Namibia: Okahandja Defends Paying N$2m Debt With 54 Plots

OKAHANDJA municipality says there was nothing untoward about its decision to allocate 54 plots to a former councillor-turned property developer as compensation for a debt of N$2 million.

The municipality last month asked the Ministry of Urban and Rural Development to approve an out-of-court settlement agreement to allocate 54 plots to former councillor Andries Bezuidenhout who was allegedly owed close to N$2 million by the council.

The alleged debt to Bezuidenhout is related to an agreement he entered with the municipality during his time as councillor of Okahandja.

Bezuidenhout was councillor of Okahandja between 2010 and 2015 and was part of the council that was widely accused of dubiously dishing out land to themselves, politicians and their friends, leading to a decision by former minister Sophia Shaningwa to suspend the sale of land in Okahandja for five years.

During that period Bezuidenhout allegedly bought 10 unserviced plots from the council and was further given the responsibility to service 11 plots on behalf of the municipality.

After serving the said plots and subsequently developing those in his name, between 2018 and 2019, Bezuidenhout asked that the municipality allocate him 30 plots in exchange for the money he used to service the land.

This request was rejected and Bezuidenhout took the matter to court.

Now the new councillors under mayor Natasha Brinkman reached an out of court settlement with Bezuidenhout to allocate him 43 unserviced plots at the same location where he got the first 10 plots.

Chairperson of the Okahandja council's management committee Charl Coetzee told The Namibian yesterday that there was nothing wrong with their decision.

Coetzee said the decision was taken because the council feared losing the court case against Bezuidenhout which could have resulted in a huge legal bill.

Coetzee said the municipality was adequately advised to settle out of court because it does not have money to pay legal fees.

"We looked at our finances and concluded that if we lost the case, we would not have the money to pay for the outcome of the court. If we use the money at our disposal to pay for the legal battle, it will affect all other land processes that we have started such as surveying low-income land for the people," he said.

He added that the option of selling the land given to Bezuidenhout could also have shortchanged the council because not many people could afford the land in the area the plots given to Bezuidenhout are located.

"The area that we are talking about would be classified as a middle-income area. So, if we took that piece of land and advertised and sold it, we would have gotten a worse deal. People who are running to the newspaper to complain about the land will never ever, at the current income rate they are, be able to afford those ervens in that area.

"I cannot give lower income people land in a higher income area. Because it will bring down the value of the property in that area (sic)," he said.

The actual debt owed to Bezuidenhout is less than N$1 million and was compensated with 43 plots. This is equivalent to less than N$25 000 per plot.

Coetzee added: "I can't give ground away in Goreangab for the same value that I will give it in Ludwigsdorf for example. I have got a responsibility to the people in that area for the valuation of their property".

Coetzee took no blame for the previous council's decision to enter into the agreement with Bezuidenhout.

He said there are many other similar arrangements which the new council wants to resolve as soon as possible because they inhibit the council's progress to provide services to the low-income residents.

He added that the decision to settle out of court and allocate 54 plots to Bezuidenhout was a win-win situation because it will benefit the poor in Okahandja.

According to him, if Bezuidenhout develops the land, there will be a lot of middle income plots and houses from which the municipality can collect rates and taxes to help the poor.

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