By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK The rural electrification programme, considered one of the Government’s priority projects that were implemented immediately after independence, might be transferred to the Regional Electricity Distributors (REDs) by the end of this year. There is a high possibility that by the end of this year, the Ministry of Mines and Energy will hand over the programme to the REDs, New Era has reliably been informed. Though not yet official, a senior bureaucrat in the Ministry of Mines who did not want to be named confirmed that talks are going on between the Electricity Supply Industry (ESI) and the ministry on the future of the scheme. According to the official, REDs only started operating a few years ago and would not have the capacity yet to go beyond their targeted areas of operation. Namibia’s backbone transmission grid, including a 220 kV interconnector to South Africa, was established between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, connecting all major commercial centres. Communal towns and settlements, however, did not benefit from grid electricity at that stage. Immediately after the country’s independence in 1990, the Ministry of Mines and Energy together with NamPo-werÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ ‘ÃƒÆ’ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒ…ÃƒÆ’Ã†”Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Âºembarked upon the implementation of the Rural Electrification Programme with a vision of economic empowerment and social upliftment of rural communities. However, CENORED’s Chief Executive Officer Appolus Mburumba whose utility became operational last October said he had little knowledge about what would happen if the scheme is transferred, but he stated should REDs take over the rural electrification programme, it would be a welcome development. With little worry on the capacity, he added that it is expected that once the transfer takes place, REDs must be assisted with funds if the electricity services are to be expanded to the deep rural areas of the country. The Government allocates about N$25 million to the rural electrification programme annually. The rural electrification distribution master plan shows that the money allocated to each region is determined by the number of localities to be electrified in any year, taking the backlog into in consideration. Namibia is a vast and sparsely populated country, which poses a challenge to have all rural localities connected to the national grid. Mburumba added that REDs have the technical capacity, engineers, electricians and workers to ensure that a quality product is delivered. “It will be a lot easier if the programme is managed by people who are closer to the people because you are more attuned with their needs, as opposed to someone operating from an office in Windhoek,” Mburumba indicated. Supporting the idea, Chairman of the Southern Regional Electricity Distributors (SORED), which comes into full operation on July 01, 2006, Dawid Boois indicated that the decision would ensure the decentralisation of operations of electricity supply to all areas. However, there are fears that most of REDs utilities are in their infant stages and may not have the capacity for such a programme. Since the rural electrification programme commenced in 1991, about 600 villages in the most densely populated northern areas and other corners of the country have been electrified. The Electrical Engineer in the Ministry of Mines and Energy Namulo Andreas confirmed to New Era that the over 600 villages that now have access to electricity have seen further forms of development brought about by the availability of electricity. Given the economic development that the electrification of rural areas has brought about, regional councils have recommended that rural areas be connected. “Many schools now have computers and have access to the Internet and there is also business development in these areas,” stated Andreas. He added that perhaps the change of the programme’s management would alter the perception that the programme is only being implemented in areas where certain political figures have interest. “With the change of management, there will be professional planning, deserving areas will get electricity,” concluded Andreas.