On the recent World Environmental Day celebrations held in Karasburg in the //Kharas Region, New Era’s Keetmanshoop-based journalist Steven Klukowski spoke to Karasburg East Constituency Councillor Dennis Coetzee on leading his people and what challenges and opportunities this comes with.
New Era (NE): Like in most parts of the country, your constituency experience high levels of unemployment and poverty. What poverty alleviation and employment creation programmes are in place to address the situation?
Dennis Coetzee (DC): Yes, unemployment is rife in the constituency and contributes to the current high poverty levels and other social ills. We do not want anybody to die of hunger and that’s why government, with the ongoing drought relief programme, assists the vulnerable. Recently, the Head of State declared the drought an emergency and we are busy distributing food to the most affected people in the constituency. With the current economic downturn, government as the biggest employer in construction halted some capital projects, which have a big impact on our people as far as employment is concerned. With other small projects, we are trying to employ locals in order for them to put food on the table. I also want to urge our regional and local procurement boards to seriously consider our local Small and Medium Enterprises if they meet all requirements when projects are to be implemented in our constituency. In so doing for the duration of the construction phase, our people will benefit and the money will be invested locally.
NE: What are some of the major capital projects that have been completed over the past year and how have they benefitted Karasburg East Constituency?
DC: Since my inception as constituency councillor, a lot of development took place - infrastructural and social wise. But let me concentrate on the last financial year. During the last financial year, two capital projects in our constituency were stopped, but as we talk, both are advertised in the local newspapers for this current financial year. Both are for basic services in Grünau for N$7 million and Ariamsvlei for N$3 million, as a result, much needed jobs will be created for locals. About other projects in the constituency, I can mention that we had built a new settlement office in Grünau, constructed 20 flush toilets for senior citizens and finished eight Build Together Programme houses. Fourteen locals from Grünau benefitted during the construction of these projects. In Satco, an early childhood development centre was built, the third one in the constituency in three years’ time and 30 locals were employed during construction.
NE: What have been some of the major challenges faced to implement these projects?
DC: Major challenges faced are money and skills development to a certain extent.
NE: What capital projects are currently underway in your constituency?
DC: As mentioned earlier, the Grünau and Ariamsvlei projects are currently advertised and contractors will be appointed soon.
NE: What major investments, if any, are we likely to see in your constituency?
DC: The manganese transport hub in Ariamsvlei will be a major boost for the economy and for the settlement. 10 vacancies were advertised locally and we expect appointments to be done very soon. We are talking about a N$40 million investment over five years and it will increase as the project grows. A truck port of about N$30 million is also on the cards for Ariamsvlei and we are at an advance stage with negotiations. On the Komsberg Grape Farm and Desert Fruit Date Farm investments, a combined value of close to N$1 billion is currently underway. With funds received from the European Union, we will construct an Early Childhood Development centre in Wortel and renovate the one in Ubib to a combined value of N$1.8 million. For Warmbad, funds for rehabilitating of streets are available and our planning division is at a stage of appointing a contractor soon.
NE: What is the status, in terms of the provision of basic needs like housing, sanitation, access to health services and clean drinking water in your constituency?
DC: Allow me to start with sanitation. Karasburg town and all settlements except Grünau are having proper sanitation, but we are busy upgrading Grünau as earlier alluded. It was reported some time back that Grünau is still having 98 bucket toilets, but it is not true at all. It was never ever the case and soon we will have decent sanitation for our people in Grünau. In the communal areas, we have constructed 77 toilets under the Harambee Prosperity Plan in 2018 and under the Rural Sanitation Programme of the Ministry of Urban and Rural Development, we constructed 20 toilets this year. Also worth to mention is that the ministry of health and the ministry of agriculture over the years also constructed toilets in the communal areas, so we are on track by getting rid of the bucket toilet system. Residents in the constituency are accessing purified water, either done by NamWater or Rural Water Supply. We must remember that Namibia is an arid country and with this current drought, underground water levels are decreasing drastically. Health services such as clinics are also available in most places and where not, mobile health workers are visiting these areas on a monthly basis. Affordable housing is really a big challenge all over the constituency and we are looking forward for the Build Together Programme to be activated again in order for our people to benefit, even in the rural areas. Companies are also welcome to start with negotiations with the Karasburg Town Council for Private Public Partnerships. We have abundant land although it is not serviced, but all these factors can be taken care of. I also call upon our seniors in leadership to give the unoccupied mass houses the necessary attention where the pricing is concerned.
NE: A severe drought is prevailing in the country, including your constituency. To what extent was the drought assistance programme being implemented for farmers in Karasburg East Constituency?
DC: Farmers in my constituency are severely affected by this drought and it is painful for me for not assisting all of them, but on the other hand, we have to take resources at our disposal into account. We were supposed to only identify the 40 most affected farmers for free fodder, but we forwarded 100 names to the Office of the Governor. Out of 100 farmers, 64 were approved and received assistance according the number of their animals. We are waiting our next consignment and the farmers are happy for what the government is doing for them. From my side, I appealed to the beneficiaries to share if possible with those who were not so lucky to get free fodder and who cannot afford to buy. Farmers who do not qualify for free fodder, but are in a position to buy, are claiming other benefits from the ministry as provided by government. On the food parcels for our people, we registered 1200 individuals in the constituency. The first round of food was distributed and we are waiting for the next round. People must just be patient as we are doing our best to shorten the waiting period.
NE: It has been said that there are many unoccupied resettlement farms with water and grazing in your constituency. What has been done to assist farmers by resettling them on these farms?
DC: Unoccupied resettlement farms are there, but not all of them have grazing or water. In most cases water infrastructure is not in place and in the consultative meetings, it was proposed to avail such farms for the drought stricken farmers. All I can say at this stage is that we are waiting on the relevant ministry to pronounce themselves on this issue. If I could make that decision, I would have already availed these farms as a short-term solution to the farmers.
NE: Residents complained that there are no recreation facilities at the Karasburg Recreational Park and that they are forced to relieve themselves in nearby bushes, which is a health risk. What is your saying on this?
DC: Recreational facilities in Karasburg are under the jurisdiction of the local authority, so it would be more relevant for them to respond on it.
NE: Another complain was that there are no streetlights at the area between the location and town in Karasburg? Does this not warrant for crimes like rape, murder and robbery to be committed there?
DC: Streetlights in some crime prone areas are a matter of concern, but once again, the local authority will be in a better position to answer. They know that I am always open for discussion, but from my side I will start conversations with them in order to find an amicable solution for this challenge.