Money-wasting local councils get a roasting

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Paulina Mathews gets water from one of the taps at Tsaraxa Aibes location in Otjiwarongo, which the local authority installed as part of its N$7.7 million government capital projects.

OTJIWARONGO – The Okakarara Town Council was one of the councils hauled over the coals by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs for “setting priorities wrong”. 

The council was found to have redirected N$5.3 million of taxpayers’ money meant for road upgrades into the pockets of consultants and contractors with little or no evidence of actual road construction having taken place.

The misspent N$5.3 million was part of N$10 million that government allocated to the town council for improving sewerage systems, laying pipes, building water connections and upgrading roads.

However, some town councils received a pat on the back for good management of taxpayers’ money. 

The local authorities of Gam, Tsumkwe, Grootfontein, Otavi and Otjiwarongo all impressed the members of the committee, who said their records show “money was well spent” on the implementation of the NDP budget allocations for the period between Development Budget 2013/2014 and 2015/2016. The committee was particularly satisfied with the way money injected by the Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development for capital projects was spent at Tsumkwe, Grootfontein and Otjiwarongo.

It was a week of reprimands and commendations as the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs chastised and encouraged regional and local councils in Otjozondjupa Region on their work to implement projects under the National Development Plan (NDP). 

Compounding the headaches for Okakarara was the committee members’ physical visit to the road upgrading sites. The roads were found to be dilapidated with potholes, sand build-ups and shrubs growing on parts. Construction was delayed because road specifications were wrongly done, while last year’s heavy rain caused further delays. 

In addition, the Okakarara council was found to have given priority to construction of roads and not to improving sewerage systems and water provision. 

The parliamentary committee was further peeved with the town council’s use of some of the millions meant for development to service an industrial park, instead of channelling funds into sanitation and water provision. 

Further, the town council was found to have made a request to government for an additional N$2.6 million to cover the outstanding fees claimed by contractors during work stoppage due to delays, disruptions, rain and wrong measurements of roads, breakdown of equipment and other causes apparently provided for in the contract. However, the parliamentary committee questioned why the town council did not extend the contract or use the money allocated under the contingency fund, instead of putting pressure on government to avail additional millions. 

The mayor of Okakarara Town Council, John Viakando, explained that funds were redirected to the industrial park because the park would create jobs in a town where residents are battling to pay for municipal services. He said that government could not expect Okakarara to have similar development priorities like other towns that have credit lines and where the employment rate is better than the 20 percent in Okakarara.

Viakando told the committee that N$3.4 million of the N$5.3 million was used to scrape and gravel roads, while N$1.8 million was paid to consultants. He said they complained to the line ministry about contractors’ outstanding fees of N$2.6 million, which was not paid because the council was not sure who was supposed to pay consulting fees during work stoppage. 

The council also blamed the local government ministry for not involving local authorities in the planning process from the start and just sending consultants who showed up and commanded what must be done. 

Okakarara councillors said there was something wrong between the implementing agency and the line ministry and suggested that projects of such magnitude be administered directly by government.

In Tsumkwe, where the local government ministry invested N$3 million to construct a sewerage system, the committee said money was well spent with proper toilets installed and sewerage pipes laid. At Otavi, the committee said that they were satisfied with the way N$20 million was spent on digging trenches, laying pipes, and building water connections and toilets. The committee said the community did away with the bucket system, but the challenge was also the hard rock found in the town for which they had to buy machinery. 

The town council wants to build a tarred road from the main highway to attract visitors to the town and also intends to demolish the old compound to make way for better housing.

At Otjiwarongo the committee expressed satisfaction with the way N$7.7 million was spent on capital projects for upgrading sewerage and water reticulation, servicing of new extensions and tarring roads. The town council installed 1600 water metres in the informal settlement at Tsaraxa-Aibes at the beginning of July 2013.

By Magreth Nunuhe

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