New Era journalist at Keetmanshoop, Francis Xoagub, had an interview with the Chief Executive Officer of the Keetmanshoop Town Council Paul Vleermuis, on the development progress in the town as well as the challenges facing the town council.
How would you describe the Keetmanshoop Town Council and its residents?
"The residents of Keetmanshoop are very positive. This is one of the few towns in the whole of Namibia where residents are not apathetic. It is a vibrant and vocal society where people are not afraid to express themselves freely on issues that affect their lives. That for me is a good thing that keeps me on my toes. If they continue that way more things are in store for them.
"Of course the town council has still a long way to go in terms of its willingness to be a participatory and accountable institution. In my honest opinion the town council is still in a learning phase to embrace constructive criticism from residents. The residents have their own forums where they express themselves. Therefore, I am advocating that the town council creates more room for this vibrancy to generate more constructive projects and activities."
What projects are there to address high unemployment? And has the town implemented any TIPEEG projects?
"I must be honest. When it comes to youth unemployment, the Keetmanshoop Town Council is doing literally nothing. This is very painful to me, but I have to be honest. We are still discussing the whole approach in the local economic development section. Our approach is currently reactive to project proposals that come to our desk and not proactive. If only I could have more room to facilitate, instead of administrating [the process] of approving or declining proposals. We come into an institution that was used to paper pushing. Projects are coming in but unfortunately they end up not bearing any results or are simply declined. Therefore, we are unable to respond to it because of our modus operandi. We are also unable to quantify how many youth are unemployed.
"On the implementation of the Targeted Intervention Programme for Employment and Economic Growth (TIPEEG) we have submitted project proposals through the Karas regional office, but have not received any funding to date. Our project proposals were not successful because they failed but because the funds allocated for this region are too little. We had a positive meeting with the minister of local government just before his reassignment, where the issue was properly explained."
Keetmanshoop residents criticise the council for the slow delivery of serviced land and rampant alcohol abuse. Is the criticism justified and what is the council doing to address these problems?
"The criticism over alcohol abuse, mushrooming of shebeens and the way the council manages that sector of the economy is justified. I have to admit that the council has not come up with a proper and effective way to deal with alcohol abuse or managing shebeens, partly because we lack the necessary experience. This is an issue in all towns. Another issue is the lack of political will. If we could have tougher regulations and an effective revised Liquor Act these issues could be addressed.
"In addition municipalities are not obligated to budget for that, so we are very poor at managing alcohol outlets and therefore alcohol abuse is the order of the day. We need a budget for enforcement of the relevant laws and regulations regarding the control of liquor outlets.
"On land delivery I think those criticising have not checked their records or maybe we have not communicated our successes effectively. Land delivery is no more a concern. We are ahead of our demand. Criticism on poor land delivery was valid in 2010 but not now. With have a smart partnership with Old Mutual, Build Together Programme and the ministry of agriculture to achieve our objectives."
How is your relationship as CEO with the councillors in the town council?
"I must admit that my relationship with the town council, to a certain degree, is a bit strained at this stage, especially relating to issues of how we respond to activism and constructive criticism from the community.
"We have got different views on a wide range of issues that create the tension. My attitude is criticism that comes from the community needs to be embraced and welcomed and we have to be reactive and proactive to work out ways in which we can embrace criticism to create a positive atmosphere. It is a fact that we come from different backgrounds and experiences. I am coming from a background where you accept criticism and use it to generate something positive and take people along instead of reacting destructively. That's the bone of contention and what we are trying resolve currently.
"But I feel that this situation should encourage us to find an amicable conflict resolution to our problems instead of shunning each other. I agree that it is a dynamic process to resolve these differences, but progress in this regard has already been made as many are striving towards finding a lasting solution."
Tell us briefly about your management experience.
"Prior to becoming the CEO for Keetmanshoop in 2008 my work was primarily to facilitate organisational change and organisational performance. I am experienced in the non-governmental organisations (NGO) sector of Namibia. I was the executive director of the Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU). I felt privileged when approached with request to apply for this position and looked forward to the challenge of establishing a reputable, transparent organisation, and accountable institution for the benefit of the Keetmanshoop residents."
Tell us about the successes and challenges of the town?
"One of the successes is timely payment for municipal services by the residents. In fact my balance sheet looks good compared to the time when I took over as a CEO. Because of the increase in revenue the town council is able to service erven. We have since used N$5.2 million to service 270 erven in Tseiblaagte, and N$2.2 million to service 105 erven in the Ileni informal settlement.
"In order to attract investors the town council is providing the necessary infrastructure. Old Mutual is a case in point which invested millions in the construction of the proposed multimillion shopping complex. We have entered into a joint venture with the ministry of agriculture to provide pre-financing for the servicing of 200 erven at Noordoewer.
"Yet another success is the disappearance of fraudulent activities within the town council. However, we still need to work on the productivity of the staff as well as revisit their salary structures in order to attract skilled labour. These are the challenges that I would like to highlight, including the accumulation of debt, now standing at N$20 million. Unemployment is one of the contributing factors to the debt levels."
Any other information that you would like to share with us?
"I am confident that Keetmanshoop has a bright future judging from the positive developments currently taking place, the collaboration with the community and tolerance among the town councillors.
"If we can maintain this momentum the social problems faced by this town will be something of the past in the not too distant future."