The Gobabis municipality will not be writing off the N$9,5 million it is owed by pensioners and people with disabilities because the urban and rural development ministry has declined its request.
Municipal spokesperson Frederick Ueitele said the Gobabis council had sought approval for the pensioners' debt cancellation from the urban and rural development ministry for two to three years now, without success.
"The line ministry informed us it was a national problem, and that President Hage Geingob must look into the matter before it is being dealt with," he explained.
Ueitele's remarks were in response to criticism from community activist Wallace Finnies over the unwillingness of the municipality to cancel pensioners' outstanding debts. Finnies told The Namibian that he recently submitted an appeal for debt relief for pensioners without success.
News of the N$191 million debt cancellation by the City of Windhoek triggered his debt relief appeal to the Gobabis council, he said.
In a letter dated 20 June, addressed to Finnies, the municipality informed him that it had an amnesty programme for all pensioners, through which interest on their outstanding accounts has been waived since 1 January 2018.
"An agreement is entered into between the parties to pay the capital amount over a period of time. Interest is also suspended on their accounts until December 2019, to give them time to settle their accounts," the letter reads. Dissatisfied by the council's response, Finnies said residents were not even aware of the amnesty programme.
"They are using our tax money, but are reluctant to grant debt relief to our pensioners," he fumed, saying it was impossible for the elderly to pay off their debts with the paltry social grant of N1 200 they received monthly.
"That money is not even enough for the pensioners to put food on their table throughout the month. Some of them even look after grandchildren," he added.
Ueitele dismissed the claim that the Gobabis council had not announced the amnesty programme to residents, saying the information was disseminated widely during public meetings.
He said the council planned to submit another debt write-off application to the line ministry, based on a proposal recently tabled in council by the Gobabis mayor.
"We will continue seeking ministerial approval for the cancellation of the pensioners' debts," he stressed.