By Chrispin Inambao WINDHOEK Gangs of well-organised thieves operating mostly during the nocturnal hours have caused Telecom Namibia to incur huge financial losses due to lost business and having to replace the copper wire plundered in the seemingly lucrative trade. Telecom Namibia forked out N$1,3 million to replace plundered copper lines and to restore services in the short period from last October to January this year. And the area where this sort of crime is most prevalent is Windhoek, where 150 customers suffered. The company was compelled to spend N$315 250 to restore services in Windhoek, while in the North-East up to 453 people had their telephone lines disrupted costing Telecom an amount of N$517 983 to do repairs from October 2006 to January 2007. Yesterday the Minister of Works, Transport and Communication, Joel Kaapanda, complained bitterly about the thefts, saying they are paralysing the national telecommunications services and hindering government’s commitment to render world-class communications as encapsulated in Vision 2030. He said despite the billions of dollars invested by Telecom to build and to modernize Namibia’s core telecommunications infrastructure, he was heart-broken that “the state-of-the-art backbone infrastructure is being sabotaged by criminal elements”. “I have been presented with statistics of cases where thieves plunder copper wire from the national network, mainly along the national roads, and sell it to unscrupulous dealers within our country for export to markets outside the country,” stated the minister. “This is, to say the least, scandalous of Namibians who are so criminal-minded,” he said. Kaapanda warned that he would take to task unscrupulous dealers who perpetuate what he termed “this hideous crime” of buying stolen copper wire, and that “no mercy should be shown to such dealers” who collaborate with thieves committing economic sabotage. Kaapanda said there is a pressing need to evaluate the sentences being meted out on copper thieves and a possibility exists to whether these sentences could be stiffened to deter would-be copper thieves and to make a living example of those convicted. Other measures being considered include banning or imposing a blanket moratorium on the sale or buying of copper wire while other stringent measures are being formulated. In its briefing of the minister, Telecom Namibia said the upsurge in copper thievery is due to unprecedented record copper prices on the world market. “I wish to warn criminal elements in our society (both) thieves and dealers alike that government considers this type of theft as touching on the economic well-being of Namibia, thus (in) a crime as serious as economic sabotage the culprits shall be dealt with severely,” he warned criminals and their partners in crime. The theft of copper cables and wires occurs in places where it is not economically viable for Telecom to provide services, thus the principle of cost-recovery does not apply. And Telecom has reached a stage where it cannot afford to let this criminal activity go unchecked and it has appealed to government to come to its rescue by playing hardball. In the short-term the company has opted to go the route of wireless access systems such as CDMA and WiMAX technologies that do not require copper wire. The new CDMA service provided by Telecom is affordable and cannot be interrupted due to copper theft. The minister made an impassioned appeal to all law-abiding citizens to immediately report the criminal elements who slowly sabotage the national economy so that they could be dealt with severely by those tasked with law enforcement.
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