City Must Come Clean

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The Windhoek City Council may have bungled, and its reputation as customer-driven and efficient is tainted by the revelation it has been overcharging customers on electricity bills. And to compound the problem, the city council has been slow to respond to this urgent matter in the most appropriate way since the issue surfaced. Its deafening silence on this important issue amounts to indifference and insensitivity. Albeit belatedly, the council issued a terse statement on Wednesday this week in which it denied any wrongdoing but provided no substantive information on the disputed charges being levied on consumers save for a rebuttal of the ECB’s version of events. The statement from the City Council says an “average increase of 10.2% was approved for the City of Windhoek electricity tariffs, however, the schedule of approved tariffs of the Electricity Control Board does not reflect the approved average 10.2% increase.” It says even though the Electricity Control Board (ECB) for the City of Windhoek approved an average of 10.2%, it only introduced an average increase on the electricity tariffs of about 8%. Meanwhile, ECB maintains the city has been overcharging its customers in contravention of the law. ECB is adamant the city has not kept to prescribed tariffs. It is believed that all residents of Windhoek with access to electricity may have been overcharged and that the money runs into a couple of millions. Apart from the disputed charges, the city now contends that ECB has no authority to regulate electricity tariffs. This latest twist has widened the differences between the two and may necessitate intervention by the courts. The ECB has vowed to pursue the matter up to the courts, and media reports have it that the board has approached Justice Minister Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana for advice. Clearly, someone is being economical with the truth here, and we would like to think that this is not a matter of miscommunication as purported by the Windhoek City Council. The charge against the city is so serious that it warrants thorough and extensive investigation because of the amount of money involved and the number of consumers. Windhoek’s ratepayers are entitled to know whether indeed they were overcharged. They have the right to know how they would be compensated for their lost income and what council would do to avoid a similar predicament. By maintaining a wall of silence around the charge for so long, the City Council has risked its reputation as a credible and transparent institution that has the welfare of its citizens at heart. Needless to say, these are tough times for the residents of the city who need every cent earned in their pockets to make ends meet. Taking away anything from them adds to their economic misery. If it is payback time for the city it should do so without any hesitation.