Pertinent Questions Put to Re-elected Mayor by New Era

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The City of Windhoek is ever-growing and the demands for municipal service delivery are a perpetual challenge. New Era speaks to the City’s mayor, Matheus Shikongo, about these challenges. By Catherine Sasman Q. What does your re-election to the mayoral post mean to you personally, and what does it mean for the City of Windhoek? A. For me, it is an honour to have been re-elected. For the City of Windhoek, it was needed for continuity and it inherently brings about a sense of stability. It also allows for the office bearers to continue with the work we have started. The Municipal Act No.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 23 of 1992 stipulates that the term of office for councillors is five years, but here the position of mayor and deputy mayor is limited to 12 months. I do not think that that is really working. In South Africa, for example, the annual re-election of the mayoral position has been done away with. It is only practised in Namibia, Swaziland and Lesotho, which still base their practices on the British system. While it may work for Britain as a developed country, it does not really work for us. We are developing countries and we are still learning. But what can you learn within a year? But the City of Windhoek council has been very conservative in our approach, and that is why we have decided to keep certain positions for a longer term. The Municipal Act is currently under review, and some of these issues will be addressed. There will be a new approach. I understand that there will be the introduction of an executive mayor to be appointed on a fulltime five-year basis, and the chief executive office of the municipality will be changed into a city manager. These changes are likely to be introduced after the May 2009 national elections. Q. You have been the mayor of the City of Windhoek for the past eight years and a city councillor since 1992. How much has changed in that time, and what are the major challenges? A. At independence, the city’s population was 120ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000. The current unofficial figure is 400ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000. That means a lot, and is rather alarming. This creates a very serious concern to the City Council. At the end of the day, everybody looks at us for answers. The question facing us now is whether the economy has grown proportionally, and whether infrastructure and service delivery have grown accordingly. All the people living in the city need water, electricity, housing, and sanitation. They also need safety, and hence the establishment of the City Police. But do we have the capacity to ensure that Windhoek can accommodate its people, including tourists? Do we have the capacity to attract investors to come here and create jobs for our people? Considering all these challenges, the roles of the central government, regional council and local authority should be clear. Or is it a matter that is only the responsibility of the municipality? Currently I think everything is left to the local authority. But what can we do on our own? I think we are standing at a crossroad. I think the entire government structures should wake up – from central government to local level – and pool our resources because the burden on the ratepayers has reached its limit; we cannot push the ratepayers any further. We are saying that all tiers of government should share the national budget. We cannot survive without that. Without that, local authorities will be killed. Inasmuch as the central government repeatedly bails out Air Namibia, TransNamib and other parastatals, it should consider bailing out local authorities. By its very nature, local authorities and central government form the same system. A car cannot run without its wheels. Local governments all over the world are the wheels of any given government. It is therefore high time that our government starts to realize that local authorities need assistance. It must infuse a lot of money into local governance. For example, 37 percent of the national budget of the UK goes to local government. This is the same in South Africa. It is a mistake to argue that the municipalities of Windhoek, Walvis Bay and Swakopmund are rich. This is just not true. In the olden days it might have been the case, but it is certainly not the case since independence. Today, people are free to move and settle where they want to, and this places enormous pressure on Windhoek because everyone is moving to where the bright lights are. And yet, we get no support from central government. Departments that have formerly been subsidized by central government, such as the fire brigade, are no longer subsidized. I am not criticizing the government, but merely reiterating what I always say to the Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development. I am advocating that we should stand up and address this phenomenon of rapid urbanization as a whole. Q. What is the City’s financial position? A. The City is not in the red. But having said that, the City is owed N$200 million by the government and its ratepayers. Unless this situation changes, the City will not be able to provide much-needed services. We will not be able to create new infrastructure, maintain our roads, or sustain the City Police. We need a culture change to ensure our cash flow. We are facing ever-changing needs and everything is becoming expensive. So we need to be ever vigilant and pull together. Unless we focus on what we have to do, I doubt if we will achieve what we have set out to do in Vision 2030. Q. The City has embarked on an SMS campaign requesting residents to pay their water and electricity accounts. What is the non-payment ratio, and what is the City doing to improve the situation? A. People need to be educated; we need a paradigm shift. In the olden days people would ask, ‘Why should I pay for water and electricity?’ But people must understand that they need to take care of our infrastructure. Currently between 40 percent and 50 percent of the ratepayers are paying for their services. This is a big concern. We hope this campaign will sensitise people, and we hope they will positively respond to the call. Q. Does this mean that between 50 percent and 60 percent of Windhoek’s residents are not paying for their water and electricity then? A. People do not pay for these services either because they don’t want to, or because they do not have the money for it because they are unemployed. Many people in informal settlements are living in despair. Problems such as these should not be left to the City to deal with. These should be tackled collectively; we need a team approach from the entire government. Q. Is anyone in central government listening to your pleas? A. There is complete silence. We have approached the relevant ministry, as well as the Ministry of Finance, the Offices of the President and the Prime Minister, as well as the National Planning Commission. And we will continue to do so. The sooner the government addresses this issue, the better. We should not pretend as if there is not a growing problem. That is very dangerous. Q. The City is in the process of establishing a city court. What does this entail? A. The City Police was created with the aim of maintaining law and order, complementing the national police. Since the creation of the City Police, the pressure on the national police has halved. In the same vein, we are thinking of establishing a city court to deal with petty crimes such as unpaid parking fees, the registration of car licences, and so on. It can be a very lucrative venture for the City and we want to tap into it very vigorously. The Chief Justice has embraced this idea, and we are currently finalizing the modalities of such a city court. Q. What is the impact of the decentralization policy on the City? A. Local governments must be strengthened with sufficient human and financial resources. And the lopsided economic development must be vigorously addressed. The rural economies must grow to stem the flow into the City and other bigger towns. But we need to ask ourselves if we are seriously accelerating decentralization; are we really doing justice to this policy? If not, I foresee a very serious problem. If not, people will continue flooding into Windhoek and other bigger centres. Q. How is the City coping with its land scarcity? A. One of the worrying factors is land scarcity inasmuch as we do not have water. The surrounding mountainous landscape makes it difficult to expand. Perhaps it is time for us to consider expanding the City’s boundaries. Some of the City’s commonage farms are rented out to tenants on long-term contracts of up to 30 years. We thus cannot force these people off these properties. But we think that strategic development in Okahandja and Rehoboth will alleviate the pressure on Windhoek. The government should perhaps also consider commuter trains between Windhoek and these two towns. TheCity’s growth must be linked to the growth of Okahandja and Rehoboth.