21 June 2012

Namibia: Rehoboth Water Crisis Turns Into Political Mudslinging

The water crisis at Rehoboth has turned into political hot potato with residents across the political spectrum preparing to take to the streets in protest against councillors and council staff alike, who many say should leave the office.

"We want all councillors, including [CEO Theo] Jankowski and [municipal official Willy] Swartz out," said former Swapo Party regional councillor Alfred Dax at an open-air meeting with residents in the Block E neighbourhood.

"We want people in the council and council offices that can administer the town."

The town council consists of four Swapo councillors, two of the United People's Movement (UPM), and one of the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP).

Dax was the second person to dismiss Jankowski's claim that Rehoboth is in part buckling under a "historic" water debt. The other person was Lucas de Vries of the Rehoboth Ratepayers Association (RRA), who said the water debt stood at N$1,5 million in 2004.

"There was no water debt until 2008," said Dax. "The former acting CEO, Jan Strauss, used to buy N$100 000 worth of water every week. The current water debt is debt accrued over the last four years."

The Namibian reported on Rehoboth's water woes as far back as 2004 when the town council had entered into an agreement with NamWater to pay off debts.

UPM vice president Piet Junius laid the blame for the water shutdown on what he called poor financial management at the council.

He further charged that the council is not being fully informed by Jankowski.

"Issues the council is supposed to be informed about hit them like a fist from the dark; instructions from the council are being ignored," Junius said.

The UPM on Tuesday said the financial and general administrative crisis at the council is "worse than expected".

It said it had warned residents in September 2011 that community interest is steered "into disaster" by "incompetence and political favouritism by the Swapo majority and senior administrative alliance".

Junius yesterday went further by charging that the town is "held hostage" by two administrative officials, Jankowski and Swartz.

The UPM also charged that only the Swapo Party councillors were called by Hardap Governor Katrina Hanse-Himarwa for a "private meeting, leaving us with the conclusion that Government does not recognise opposition councillors' status of responsibility towards community matters".

The governor's personal assistant, Carl Christians, yesterday said that he was not aware of any such meeting. Governor Hanse-Himarwa was locked in meetings the entire day yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

Opposition councillors in the Rehoboth Town Council walked out during the latest budget discussions because of alleged fabrications of financial figures, and apparent requests of salary increases of more than 134 per cent.

What also irked the opposition councillors, Junius said, was the "total lack" of provision for water and electricity arrears payments.

"The UPM foresees even worse destitution for the Rehoboth community in the near future should the Swapo guardsmen be allowed to march Rehoboth to destruction," Junius said.

The Swapo Party district coordinator for Rehoboth West, Wimmet Möller, said meetings at political level are to take place in the coming days.

As a resident affected by the water crisis, Möller commented that the collection of water fees seems to be problematic, and that the billing of water has been questioned by residents for a long time.

He did, however, say that the opposition parties are part of the problem - or solution - since they form an integral part of the council.

Jankowski could not be reached for comment because he was in meetings the whole day yesterday.

A number of meetings are to take place at the town after NamWater cut off the water supply to Rehoboth on Monday because of a water debt of more than N$29 million.

A huge meeting was scheduled to take place at the El-Shaddai Gospel Mission at Block B, and another at the 'Bo-dorp' to discuss the general decline in service provision.

"It will not be a political meeting," said the organiser of the El-Shaddai meeting, Terry Mouton. "It is a community problem that needs a community solution."

Mouton said even if the water was reconnected, the meetings and the protest march would continue to address the slew of administrative problems facing the town.

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