New Gobabis Officials Push Economic Development

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue The Gobabis Town Council recently made two key senior appointments by filling the positions of Chief Executive Officer and the combined position of Local Economic Development Officer/Public Relations Officer. The municipality appointed Ephraim Dawids as Chief Executive Officer and Festus “Fessy” Marenga as Local Economic Development Officer/Public Relations Officer. The town has been without a Chief Executive Officer since the contract of the former Chief Executive Officer expired at the end of February this year. Dawids holds a Masters Degree of Philosophy from the University of Oslo, Norway and the specialized post-graduate diplomas SNE and HED from the University of Namibia. He served Namcol in various capacities before joining Gobabis Municipality, including head of Yetu Yama Tutorial Centre, Manager of Marketing and Learner Support, as well as Acting Deputy Director, Management and Support Services. The Gobabis born and bred Dawids says his main vision is to bring about the economic emancipation of Gobabis and to put the town on the map. “I want to see the town well-developed economically, tourism grow with improved social welfare for the town’s people. In practical terms, that means more job-creation and attracting more investors,” he said. Marenga holds a Masters Degree in Rural and Land Ecology Survey, which he obtained from the International Institute for Aerospace Survey and Earth Sciences (ITC), Enschede, The Netherlands. He has held different positions in government service, but most recently worked as Omaheke Regional Head: Directorate Rural Water Supply at the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry. In an interview, the new Local Economic Development Officer gave what he thought were the reasons for the current economic slump in Gobabis. These include a lack of investors coming into the town and what he described as a negative attitude by local white businesspeople. He felt disappointed by the apparent refusal of the town’s white business community to join the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI). According to Marenga, the NCCI held a meeting in Gobabis on June 20 to establish a local branch at the town, but not a single member of the white business community attended. Gobabis at one time had its own Chamber of Commerce which died a quiet death for unknown reasons. He said there were also divisions among the whites themselves – between German and Afrikaner – which hampered progress in Gobabis. “Some back the Gobabis Show held in October, while others support the Meat Festival held in May. If the Show and the Meat Festival could merge, it would benefit the town,” he said. The town also used to have a Tourism Forum, and that also died because lodge owners and businesspeople were reluctant to contribute to the upkeep of the office – something the municipality could not do on its own. Regarding tourism, he feels there is great potential for promoting tourism in the Gobabis area, although the local industry has so far done little in this area. Gobabis, he said, also lacks adequate incentives for SMEs. “People start them, then they just die because they don’t have access to capital and finance. Council must help them with identifying sources of finance and also markets.” Council could further provide incentives by making land available to SMEs owned by previously disadvantaged Namibians on more favourable terms. The official sharply criticized the extremely conservative and cautious financial policy of Gobabis. “Council must think of borrowing externally, for example, through the Development Bank of Namibia to broaden the economic base of the town. The outlook of some council officials is too rigid. “The DBN even has special facilities for municipalities to develop serviced plots, including water, sewerage and other services. That is why Ongwediva grew so fast, because it made use of these facilities,” he said. He pointed out that selling serviced plots was not only more beneficial to residents, but also more profitable for the municipality.