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The city’s lights are dim and getting dimmer

The city’s lights are dim and getting dimmer

It seems the City of Windhoek is a very ill patient. Of late, it has endured a fairly rough rap across the media, but there are more ails of which the general public is unaware. Yet, specific individuals, many of them professional service providers, have to deal with City officials on a daily basis, and it is from this source that the biggest horror stories come.

While it is not my place to say whether City officials, or some of them, are corrupt, the flavour of a rising number of anecdotal stories, certainly smells very corrupt. Of this I have had experience myself, so it would not do for some City politician to try and wipe everything off the table as if there is no dirty laundry.

Perhaps the City could escape the spotlight of public scrutiny were its finances in order but once it became known that they are working on a massive budget shortfall, the obvious question arose how will this be financed. Futhermore, when it became public knowledge that the City is in the process of writing off an equally impressive amount of bad debt, honest rate payers started asking themselves why they have to endure the exorbitant rises in tariffs, and why they have to continue paying their bills, when illegal settlers squat where they want, and have the benefit of utilities for which other people must pay.

The City of Windhoek was a squeaky clean local authority at Independence. Then the party stepped in, first pilfering the N$104 million it had in reserves, and then starting a systematic process of filling positions with its own toe-the-line cronies who knew zilch about the service they were supposed to provide.

These are not vague or unfounded allegations, there is a large number of people that are in a position to provide specifics, events, dates, names, of all the underhand dealings that has become ingrained in the way the City conducts its affairs today. It is also no use for City officials to try and deny this, the figures speak against them.

One of the most revealing sources of the City’s incompetence and inability to function properly, is the Namibian Consumer Price Index published by the Namibia Statistics Agency. For several years, it has become more and more obvious that the City is one of the major contributors to inflation, unable to prepare proper budgets, unable to operate within budget, and unable to monitor and control expenses. The result has been the meteoric rise in the cost of utilities in Windhoek, to the point where thousands of honest rate payers are now beginning to baulk, demanding that the rot be cut out and that competent people are appointed to serve the City’s residents. I often find it amusing when the statistics agency, unwittingly, fingers the City of Windhoek as a culprit for notable rises in some of the subsections of the inflation basket, not realising that they are essentially providing incriminating evidence that the City’s method of determining tariff increases, is not based on any sound methodology, but on thumbsuck. “We need so much to grease over our inability to manage the City’s affairs, so we will simply collect it from the already beleaguered rate payers.”

It was actually stated to me in similar words by a City politician not so long ago – “If the people want certain services they will have to pay.”

That is fundamentally true, but the City does not operate in a vacuum and there are certain benchmarks in the broader economy which accurately sets the ceiling for reasonable increases. When these are breached, they are usually telltale signs of a pervasive lack of control and oversight.

I am being told that the City’s building division, is a hotbed of corruption. Building plans are not approved without paying a bribe, in some cases a hefty bribe, and when this is refused, the process is deliberately delayed with a firewall of bureaucratic obstacles. I hear similar allegations where site inspections are concerned.

I also hear many complaints from ordinary residents about reconnections. This is not from one or two disgruntled home owners who had their services cut, the same story comes from dozens of individuals.

From my own observation, I see hundreds of people supposedly working for the City, doing nothing at all. And from inside the City’s staff themselves, I hear how unscrupulous employees delay doing their jobs, so that they can claim overtime. Apparently this form of milking the gravy train has become so commonplace that some people brag they earn more on overtime than on their basic.

Another horror story comes from individuals working at the Gammams reclamation plant. “You will not believe what is going on there,” I was told. And then followed a very serious allegation: “The billions needed for upgrading the water plant is grossly inflated because there are so many “commission takers” in the queue. We can rebuilt the entire Gammams for half the cost that is now on the table.”

Granted, many of these horror stories are at this stage only rumours and will be very difficult to prove, but it seems the current City dispensation has come to the end of its road. There are simply too many fires all burning at the same time, for any responsible City resident to continue ignoring the smoke. The Anti-Corruption Commission needs to get in there with a strong mandate and an even stronger hand. From personal discussions, I believe there are several whistleblowers only too keen to tell a competent authority what they know, but for this they want the protection of the law.

And in terms of personnel costs, how can a building inspector get a N$9000 car allowance per month. That is grotesque and indicative of the wider, pervasive rot. Further, I believe City employees enjoy a medical that covers 80% of expenses without any cap, and that this valve is leaking like crazy. This sounds almost like a PSEMAS twin.

I think the biggest problem lies in changing the culture. Once an entire employee corps has become accustomed to operate the way the City does, the voice of the honest employees is simply lost in the stampede for self-enrichment.


 

About The Author

Daniel Steinmann

Brief CV of Daniel Steinmann. Born 24 February 1961, Johannesburg. Educated at the University of Pretoria: BA, BA(hons), BD. Postgraduate degrees are in Philosophy and Divinity. Editor of the Namibia Economist since 1991. Daniel Steinmann has steered the Economist as editor for the past 29 years. The Economist started as a monthly free-sheet, then moved to a weekly paper edition (1996 to 2016), and on 01 December 2016 to a daily digital newspaper at www.economist.com.na. It is the first Namibian newspaper to go fully digital. Daniel Steinmann is an authority on macro-economics having established a sound record of budget analysis, strategic planning and assessing the impact of policy formulation. For eight years, he hosted a weekly talk-show on NBC Radio, explaining complex economic concepts to a lay audience in a relaxed, conversational manner. He was a founding member of the Editors' Forum of Namibia. Over the years, he has mentored hundreds of journalism students as interns and as young professional jourlists. He regularly helps economics students, both graduate and post-graduate, to prepare for examinations and moderator reviews. He is the Namibian respondent for the World Economic Survey conducted every quarter for the Ifo Center for Business Cycle Analysis and Surveys at the University of Munich in Germany. He is frequently consulted by NGOs and international analysts on local economic trends and developments. Send comments to daniel@economist.com.na

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Paratus Namibia Managing Director, Andrew Hall

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