Windhoek residents in arrears further punished by proposed compulsory debit order
By Josef Kefas Sheehama.
The New City of Windhoek Chief Executive Officer will propose compulsory debit orders for residents in arrears. He also wants the government to start deducting portions of civil servants’ salaries to pay their municipal bills. This is a weak plan of action and will not see the light of day.
The proposal is questionable, coming at a time when people are facing undue hardship, including a high cost of living. The introduction of compulsory debit orders and direct deductions become another punishment for residents. The City of Windhoek cannot decide for us. We need to have a choice as residents of Windhoek.
We understand that it is the right thing to pay our City of Windhoek bills. It is well noted that non-payment poses a serious threat to the financial health of the Windhoek Municipality. It is mandatory to pay municipal bills, however, it is not compulsory to sign debit orders. Therefore, the New City of Windhoek Chief Executive Officer should understand the compulsory and mutual agreement between the parties. A debit order is therefore not a contract between the government and the City of Windhoek, but an agreement between the account holder and the City of Windhoek.
Furthermore, the new Chief Executive Officer asserted that “the municipality should go to the government and tell it they want a deduction code for residents in the city who own property. So they can be able to have it deducted from their salaries and so that money can come in and infuse some cash flow into our system. We would also like to engage intentionally to say, whether you like it or not, you will have to enter a compulsory debit order with the city, because your behavior affects our way of doing business,” concluded, the new Windhoek CEO.
These statements by the new CEO are totally inhuman. His appointment is not only in the best interest of the City but residents too. There should be a balance and not create mental problems for the residents. This is a mutual agreement and not a force to pay as per the new City of Windhoek Chief Executive Officer’s weak collection strategy. What is his role in assisting residents? In light of the current threat to the residents, the ruling, if left unchallenged, will not only destabilize the City of Windhoek but also further stifle economic recovery. Therefore, we shall challenge this new proposal. Inequality in its various forms is an issue that affects humans and inequality is not only a threat to economic and social rights, it impedes the advancement of all rights.
The new Chief Executive should enhance rather than paralyze the residents. On 14 September 2022, the National Assembly received a proposal from the Landless People’s Movement (LPM) asking Namwater and NamPower to forgive the debts owed by local administrations. The local authorities owe Namwater and NamPower nearly N$1 billion and N$807 million respectively. We are conditioned to believe that everyone should get a do-over, no matter how badly they mess up.
Why should the local authorities propose a debt write-off if Namwater and NamPower can institute compulsory debit orders? Therefore, the new City of Windhoek Chief Executive Officer, in order to prevent non-payment for rendered services, [must] keep an eye on how much free basic services are being used by persons who have been designated as poor.
It is vital for the City of Windhoek to keep open and warm relations with the residents. When customers are kept close, they tend to have empathy for the suppliers and develop an affinity for them. It is this affinity that will stir the urgent need to pay the invoice or statement the moment it reaches the customers.
The municipality can build this relationship between itself and its customers by responding expediently to their service needs, resolving any queries, making it easy for customers to pay the municipality, and if necessary, reminding the customer to pay their bills. It is important to protect municipal income, for without it, the City will not be able to provide basic and essential services. One way of protecting income and making the City more sustainable is to foster positive communication to encourage a culture of payment. Don’t push someone to the wall.
Moreover, it is imperative the leaders understand the socioeconomic status of the community before making statements that only benefit themselves. The community leaders should focus on socioeconomic stratification, which is the key parametre for a proper understanding of the affordability of the residents. The current economic crisis has made the need for innovation to address social challenges even more apparent and acute. The City of Windhoek should come up with innovative and creative ways to generate income. It should avoid concentration risk, and avoid collecting income only from sales of water, electricity, and other taxes. The City of Windhoek’s revenues are not affected by residents but by economic, technological, and other changes.
The productivity of revenue systems and their administrative and political acceptability are subject to change. It is important for the City to shift from the usage of charges and create a culture of innovation. It’s easy to focus only on the day-to-day providing services to the residents, however, it can pay dividends to think about longer-term and more strategic planning. This is true as the City takes on more staff, creates departments within the business, and appoints managers. Therefore, compulsory debit order is not a solution but a punishment for vulnerable residents.
It is estimated that by 2024, living costs should be increasing by less than household incomes as inflation rates fall. But prices will remain high, and falling inflation only means prices are rising less quickly, not that they are falling. Based on the latest forecasts, it will take a long time for household incomes to recover to their previous level in real terms.
In conclusion, the new Windhoek CEO needs to understand that in our democracy, citizens express their views. The appropriate goal of reform is to enhance, not undermine, societal wellbeing. In other words, reform should do more good than harm. Therefore, the challenges and complexities posed by the proposed compulsory debit orders underline the need for a thorough consultative process with all stakeholders in order to manage expectations about what can be achieved and to prepare for effective implementation.