Villages Scramble for Light

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK The small village councils in Kalkrand, MaltahÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶he and Gibeon, whose electricity supply was abruptly cut off by NamPower, are now scrambling to scrape together the necessary cash to settle their debts with the power utility. The village clerk of Kalkrand yesterday morning had to make a hurried trip to Mariental carrying a cheque of N$72 000 in the hope this offering would appease NamPower. A source at the Kalkrand Village Council offices gave the assurance that with settlement, electricity supply to consumers should be restored by the afternoon. Similarly at MaltahÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶he, the village accountant was forced to rush to Mariental carrying a cheque of N$50,000, hoping the promise of a further N$50,000 by Friday would be enough to convince NamPower to switch the lights back on. The situation at MaltahÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶he was particularly desperate because the town is playing host to up to 500 delegates attending the Episcopal Conference of the 15th District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Among the guests are such ecclesiastical heavyweights as former Deputy Prime Minister Hendrik Witbooi and the Afro-American bishop of the district, Samuel L. Green, who is normally based in Cape Town. According to the administrative clerk at the MaltahÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶he Village Council, Piet Boois, some conference delegates were finding it difficult to maintain their spiritual demeanour and were complaining bitterly about being deprived of electricity. The conference delegates are being accommodated at the Lutheran Church Hostel and the hostel of the Daweb Secondary School. The three shops in the town are all being forced to use generators to prevent food from spoiling. Technical Advisor to NamPower, Reiner Jagau, yesterday confirmed the utility was forced to cut off electricity supply to several village councils, but refused to elaborate on the exact reasons. Jagau said the supply agreements NamPower has with customers are of necessity confidential, and he could therefore not disclose how much an individual council owed the corporation. He referred members of the media to the relevant village councils, saying they owed it to their residents to explain. “We are sorry that there are people who have nothing to do with this who are being affected. It’s tough on them, but there is nothing we can do,” Jagau said. It is not known how much the village councils of Kalkrand and Gibeon owe NamPower, but the arrears at MaltahÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶he are believed to be in the region of N$392,000. The MaltahÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶he council was given notice two weeks ago that they must pay up in full or face having their power supply cut off. At the time NamPower demanded payment of N$75,000 but the MaltahÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶he council could only pay N$70,000. For the month of August alone however the village has already paid NamPower N$190,000. MaltahÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶he administrative clerk Boois appeared baffled by the uncompromising attitude taken by NamPower, saying “maybe they’re on a mission”. Yesterday a NamPower official went to demand payment in full of all arrears, threatening to cut off the power supply otherwise. The MaltahÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶he Village Council offered to make part payment of N$100,000, but this offer was rejected. Signs are however that NamPower has softened its stance and might relent, accepting the N$100,000 offer. The arrears owed to NamPower are apparently a long-standing problem. In 1999 the arrears owed by MaltahÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶he were as high as N$980,000 and these are the same arrears the village council now is still struggling to pay off. The arrears date back to before decentralisation and the creation of village councils. The provision of electricity to these small settlements at the time was the responsibility of the regional and local government ministry. This has prompted many village council officials to argue the arrears are therefore the debts of the present regional and local government ministry.