By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK Regional conferences hosted by the Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development have identified several challenges which if not tackled promptly could delay the formulation of a White Paper on Rural Development. The Director of Decentralization Co-ordination in the Ministry, Regina Ndopu-Lubinda, in an interview with New Era yesterday confirmed the conclusion of conferences in 12 regions across the country, except for the Khomas Region that will host its conference this month. The regional conferences, which she described as a success, identified certain issues, which if not solved immediately might have a negative effect on implementation of much-anticipated development plans. According to Ndopu-Lubinda, in most regions participants expressed concern over a lack of information-sharing and feedback between regional development coordinating committees and community members. Some community members lamented the fact that they were not sure if the Ministry already knew about the issues they raised at the provided platform and earmarked as projects for rural development. Information sharing is regarded as crucial at this level, she said. At an advanced level, there was a call for coordination between councils and the sectoral ministries to ensure that programmes suit the different regional set-ups. Other areas deemed critical involve capacity gaps that exist across regions as they strive to fulfill their developmental goals. It was agreed that before implementation takes place, other aspects such as skills transfer be considered. Ndopu-Lubinda explained, “For example if we want to intensify activities that deal with aquaculture in that particular area, this should be accompanied by skills development for community members.” Participants want small and medium enterprises (SMEs), conservancies and the strengthening of livestock and agriculture sectors as some of the activities to be engaged in. Participants also deliberated on ways to facilitate the implementation of rural development programmes with various stakeholders such as line ministries and regional councils. Local authorities emphasised that the Ministry and relevant stakeholders in this undertaking monitor the projects and ensure that they (the projects) are linked to the plans outlined in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) document. Further, the definition of the concept of rural development has become controversial. Currently, there is no definition that clearly shows the demarcation of areas that fall into the category that could be described as deserving in terms of “rural” development. Lubinda said the White Paper which is likely to be ready by 2008 will give a clear definition of rural development as at present people consciously assume what rural development is. Participants made proposals that rural development should cover all settlement areas run by the councils, including villages – these should fall under the tem rural. On the other hand, some participants felt that the definition should consider looking at issues such as infrastructure and the type of setting of a particular place to determine whether it qualifies as such. Regions are expected to submit their reports next week, indicating key issues and the constraints faced in their particular places. This would include aligning poverty participatory assessments earlier done to ensure that all pressing issues are covered. “We need to assess and refine these documents and where necessary, send them back to the regions to fill in the gaps to enable us to prepare for the national rural development conference,” she said. The national conference is likely to take place in November 2006. The regional conferences started about two months ago where issues related to the development programme were discussed and ideas shared on how best the ministry can incorporate and promote the new task of rural growth. Previously, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Erastus Negonga, said rural development is central to the eradication of poverty, ignorance and disease. Given that, the Ministry has been busy restructuring its operations to provide a relevant structure for its programme. The programme, he added, is about an efficient service delivery of quality education, health, rural roads, potable water, reasonable infrastructure and decent rural housing. The effective implementation of this programme, the permanent secretary added, is based on the premise of a sound people and private and public partnership. In this effort, regional councils will coordinate, facilitate and promote rural development strategies to their logical conclusion. Since the inauguration of the new government last year, the Ministry of Local Government, Housing and Rural Development had ‘rural development’ added to its initial portfolio. Regional conferences on rural development are aimed at bringing together all stakeholders to render workable strategies compatible with specific regional realities, values, norms, demands and opportunities.