As part of ascertaining the developmental project undertaken by municipalities and town councils in the country Prime Focus Editor, Penda Jonas Hashoongo and Journalist, Rosalia David, sat down with Ondangwa Town Council Mayor ,Leonard Negonga, who gave insight on the challenges faced by the town council in bettering service delivery and their plans in improving housing and sanitation delivery. He also gives insight on the combating of unemployment. The following is an insertion of the two interviews.
Prime Focus: What current challenges is the town facing? Mayor: Bureaucracy within Government procedures of acquiring serviced land, cost of serviced land when made available, accelerated urbanisation, mushrooming of informal settlements and non-payment of services used by residents , aged infrastructure, the need to transform the current refuse dumping site to a modern landfill that is of economic importance to residents.
Prime Focus: Would you say that the town has done enough to contribute to the economics of the country by decreasing the poverty rate? Mayor: We are creating new trading facilities and continue to improve the current informal trading facilities. Ondangwa Tennis Club: A recreation centre with Tennis, Netball and Volleyball courts, as well as a public swimming pool. The Ondangwa Trade Convention Centre will be where our annual Trade Exhibition will be held. In the future, the building will also be used as a venue for conferences and meetings. It will host the Ondangwa SME information Centre as well as Youth Centre.
We have also developed the Ondangwa Fire Brigade and taring of the Oluno Road, full Serving of Ext 16 Ondjondjo, Ext 2 Heavy industrial 1, Ext. 8 Industrial Area and Namib Bou Housing Project - ABC and Ondjondjo Open Market.
Prime Focus: How is the Town Council planning on dealing with issues such as unemployment? Mayor: The issue of unemployment is very crucial and it has created many questions that need to be answered by all of us. These include:
1. What can be done to create more jobs good jobs with benefits for the unemployed in our town and surrounding areas?
2. What can our Government do to help small businesses which are the blood of our local economy to survive and provide jobs? 3. What does the town have to do to create a business-friendly environment and much-needed competitive workforce? I strongly believe that the answers to these questions lie in developing a far-reaching Jobs and Economic Development Strategy. Ondangwa Town Council, together with Local Economic Development Agency ( LEDA), is putting together a comprehensive Ondangwa Economic Development Strategy, a plan that will outline achievable short and long term goals for Ondangwa and the surrounding areas.
The Town Council is busy revisiting its incentive policy which adds to its attractions for development investors to set up factories and big industries as well as businesses that have the potential to employ a high number of employees.
Prime Focus: What are the current services being provided in the town that were not provided in the past five years? Mayor: Supporting the SME and informal Sectors such as; Establishing the New ABC open market with services to marketers. The setting up of the Ondangwa SME centre and tourist information centre for stakeholders. The creation of the Ondangwa Trade and industrial Exhibition; which is a platform for businesses in the area to showcase their products and services. This is an annual exhibition that takes place at the end of April.
Prime Focus: Do you think that the town has done well to improve provision of sanitation and social facilities? Mayor: Access to sanitation is compared to safe drinking water. This means that it’s linked to the right to life, human dignity and the need for an adequate standard of living. At the moment sanitation a challenge for the Ondangwa Town because the town is growing at a very high pace, especially at the informal areas where formalisation of services is not yet in place. The Town Council is placing high emphasis on the formalisation and servicing of the informal settlements.
Currently Council is busy with the settlements of Uupopo, Ondiiyala, Omashaka and Okangwena. Onguta and the other services will follow in the next financial circle. Council is also busy with the construction of sanitation facilities at the most-frequented public areas such as the open market as well as bus and taxi terminals.
Currently, no building plans are being approved for business and other places of gathering to be constructed without sanitation for its customers.
Prime Focus: What are the Town’s major future plans? Mayor: The Town Council is continuing to place emphasis on improving and developing the town’s infrastructure, while continuing to work on building Public Private
Partnerships (PPPs) with government to set up offices that will bring the services closer to the people such as the institutions of higher education, Inland Revenue (IR) offices, a district hospital, a well-equipped Veterinary Centre or District Hospital. The private sector will have to continue investing in our town to ensure that our infrastructure and services keep pace with the new developments. The Town Council is also planning to negotiate with the Ministry of Works and Transport to upgrade the Ondangwa Airport, which is currently being transformed from a Regional Airport to an International Airport.
