Village Councils Run Out of Cash

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK The rising cost of living, unemployment, electricity blackouts and the latest petrol hikes, all combine to cause mounting problems for the ailing village councils in the South and are sending out worrying signals not only for the Karas and Hardap regions but the country’s economy as a whole. Yesterday, the entire workforce of Tses Village Council downed tools over delayed payment of their salaries over the past two months. What makes matters worse are the financial difficulties facing this local authority which is finding it hard to survive from the little income they get from municipal service payments. Confirming the latest strike at Tses, the village council chairperson Petrus Thomas Witbooi informed New Era yesterday that all of the nine employees have downed tools and will not return to work until the issue of their delayed salaries has been addressed. “We have not been paid for the past two months and this has also affected us paying into our pension fund,” said Witbooi, adding that the matter has been raised with the Governor of the Karas Region, Dawid Boois. However, it turns out that the problems that Tses faces are in general a dilemma facing all the other smaller village councils like Aroab, KÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶es, Bethanie and Berseba. On Tuesday this week, all the chief executive officers of these five village councils met with Governor Boois to voice their discontent over the current state of affairs. The matter of concern centres around the withdrawal of the Ministry of Regional, Local Government, Housing and Rural Development’s Operational Budget, which has resulted in fewer funds for ailing local authorities that depend on government subsidies for their survival. “They are facing a really difficult time and the withdrawal of the Operational Budget has been done prior to consultations with local authorities, while they know village councils only depend on municipal money for survival,” explained Boois. He further suggested that the operational budget should at least be brought back and rather gradually phased out until such time local authorities can stand on their own feet. The letters of complaint have has been forwarded to the line ministry where it will be addressed. Yesterday, residents of Keetmanshoop also demonstrated over the general unemployment situation and high living standards in the town and handed over a petition to the Karas governor. Among other issues are the strengthening of decentralisation structures to become functional, starting up the Gemstone Centre and reviving the Disability Resources Centre. Recent petrol increases, rising unemployment, the closing down of companies like that of the Karas Abattoir and Tannery and the retrenchment of workers at the Grape Company in the south have sent out worrying signals that need urgent attention. “One gets the feeling that some companies tend to exploit these difficulties (outside government’s control) to retrench without due consideration of the socio-economic implications of the individuals and communities,” stated Boois. “It is very worrying,” said Boois, adding that something has to be done by the ministry to reconsider the Operational Budget as many village councils are feeling the pinch. “This situation is hurting the economy of the region and the country,” he said. Both Tses and Berseba don’t have town land to sell or hire out for profit, unlike those like Aroab, Bethanie and KoÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚«s. Sentiments were expressed that government authorities should look into these problems and chart the way forward.