts also allows the company the right, "at any time" within 12 months of signing, to take over the operation and management of water networks as well.

SELCo is at the centre of growing community discontent over escalating electricity bills in towns where it has already started operating.

The NUNW has argued that sub-contracting of electricity and water to private companies like SELCo spell disaster for the poor as tariffs skyrocket.

"We have seen how poor people were simply disconnected in the South and we should stop such initiatives immediately," NUNW acting Secretary General Peter Naholo said in a statement yesterday.

"The NUNW has warned many times that the privatisation of essential services will hurt the poor, when is the Government going to listen".

Namibia's largest workers' federation also reminded Government of its "social obligation" to provide essential utilities such as water to all citizens.

"The current trend of commercialising water and installing pre-paid metres will make access to water even more difficult for the poor," Naholo said.

He said many Namibians are too poor to afford "market-related" tariffs and suggested that Government should instead introduce a "free-water" programme, with the expenses recovered through a tariff system that increases in relation to water consumed.

"In this way, poor households will receive their basic amounts of water, free of charge, while rich households and industries that use a lot of water will have to pay more.

This would be a way to redistribute (income) in favour of the poor," Naholo said.

In view of widespread poverty in Namibia, the NUNW suggested that water must be treated as a right, not as a privilege.

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