Writing on the Wall: – City of Windhoek turnaround strategy has become critical
By Josef Kefas Sheehama.
We are blessed to live in one of the most remarkable cities in Namibia. The diversity of our people, the geographical location, recreational and business activities, all make the City of Windhoek home to equally colourful and unique folks.
However, the battles that have engulfed the City of Windhoek over two years now need to be plugged as they have gone on long enough. The political intrigues and hassle at the City is a strong indication of how these relentless battles have caused harm to the City’s residents and to its image. And is it not primarily the resident who are supposed to receive good service delivery.
Given the weak economic outlook and the City’s constrained resources, their actions must be focused on improving their efficiency, reinvesting more in infrastructure maintenance, introducing a strategy to reduce illegal electricity connections, enhancing revenue collection, in particular prepaid metering, identifying a new alternate source of income to fund infrastructure, subject to own sources of income being maximized, as well as reviewing and reforming its policies.
Proper strategic governance and financing systems can provide hope for the struggling City. There are opportunities for matching local needs with institutional frameworks and revenue-generation tools. Appropriate financial management can tap into strategies that improve efficiency of revenue collection, win public support, capitalize on urban economies of scale, curb land speculation and sprawl, incentivize economic activity, and improve urban affordability for the poor.
The resulting budgetary improvements can allow the City of Windhoek to make strategic investments, stimulating a virtuous cycle of growth based on revenue generation, and leading to prosperity. The City should engage other institutions such as BIPA and NSA to obtain proper information, for instance, on how many registered SMEs operate within the City’s boundaries.
Effective financial management is critical to any organization. In the City’s case, a lack of sound financial management will have a direct adverse impact on service delivery as there is a strong correlation between sound financial management and effective service delivery. At the heart of the City’s malaise is a lack of basic systems of accountability, skilled personnel to carry out transactions, leadership oversight to prevent financial losses, and performance management systems for employees.
The most important ingredient is sound financial management and it requires the deployment of suitably skilled people at the right places, and a continuous building of internal capacity rather than a reliance on external parties such as consultants. But the biggest direct threat to the City’s viability is a failure to collect and adequately measure revenue. Another is having accounting officers fail to take reasonable steps to prevent irregular, wasteful or fruitless expenditure. A municipality can generate its own income via property rates, service charges and fines. Property rates are sourced from owners of land, homes, buildings or businesses.
The amounts levied by the municipality for property rates are generally based on the value of the property. The municipality also makes use of charges that are levied on services such as water, electricity, sanitation and refuse removal. It also sometimes charge users for the use of their facilities, such as sports grounds and recreational centres. Fines and penalties are another source of internally-generated income. These include, among others, traffic fines, penalties for contraventions of by-laws, and penalties for overdue payments of services.
My humble advice to the City is to put in a system of internal controls to narrow any opportunity for people to abuse public resources. This means that the Chief Executive should present the council with a plan of execution for all the projects the City will be engaged in that will require the council’s support and involvement, but not the interference of individual council members. It is important to avert the risk associated with not meeting the needs of the citizens, therefore the council is the best place to present the plan on how the projects that have been agreed upon will be implemented. But council members will need to be made aware that they are not responsible for deciding which companies must be awarded contracts to carry out those activities.
Furthermore, a detailed analysis must be undertaken to determine the reasons for this loss and steps be taken to address the immediate situation and then to turn it around. An expansion of the workforce should be limited to an expansion in service delivery, with related revenue increases to fund new appointments. The long term infrastructure plans should be reviewed to ensure adequate provision for new or replacement assets coupled with a sustainable financing strategy.
Moreover, the City should facilitate a suitable informal sector facility and charge fees. This will serve as an additional income stream. The decision for these businesses to formalize depends on the benefits that are derived from formalization over the risks of remaining in the informal economy. Importantly, the unicipality’s policies on the sector should focus on investing in human capital in the informal sector for this will encourage innovation and thus promote industrialization and economic growth. Investing in the informal sector can be an important strategy of promoting economic development. Policies should therefore focus on formalizing the informal sector for this will address all the challenges faced by the sector.
The City of Windhoek, being the sphere of administration closest to the people is faced with numerous challenges in their quest to provide essential services to the people and in particular the poor and disadvantaged section of the population. However, the recent wave of unrest at the City sphere, and the dissatisfaction expressed by local community questions the ability of the City’s leaders to effectively and efficiently provide essential services. If the inadequacy of the City to fulfill its mandate within the constitutional and legislative framework does not receive serious attention in the short to medium term, it could detrimentally affect the long-term stability of Windhoek.