Riverbed deal sucks in deputy mayor

July 31, 2015, 7:29am

Riverbed deal sucks in deputy mayor

By Shinovene Immanuel

WINDHOEK deputy mayor Mwadhina Veico chaired a council meeting where the company that employs her daughter presented a project proposal that seeks to turn riverbeds into recreational facilities.
Not only is Veico's daughter Ponofi employed by Barnard Mutua Architects but she also attended the meeting her mother chaired in April to discuss the multi-million dollar project.
The project was set to get the green light during last night's city council meeting. 
Although Ponofi declined to comment yesterday, and Veico was unavailable, architect and businessman Leon Barnard confirmed to The Namibian that Ponofi was employed by his company.
“It is also true that the deputy mayor Veico, who is her mother, presided over a presentation that the Riverwalk Initiative made to the city council,” he said.
Ponofi has been working at the architect firm as an interior designer for about 10 years.
Barnard is partnering the municipality in the project that seeks to create walkways, jogging trails, and kiosks for about 20km from Avis Dam, through Klein Windhoek to Goreangab Dam. The plan also seeks to make the riverbeds safer for communities. 
Riverwalk Initiative was registered in 2011 as community-based organisation for the sake of implementing the project. In 2013, the organisation was recognised as the major partner although there were several issues to be ironed out before the project was approved.
This year, Barnard returned to council to present a detailed report and one of the meetings where he made the presentation was chaired by Veico.
THE PROJECT BENEFITS
“The Riverwalk Initiative is a non-profit association. Barnard Mutua Architects is an architectural practice and is but one of the members of the Riverwalk Initiative. The members would ensure that no one party would benefit unduly from the project should such a situation arise,” he added.
Even though Barnard said there will not be profits for him, The Namibian understands money is set to be made by placing adverts along the walking routes. Options are also being weighed on whether to create a company that will administer the project.
Council said branding opportunities can attract sponsorships while walking routes can accommodate adverts. Government and private contributions are also other funding options.
The project is being hailed as unique and will chase away well-connected people from scrambling for land close to the rivers, while Barnard said it will add value to about 3 000 households along the proposed route. 
“It will benefit tourism by providing a safe, non-motorised way to move through the city in a park-like environment,” Barnard said, adding that the project will be implemented in five and 10-year phases. 
“Initial estimates indicate costs in the order of N$150 million phased over this period,” he said. 
The municipality said the project has the potential of reducing crime. 
“By getting the public to populate and use the riverbed walk, crime will be significantly reduced,” said the city managers.
CONCERNS
The council admitted that there are many aspects of the deal that need to be negotiated such as environmental, legal, town planning and concerns of residents. 
One of the problems is the ownership of the Klein Windhoek river which is still not legally owned by the city due to a historical error.
“The Klein Windhoek river had not been transferred with the rest of the land from the German colonial government to the municipality and since then, the city has been the custodian of the area but not the official owner,” he said. 
A council document said that the city's legal department is resolving the matter.
Another concern raised is that the project should not interfere with stormwater drainage and council has warned against the use of heavy machinery.
The municipality has allegedly been dragging its feet over providing funding for the project even though the funds were budgeted for in the last financial year. The project has been struggling to source funding.
Sources said Barnard was disappointed on how the municipality has been dragging its feet on his application for many years, with speculation that some executives have other ideas to cash in on the project.
The municipality said Barnard's project will be a pilot project and can be replicated across the city and country later. 
The Polytechnic of Namibia has joined the project and council invited other tertiary institutions to join the initiative also.
The municipality said there is a need to create a “proper” public private partnership agreement with the River walk initiative.
According to the municipality, the stakeholders looked at the set up of a river walk project in Cape Town where the initiative is governed by a non-profit Section 21 company led by a board of directors.
Among council recommendations is to continue the project once a new flood line of the city has been completed which means the project will experience further delays until the report is out.
The deputy mayor has not been far from controversy either. 
The Namibian reported in April this year that Veico had acquired 43 hectares of land in what was seen as a scramble for Rocky Crest's virgin land.

The Namibian