Notwithstanding external pressure to cancel its telecommunications licence with the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (Cran), the Windhoek municipality has refused to budge and will continue with its 5G aspirations.
The project seeks to commercialise its fibre optic network infrastructure to provide telecommunications services within the geographical area of the city by July 2023. The licence was granted in 2020.
The decision to march forward was taken during an ordinary council meeting held on 10 August 2022.
Certain quarters within and outside the municipality say the telecommunications sphere is beyond the city’s jurisdiction.
Meanwhile, there is an equally strong push by those who harbour the idea of transforming Windhoek into a smart city.
There are allegations that councillors and some officials were bribed to block the dream from seeing the light of day.
The telecommunications licence is said to be at the heart of a breakdown of the relationship between Independent Patriots for Change (IPC), Landless People’s Movement (LPM) and Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement councillors.
AR and LPM are said to be staunch advocates of the 5G dream, while the IPC is opposed to it.
“A council meeting was held on 10 August, and it was resolved that the project continues,” city spokesperson Harold Akwenye responded.
According to Cran, the metropolitan has been given a deadline within which to commercialise its fibre optic network.
“The application was already considered. Hence, it will not lapse. As indicated, the CoW has until 22 July 2023 to commence providing services,” Cran boss Emilia Nghikembua said.
She, however, hastened to add that Cran’s decision to award the Class Comprehensive Telecommunications Service Licence has been challenged by Paratus Telecommunications (Pty) Ltd.
Paratus filed a review application in the High Court to set the decision aside.
“The application is yet to be heard and determined by the Honourable Court. The authority is not defending the application; we have simply filed the record and pertinent information to assist the court in making a decision. We shall abide by the decision,” Nghikembua asserted.
Through the project, the city has set its sights on saving money by improving efficiency and reducing waste.
It is also the city’s objective to improve constituent services, public safety, environmental conditions and the overall quality of life for residents, businesses and visitors”, Akwenye stated.
“This project seeks to reduce crime through the use of a safety application aimed at providing smart panic button-based crime management solutions. This will ensure that the City Police are provided with accurate location information. This will introduce efficient services and crime prevention,” he added.
Moving towards becoming a smart city, “this project seeks to provide access to the internet at designated points in the city, e.g. public libraries, schools, universities, informal settlements, main routes, business districts, airports and other entry points into the city.”
Akwenye conceded that the city finds itself in a precarious financial position.
A glance at the city’s financial records shows it is sitting with a cumulative loss of N$3.2 billion in the last decade, a N$300 million wage bill, N$100 million annual employee vehicle scheme, and N$70 million losses on bus services and a lifelong post-retirement medical aid scheme.
Last year, the municipality’s losses amounted to N$480 million. This takes the total losses to N$3.2 billion.
Worse is that the city relies on a monthly N$200 million overdraft facility to remain afloat from month to month.
“This constraint has a bearing on the institution’s organisational capabilities, processes, systems, financial management and reporting, and ultimately customer satisfaction,” Akwenye observed.
Windhoek is pinning its hopes on the 5G initiative in a bid to transform its financial trajectory.
“The project will also serve as an additional revenue stream in response to the current financial situation. This project will undoubtedly contribute towards the city’s long-term financial sustainability,” he stressed.
Currently, the council relies on land sales, rates and taxes, as well as water and electricity for income to sustain itself.
On the downside, the exorbitant costs of municipal services exceed the average income levels of most households.
The city says increasing its rates is not an option amidst the ongoing economic challenges, worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It is imperative that council explores alternative revenue streams.”
While the city’s dire financial position is an open secret, unending travelling by officials and councillors has been seen as a slap in the face for its residents, who foot the bill.
Recently, AR councillor Job Amupanda flew to Jamaica on an official trip.
He was accompanied by an official after IPC councillor Ndeshihafela Larandja pulled out of the excursion on health grounds.
The trip is said to have cost the city over N$300 000. The money was used to cater for flight tickets, accommodation and subsistence allowances (S&T).
What was striking is the S&T, which alone amounted to N$93 608.
Other trips saw councillors and officials jet off to Germany, and recently, Singapore.
Akwenye defended the travelling, saying it is through those platforms that Windhoek is able to cooperate in areas such as urban planning, public safety, water and waste management systems, tourism, sports and cultural heritage, waste management, investments, trade and commerce with like-minded cities.