Rehoboth drowns in debt

10 April 2019 | Government

The floundering Rehoboth town council needs an urgent lifeline, as it is drowning in debt of about N$120 million owed to NamPower and NamWater while residents owe it N$150 million in outstanding rates and taxes.

The council owes NamWater N$20 million, while NamPower is owed a whopping N$99.6 million, as the town battles to keep its lights on.

Rehoboth has for decades been bent low by alleged corruption and maladministration, which prompted urban and rural development minister Peya Mushelenga to suspend the entire town council.

Mushelenga appointed Natalia

/Goagoses, who has decades of experience in the public service, to run the affairs of the beleaguered town council in the meantime.

The suspension of the town council in March last year came amid ongoing allegations of mismanagement, poor service delivery and lack of accountability, as well as the inability of the council to implement ministry directives.

/Goagoses's term at the Rehoboth council was extended at the end of March this year.

At a community meeting at the town on Monday, acting finance manager Hilda Ndongo explained that the town's residents consumed on average 5 000 cubic metres of water per day but had failed to keep up with payments.

She said buying electricity from NamPower cost the council about N$6 million a month, of which N$1.1 million went towards the servicing of its historic debt.

According to Ndongo the community's outstanding electricity payments to the council stood at N$21 million, largely because most residents use prepaid electricity meters.

She said until recently the council had an arrangement with NamPower that 70% of the electricity payment went towards prepaid services, while the remaining 30% was used to service the historic debt.

For January they paid N$12 million, in February N$5.6 million and in March N$3.5 million to NamPower.

Ndongo said it became difficult to keep the arrangement going, and NamPower threatened to cut the town's electricity.

However, the council made a last-minute arrangement which kept the lights on and the pots cooking.



Townland woes

The council also has its hands full with communal farmers who are failing to honour their lease agreements for townland.





According to Justina Shidolo, the council's lease and townland administrator, the council is owed N$6.5 million in this regard.

There are 22 camps on Rehoboth townland with 344 tenants, of whom only 250 have accounts with the council. That means the rest are illegal settlers.

“It was also discovered that 27 of the 344 with accounts are deceased and their total outstanding amount as per the November invoices was N$638 388,” she said.

“The Rehoboth town council is sorting out the issue of illegal occupants, lapsed agreements, as well as issues of subleasing and non-payment by those who have accounts.”



Roaming animals

Another headache is the animals roaming within the town boundaries, said Shidolo.

She warned livestock owners that the council would enforce a law that allows it to impound all stray animals within the town.

“These animals create an increased risk of accidents on the roads and they can even destroy residents' properties,” she said.



Ongoing woes

It was reported in March that the Rehoboth town council had failed to submit financial records for 2016/17 and 2017/18 to the auditor-general's office.

The town has long been a hotbed of protests against the council and in March last year, when the councillors were finally suspended, hope was renewed that Rehoboth could be saved.

In 2017, spiritual leaders under the banner of the Ecumenical Council of Churches (ECC) at Rehoboth staged a peaceful protest against alleged poor service delivery and corruption by the town council.

In March last year, Mushelenga stressed that the punitive measures taken against the council were not politically motivated, but were aimed at ensuring order and compliance and protecting the public.

He reminded all local authorities that the ministry would in future take swift action against any council in which discipline, order, harmony and service delivery were at stake.

JEMIMA BEUKES

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