23 August 2017

Namibia: Rehoboth Owed N$100m

Rehoboth residents on Monday said they want the town council dissolved over unmanageable water and electricity debts and continuous infighting at the council.

"What exactly is happening at the Rehoboth Town Council? The dysfunctional town council is what is keeping this town from full development. Somewhere, a conclusion must be reached; we can not continue like this," a fed-up and evidently upset Peurenzia van Wyk told The Namibian on Monday.

Sitting under a tree while organising the funeral of a relative, Van Wyk, Lorrette Beukes and Izolde Mouton got worked up just talking about the town's woes over the last few years.

Rehoboth residents want to know how they accumulated debts amounting to millions of dollars for water and electricity, and said they have lost faith in the local authority.

"It is an embarrassment that our people are doing this to us.

The town council is our people who are working against us with our own money," the three women charged.

Since 2012, there have been numerous reports of Rehoboth's taps running dry because of water debts running into several millions.

Rehoboth CEO Christoph /Uirab on Monday told The Namibian that they had a meeting with NamPower, during which an agreement was reached for the town to pay off the huge electricity debt.

Although he did not provide details, /Uirab said while NamPower was being accommodative, the message was clear that the town had to honour its commitment to pay off the debt.

/Uirab said the council owed NamPower N$36 million in what he calls a 'historical' debt. Of the N$36 million, N$17 million was owed to the council by consumers.

Concerning the water issue, /Uirab said Rehoboth also owed NamWater N$36 million, while the council was struggling to collect N$78 million owed by residents.

The prepaid bulk water system also did not ensure a smooth management of the council's finances as they would at times have to top up on the units they purchased for water, forcing the council to use funds meant for other activities.

"The prepaid system is also putting us under pressure. If the units are finished, the water would be disconnected, so we have to buy more units. This situation has also contributed to NamPower not being paid as we end up using the money meant for electricity," he admitted.

/Uirab said 50% of Rehoboth's water was unaccounted for, which could be due to leakages.

"Because of the old infrastructure at the town, we experience leakages from the old pipes. This contributes to the significant debt," he stressed.

Pensioner Elizabeth Bock (79), from Block E, said hearing and reading about the millions owed by Rehoboth for water and electricity was very disheartening.

Bock is paying off a water bill of N$12 000 for a service connected in July last year.

According to her, the only explanation she got for how she used water worth N$12 000 in less than a year was that it included unpaid refuse removal rates and property taxes.

"There was no previous waterline here. My son, who was killed, used to live here. Because I did not want my granddaughter to lose the plot, I decided to move here, made the shack bigger and connected the water," Bock told The Namibian.

"I first paid N$2 500, N$1 500 and now pay N$500 every month. They must tell me what they are doing with my pension money which I am paying for water I did not use," an angry Bock demanded.

The septuagenarian's neighbour, who did not want to be named, said her mother has been paying off a N$10 000 debt for water for more than a year now, but the amount is not going down.

Another 21-year-old resident of Block E, who also did not want to be named, said town councillors were not doing their work, and that was how the town found itself in the current situation.

The woman, who lives in a four-compartment shack with her parents, four siblings and two children, said with jobs being scarce at the town, it was painful to know that they sometimes had to go without water, even though they are paying for it.

"We work very hard, and struggle to get that N$100 to pay our neighbour for water. We don't understand it, and it angers us," the woman said.

Lack of competence

/Uirab said the water and electricity debts were only part of many financial hardships facing the town.

He said two major contributors to the council's financial woes were a lack of proper financial management, and absence of competent staff. He said there was a lack of accountants at the council, which contributed to financial mismanagement and poor planning.

"I am one of the CEOs who does not get financial reports because of the lack of capacity, and this is a problem," he stated.

Referring to the now-imprisoned former Rehoboth Town Council financial manager Jennifer Kays, /Uirab said the fact that the finance department was being run by someone who did not have the qualifications also led to there being no financial planning.

Kays was sentenced to three years imprisonment on 19 June this year after she pleaded guilty to 11 counts of corruption and fraud. She was accused of using falsified documents to gain employment at the town council.

The CEO also blamed the lack of capacity for the town council's failure to come up with ways to generate revenue, adding that the practice of appointing people in acting capacities has impacted the council's finances.

/Uirab said residents' complaints were valid, and he understood their frustrations over the situation at the town council.

"I think it is fair for the community to question the town council. Our performance should be measured against what the community feels," he added.

Meanwhile, a group of residents have come together to address the electricity and water debt issues, as well as the perceived incompetence at the council.

Group spokesperson Tony Daniel said they want council officials to be brought to book.

"The town council uses money that belongs to the community because it is generated from paying accounts. They should all be relieved of their duties," he said.

The debt problems were evidence of the council's incompetence, which the minister had to consider.

"The Local Authorities Act, section 92, gives power to the minister to dissolve the town council, and she is not doing this," Daniel stressed.

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