Town Acts on Unpaid Water Bills

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By Michael Liswaniso OPUWO Even though Opuwo’s water is deemed unfit for human consumption due to its high levels of calcium, magnesium and sulphate which can cause illnesses, many institutions have been without it. The reasons why several government institutions, particularly schools, have been without water for several days in a row, is not for hygienic reasons but simply because they have consistently failed to settle accrued municipal water bills. The bill accrued by government institutions alone is a hefty N$500ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 and is still increasing as more and more consumers are put on the list of defaulters at the town. The residents silently suffering without water number 260. It is now several weeks since all educational institutions of the Ministry of Education in Kunene’s capital are without water following the suspension of the service by the Opuwo Town Council on September 11, a date that has assumed new meaning for these bill-dodgers. Schools affected are Kameru Primary School, Opuwo Primary School, Putwavanga Junior Secondary School, Mureti Senior Secondary School and the Teachers’ Resource Centre which houses the office of the Regional Director of Education. “It is really terrible. Some learners are coming to school without even washing. It’s the same thing when they are having their meals. I just hope this crisis will soon be settled once and for all,” noted one schoolteacher. The crisis does not seem to have affected learners housed in the hostel, but teachers and hostel supervisors are affected. “I now fetch water from outside the town and sometimes from colleagues within the town who are willing to assist me,” added another affected teacher. “Our toilets are in a total mess. Some learners do not even mind when nature calls, they just use the same messed-up toilet even when there is no water, which is creating a very big problem and a very unhealthy condition in our hostels. Some of us are resorting to neighbours’ houses or the bush whenever there is a need,” said a school learner who resides in a school hostel and who, like the teachers, also requested anonymity. The hostel learner added: “Our normal weekend laundering has been affected. We can be seen either doing some washing at neighbours’ houses or in other cases we are being chased away.” Contacted for comment, the regional director for education in the region, Kamwi Kabajani, said his office was doing everything in its power to ensure that the situation is brought back to normal. He said that since the vital commodity was suspended, he has been negotiating with the town council to open up the service, pointing out the impact the suspension is likely to have on school learners during this time of the year when they are busy preparing for their final year examinations, but to no avail. “It is clear to me that some town councillors are just after money rather than the social obligation, because there is no way that government will not pay this money, given its payment obligation countrywide. The payment obligation has never stopped,” he stated. Asked when the situation will be resolved, Kabajani said he had already summoned a senior accountant at regional district level to analyse the hand-written invoices from the town council and to process them once they correspond. “The government remittance process and analysis is another process on its own and our town council is the only one still using hand-written invoices which can be prone to errors in most cases, hence the need for an in-depth analysis before the final processing is done,” he noted. “I just hope this whole process will be finalized soon and that we will have our water service restored.” Kabajani warned that should the processing of all the paper work take longer than expected, he will have no other choice but to close down all school hostels and send the children home until the situation is back to normal again. “The crisis is here, and I have communicated this problem to the head office through our appropriate channels, of course. I have also communicated the same message to the office of the chief medical officer so that should there be an outbreak of any disease or diarrhea, then they are informed.” “It is not my responsibility alone but our collective responsibility to uplift education in our town and the region as a whole. So if another major stakeholder is not sympathetic enough about education, then it is a dilemma,” he stressed. The acting chief executive officer (CEO) of the Opuwo Town Council, Eberhardt Kaitjindi, said his council was doing everything in its mandate to ensure a smooth operation and development at the town. “Once we receive the payments, then we will restore the service,” said the acting CEO. The Ministry, according to Kaitjindi, owes a combined N$490ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 284,76 on basic water, sewage and refuse removal, a debt that dates back to earlier this year. Some school learners that New Era spoke to said they were initially told that their water service would be restored on Monday of last week but, to their surprise, nothing has been forthcoming. “Our meals are also affected. It has been days now since we have not taken a proper meal apart from bread, without a drink sometimes,” said one learner. At present, a truck from the Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication is distributing water for cooking to the affected schools. Some teachers and principals to whom New Era spoke, seem to be highly concerned about the situation which they say is likely to negatively affect the performance of the Grades 10 and 12 learners who are expected to sit for their final year examinations next month, if the situation is prolonged. “It is indeed a concern because most of the time the learners are being sent out to go and fetch their own water instead of them studying, especially in the afternoons when they are supposed to attend to our normal periodic afternoon studies,” stressed one teacher. The crisis is said to have only hit the capital while other constituencies like Outjo, Khorixas and Kamanjab which have respective town management councils in the region, are said to be stable. Examinations are scheduled for next month, but most schools are said to be busy with oral examinations that kick-started on September 14. This is the final school trimester this year. It officially commenced on September 5 after two weeks of recess.