Putting the Otavi ‘toilet’ deal into perspective

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Otavi Town Council has noted with concern the recent spate of negative media reports and individual opinion pieces against the so-called toilet deal in the town.

The reports and opinion pieces contain various incorrect facts purported to discredit the Town Council leadership, as well as derail planned developmental projects, for reasons known only to the authors.

The reports further carried unsubstantiated claims of self-enrichment and alleged kickbacks promised to the leadership of Otavi Town Council. Such claims are a figment of the imagination of the authors and must be dismissed with the contempt it deserves.

For the record, the current leadership of Otavi Town Council is proud of its sterling achievements over the past few years and we would like to highlight some of these, as follows:

As you all know, Otavi was downgraded to a village council, but was upgraded to a town council due to the relentless efforts of the current leadership to bring development to Otavi. In fact, when the current leadership took over, Otavi Town Council had a bank overdraft of N$196 000 by July 2010, which presented serious cashflow and liquidity challenges that sometimes resulted in late payment to service providers and even delayed payment of staff salaries.
I am proud to announce that under my leadership Otavi Town Council has increased its cashflow position by a record 1191%, resulting in a positive bank balance of N$2 million as at June 2014. We are now able to pay all our operational expenses to service providers, as well as staff salaries on time.

The financial reserves increased from a mere N$350 000, which was bonded with one of the commercial banks as a guarantee (security) to over N$1.5 million to date. In addition, the assets increased by 329% over the past five years, from N$22 million to N$98 million.

Our audited financial reports are now also available on the website of the Auditor-General, should you need to do quick research. Otavi Town Council has been able to plan for roughly 6 500 plots over the past five years and this includes the over 2 000 serviced plots with capital funding from central government, and under private-public partnership concepts.

Let me now turn to the issue of the alleged overpriced pit latrine toilets. From the onset, it must be stated that Otavi Town Council never contracted any company or individual to install pit latrines.

Pit latrines, or a pit-toilet, is a type of toilet that collects human faeces in a hole in the ground. They use either no water, or one to three litres per flush, with pour-flush pit latrines. On the other hand, the bubbler sanitation system, which is being confused with pit latrines – understandably so because of lack of exposure and misinformation – is a unique world-class waterborne wastewater and sewage treatment system that turns a septic tank into a water-efficiency system.

The bubbler system comprises of a tank, which includes an inlet for effluent and a submersible aeration unit in the tank that aerates the effluent to promote biodegrading thereof, as well as a filtration unit. In other words, it is a sanitation water-recycling system.

At this juncture, it is perhaps befitting to compare and contrast the cost implications of building conventional toilets versus the cost of the bubbler sanitation system. It goes without saying that any conventional toilet system would require the installation of bulk services, including a bulk sewer in order for the convention toilets to be connected to the bulk sewer system.

The reception area is designed to accommodate about 300 households, where over 1 000 residents are living. The preliminary estimated bulk services for this area would, therefore, be as follows:
Sewerage: N$15 million, including pump stations; water services: N$5.5 million; road and street lights: N$7 million; other provisions: N$3 million.

The estimated total cost for servicing the reception area would amount to approximately N$35 million. It is clear from the above that servicing the reception area to install conventional sewerage system would cost over N$20 million, which excludes the cost of construction of toilets and related accessories.

It is common knowledge that servicing land is a costly exercise. Otavi Town Council recently completed this exercise by servicing Extension 4, through a PPP (public-private partnership) arrangement with Hangala Group, which cost around N$70 million.

Extension 5 in Khoaeb amounted to roughly N$27 million, excluding electricity, bitumen surfacing and street curbing and etc.

As a town council with a vision to turn Otavi into a city, Otavi Town Council continues to investigate various innovative ways to deliver cost-efficient services to the residents of our town.

In August Otavi Town Council managed to successfully relocate about 300 households that were previously living at the now demolished single quarter housing units, to the new reception area.

The area, where more than 1 000 residents are living, does not have sewer facilities and residents of the reception area are forced to make use of the nearby bushes to relieve themselves when nature calls. This is not only unhygienic, but poses security risks to residents, especially women and children at night. It further risks the contamination of underground water, as well as the outbreak of waterborne diseases, such cholera. The cost of the bubbler sanitation system to cover 300 household units is just over N$12 million and the project can be completed within six months.

This means that residents of the reception area would have access to decent sanitation services within a maximum period of six months, at a fraction of the cost.

It is against this background that Otavi Town Council approached GrowthPoint Capital, a majority Namibian-owned company with minority shareholding by South Africans, to pilot the state-of-the-art bubbler sanitation system. It must be noted that the bubbler sanitation system is not a pit latrine.

The bubbler sewerage system uses naturally occurring micro-organisms, which are added as a biological additive to facilitate the digestion. In the filtration unit, the pathogens and remaining solids are removed, which results in landfill water that is suitable for re-use in the toilet tanks. The bubbler system does not require serviced infrastructure, like bulk sewer, as it can be installed on its own with conventional or solar electricity to ensure that it functions independently.

Other benefits of the bubbler include massive savings for the local authority on the sewerage maintenance and honey-sucking, saving on fuel costs, as well as the fast delivery of dignified and modern sanitation to the residents.
Otavi Town Council is proud to have piloted the bubbler sanitation system as a first for Namibia, although the technology is widely used in countries, such as India, Sweden and South Africa on a larger scale.

I trust that the above explanation puts the issue of the so-called toilet system into perspective.
Otavi Town Council would like to reiterate that it is driven by its vision to turn the town into city, hence we welcome innovation and out-of-the-box thinking in delivering cost-effective services to our residents. We are firm in this resolve and will not tire, nor falter, and we certainly will not fail in providing decent and cost-efficient services to our residents.

* Moses Matyayi is the CEO of Otavi Town Council.

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