Regional Councils Sit Waiting

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Six years since decentralisation became law, line ministries have not yet transferred their main functions to regional councils, making it difficult for the sub-national governments to plan and implement their sector policies, programmes and projects. This situation has also prevented them from becoming credible development partners, said Special Adviser to the Minister of Regional, Local Government, Housing and Rural Development, Bishop Hendrik Fredericks, on Tuesday. Fredericks was speaking on behalf of Minister John Pandeni at the start of a seminar on strengthening cooperation between Namibian and French regional councils. He said decetralisation is supposed to achieve certain goals such as the popular participation of all citizens in the delivery of public service, making elected leaders responsive and accountable for the services to be delivered and to make people become part of efforts to improve their living conditions. By 2007, rural water supply and education are expected to be transferred to the regions while the rest may follow later. But to achieve these goals, there was need for effective transfer of critical line functions from central government to regional councils, the setting up of renewed regional planning and development systems and also the capacity of regional councils to proactively initiate and carry out innovative regional development projects. However, none of the critical line functions have been transferred by responsible line ministries, which has made the councils face “a lack of added value regarding planning and implementation of sector policies, programmes and projects”. Fredericks said the councils would enhance their contribution to regional development and get close to inhabitants, civil society and regional development partners if their capacity to formulate and implement innovative development projects was strengthened. The seminar offered an opportunity for the two governments through their regional councils to share principles and formulate expectations regarding the establishment of cooperation and business partnerships between Namibian and French regional councils. Direct bilateral benefits of such a cooperation, according to French Ambassador to Namibia Philippe BossiÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¨re, includes sharing experiences and good practices, formulating and implementing innovative development programmes, and developing business partnerships. Regional councils in France, said the ambassador, have developed expertise under compulsory transferred functions which include vocational training and professional internships, secondary education, small and medium enterprise creation and development, research, innovation and higher education, transport, housing, sustainable development, information technology, culture and sport. Considering the development challenges in Namibia and the expertise built in France, BossiÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¨re said: “There is no doubt that Namibia and French regional councils have a lot to gain in getting closer to each other.” Omaheke Regional Governor Laura McLeod, who is also the president of the Association of Regional Councils, led a delegation of representatives of regional councils to France this year to study the decentralization and regional development in that country, whose impact she said would benefit communities. Although there are challenges, McLeod said, regional councils should be in a position to use its funds effectively to reduce poverty, create employment, fight HIV/AIDS and improve the living standards of the people. “Thousands of unemployed citizens, underprivileged and vulnerable sections in our regions demand deliverables, they want to see things that will be a good opportunity to set up a framework and engage our French counterparts,” she added. The partnership will, among others, help Namibian councils to select suitable projects for consideration because locally initiated projects are perceived to meet the local needs and are more sustainable.