Insurance Giant Brings Hope to Town

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By Hoandi !Gaeb MARIENTAL Old Mutual Namibia has reaffirmed its commitment to help alleviate the plight of Mariental and its residents by constructing a multi-million-dollar complex at the town, but has warned that potential investors may be discouraged by the uncertainty over the future of the town. Old Mutual’s Managing. Director for Africa Operations, Johannes !Gawaxab, told New Era that although Mariental has excellent investment potential, which could make the town a breadbasket for the Hardap Region and the country at large, the current impasse on the future of the town is worrisome. “Old Mutual, like any other potential investor, wants to know what is currently being done with regard to the possible future flooding of the town and what government is doing to remedy the situation,” he said, “The fact that no clear direction for the future of the town is evident at the moment and all stakeholders are seemingly indecisive, is a source of grave concern,” the MD said. Meanwhile, Old Mutual’s General Manager for Properties, Lynethe Mosimane, confirmed that her company has enlisted the services of Stauch and Partners Architects to carry out a site inspection and to make proposals in respect of other related technical issues for the construction of the envisaged multi-million-dollar shopping and office complex. She said the enlisted architect company would probably complete its job within the next two weeks before the ball officially starts rolling. Mosimane said since the South African retail giant, Shoprite, has already opened its doors in a separate complex at Mariental, her company has started negotiations with other large retail outlets in order to acquire an anchor tenant for the Old Mutual Complex at the town. “We initially thought of having Shoprite on board as our anchor tenant, but now we are looking at some other major shops to be part of our complex,” she said. Mariental Chief Executive Officer, Paul Ngwililepo, confirmed that Old Mutual has now been granted the first option on land adjacent to the municipality. The land is well situated and suitable for the development of a complex of that nature, especially as it is not situated in the flood-prone area. Shortly after the February flood, Old Mutual announced that it would set up a complex in the eastern part of the town in an effort to help relocate some businesses and offices to the area that is normally not affected by floods. Mariental residents are extremely optimistic over Old Mutual’s venture. “Some people lost hope in the town and this move of the insurance giant gives hope to the hopeless,” Ngwililepo said earlier in an interview. “It will certainly bring economic development to Mariental and create much needed job opportunities,” he said. However, speculation is rife that Mariental may turn into a ghost town if nothing drastic is done as businesspeople are reluctant to continue with their activities at the town due to the lack of insurance cover for flood-related damages. New Era however has it on good authority that the government, commercial banks and the Namibia Insurance Association (NIA) are in constant consultations to look at ways and means to bring short-term insurance for flood-related damage back to the town. The NIA earlier announced that it has taken a collective decision to exclude any future losses resulting from flooding of properties situated downstream of the Hardap Dam and the lower Fish River with effect from the first of this month (October). The decision was taken in view of the massive losses of more than N$100 million suffered after the February 2006 flood. The NIA said at that time that the flooding of Mariental has been a contentious issue for years. This year alone, there have been four separate floods in the area, costing the industry three times more than previous claims, it said. The association said increased catastrophes worldwide (including Namibia) are pushing up insurance premiums and this in turn affects insurance prices, making it more expensive for many clients not affected by a specific catastrophe. In addition, re-insurers are reluctant to provide cover on recurring events such as the Mariental floods, the association said. However, the government has now engaged all stakeholders to come up with remedial action, and established the Mariental Flood Task Force to work out modalities for the prevention of future flooding of the town. New Era has been reliably informed that government will soon announce remedial plans for the insurance problem at the town. It is believed that government is looking into the possibility of taking over some of the risks incurred by insurance companies due to flooding at Mariental.