We know we have challenges, but we also have a number of advantages to deal with those challenges. These include a supportive Government, reliable residents and a committed business community. Council is currently working hard to ensure that all the needed infrastructure and services are available in order for the Town Council to upgrade to a Municipality.
We will continue to come up with new development ideas to improve service delivery to our residents. We strongly believe in an open government, adhering to our budgets, town plans and local development at any time.
Prime Focus: There are challenges like revenue collection, which all town councils rely on, but is never sufficient. How is Ondangwa managing this problem? Mayor: Revenue-collection is never sufficient, as it only caters for basic problems, We definitely do need funding from Government, but if we want to provide good services to areas like the informal settlements, there is no way that revenue-collection can cater for that. It should, however, not only be income from revenue-collection, but it is should also be funds from Central Government. One thing we should know is that informal settlement residents indeed need proper services as well like clean water, electricity and all other services as these are the same people who vote us into power so that we can take care of them.
From the formal settlements, we get good rates and taxes’ income, so we have to provide good services to these people because they are paying. But now we take that money and subsidize the informal settlements because they also need services, which is not fair, but at the same time people from the informal settlements do need services as well. We started with former Local Government Minister Jerry Ekandjo to alert him about the situation we had previously, where local authorities were not funded by Central Government. It was like you would only be funded if you have certain projects, and there was always one needy local authority here and another there, that’s why some ended up not being funded.
We said to the Minister: where have you ever seen local authorities cut out of receiving national funding? Even major metropolitan cities across the world are being funded by Central Government. If we really want to provide good services in the formal settlements and if we also want businesses to grow and flourish in Namibia, we need funding to start right from regional to local bodies The ministry was then able to listen and said they were able to give something to the local authorities to supplement their income, and it made a huge difference because in a year, you would get between N$ 8 million to N$ 10 million. It is not enough, but it is better than nothing. With that, we are able to provide services in areas which did not exist before, like erecting pump-stations.
Prime Focus: There are other challenges like the provision of land? Mayor: I think we have slipped a bit after independence. I think we did not pay sufficient attention to housing, but we tried, like the Ministry of Regional, Local Government and Housing used to have a housing department. We also had the Build Together program, which helped. Those are very noble efforts, even if they are not sufficient.
We also had the Mass Housing program, but if we had started that a long time ago, we would have been very far by now. As a local authority, it’s in the law that we need to provide services to the people. Because of a
lack of financial resources and because we don’t have serviced land, we can’t do much because houses are built on serviced land, business are built on serviced land, industries too, So, without serviced land, there is really not much we can do on that land.
The land should be livable, we can’t just put anyone anywhere without providing the necessary services and industries which would contribute to the economy of the country. With that issue unresolved, we were not really able to attract as much investment into the town as we would have loved to. If you look at our records, we have so many documents of people who had applied for land but are put on waiting lists, and then you wonder until when will they be on waiting lists because people have indeed been waiting for years.
I have been here for about 7 years now, and some people have been on waiting lists ever since I came here. Up to now, they have not gotten any opportunity to own land, and when such a person puts up an illegal shack, we take action but we don’t understand that that person put up the shack out of desperation and frustration.
As a law-enforcer, you have to implement the law to evict this person, but in your heart it bothers you that this person might really not be that bad but is being forced by the situation. However, since you are to maintain order and regulate development, you have to make sure that that order is indeed maintained.
Prime Focus: Since you have talked about industrialization; Ondangwa is a well-located town, a gateway to Angola. Have you done enough as a town to attract sufficient industrialization so that you can cut out this rural-urban drift? Mayor: No, we have not done enough to take advantage of this situation. The location of Ondangwa is very strategic, because when you are going south or north, you have to pass Ondangwa. The location is very strategic, plus we have strategic infrastructure like the airport, which is undergoing major upgrading as we speak. The new terminal building is just about to be opened now, the runway is about to be upgraded to accommodate bigger planes, and that is what we should be taking advantage of to improve the town.
The Ondangwa - Windhoek road is the most profitable road in Namibia, while the railway station is another strategic infrastructure which we have which others do not have. Therefore, we can do business because when transporting bulk supplies, we can use the train.
Ondangwa is only reviving itself now. I can say we have actually created a more favourable business environment here right now, and we have actually won the confidence of businesses. Therefore, if you look at the applications we are getting now for businesses to be established in Ondangwa, you will be surprised because they are many and very good ones. If only we had enough land for development in this town, the sky would be the limit. Previously, Ondangwa went down, or let me say grew slowly. It used to be the northern capital of the region, but everything changed when the new decentralization policy came into effect and made the town lose its crown as a regional capital to Oshakati. That was a very big disadvantage to Ondangwa. If a town is a regional capital, the government has to invest in that regional capital and provide the infrastructure which the population needs.
Ministries have to establish offices and branches of other entities would also spring up in a regional capital. Instead of coming to Ondangwa, even the offices which were previously located in Ondangwa thus have been relocated to Oshakati, so you can imagine that you are undressing one child to dress the other and still want to compare the two like who is better than the other. It is a very unfair comparison, because the other child would of course be naked because you had undressed it.
That is what happened to Ondangwa. We are not blaming anyone, it is just the honest truth that the process of decentralization disadvantaged this town. If Ondangwa was not strong enough, it would have become a ghost town. We started learning from what happened, and we started looking on the positive side and opportunities, then we started marketing ourselves as such.
That is why you see growth almost in every part of the town. Everywhere you go, there is something pitching up. If you look at the main road and how it was 5 to 10 years ago to now, you would see a big difference. On housing, at least we were able to collaborate with private institutions and companies which service land, and then we sell the land at very affordable prices. These entities service the land at their own cost and use their own resources to build houses, which houses are bought by the public.
Thereafter, we as a council reap the benefits by charging rates and taxes as well as the service fees to the new home owners, which we wouldn’t have been able to do if we didn’t collaborate with the ones who had the financial means to do so.
We are located in an area where industrialization should take place, but we are not taking enough advantage of that. But at least the awareness is there, and we are really starting to market ourselves. We as councilors created a bad image about our town by quarrelling and running to the media, not knowing that you are not damaging the councilor, you are damaging the image of the town. The perception which was created about Ondangwa made it more difficult to attract people, and people would rather go to Ongwediva or Oshakati.
Prime Focus: What about the provision of sanitation? Mayor: We were able to provide services where they did not exist before, e.g. the pump-stations which were not there before to serve the informal settlements as well as the new sewage lines are all part of the sanitation program. We are now planning to construct public toilets for passers-by, but so far we haven’t done much. Ondangwa has a lot of informal settlements, so it takes time. With support from Central Government, we will manage to complete them. We have started formalizing some of them already. The disadvantages of the informal settlements is that they don’t have services, they are not set up in an orderly fashion and people don’t have ownership of their properties because the land still belongs to the council. All that you own there is the building, the land is not yours, so you cannot have a title deed yet. One thus cannot take any type of proof of ownership to the bank for financial assistance.
Prime Focus: What are the plans you are leaving now that have been set up for Ondangwa? Mayor: We have a five-year strategic plan. It has just been done now, and all that is left to be done is a strategic review. That, unfortunately, is the task of the incoming CEO.
Prime Focus: What have been the biggest challenges you have? Mayor: The biggest challenge has been the lack of serviced land. I wish we had the land serviced so that whenever someone applied, we would give them the land. It is very frustrating to keep putting people on waiting lists for years. Sometimes people have subsidies from their employers ready, but they can’t benefit because there is no serviced land. It is very frustrating, and that has been a major nightmare for the council so far. If only we had sufficient land, development would take place. We have the demand for land here for housing, businesses and the like as we receive applications almost on a daily basis, but we are unable to provide that land.
Prime Focus: What is the national message from the Ondangwa Town Council? Mayor: Let us support one another. We need to work together as a team. Let’s concentrate on Vision 2030. Whatever we have done so far is for anyone to make a judgement on, but we have done pretty well thus far. The street lights have been fixed. Previously, it used to be very dark and when you were coming into Ondangwa, you could not tell from all sides whether you were in this town. I do not take credit for it myself, but everyone has worked hard together as a team.