Despite Okahandja municipality having publicly announced that it has employed a debt collector to enforce its credit policy, residents are up in arms, protesting the council never consulted them on the issue before enforcement.
In fact, the community demanded council revoke its decision to appoint RedForce debt collector until public consultation is done.
On 27 September 2022, the municipality issued a public notice informing residents about the appointment of a debt collection agent for a period of five years starting on 17 October 2022.
“RedForce shall carry out debt collection efforts in Okahandja and surrounding areas with the aim of recovering all outstanding monies owed to the municipality in respect of area accounts by both residential and business clients,” the notice reads.
Council also informed the public and residents at large that services for all handed over accounts shall be suspended during the period that the account is with RedForce, until the account is settled and or a payment arrangement is done.
At the time, Okahandja CEO Alphons Tjitombo said the high increase in non-payment of accounts saw the municipality owed in excess of about N$200 million in respect of water consumption, rates, taxes, refuse and land sales.
Hence, internal capacity for debt collection remains a challenge.
Tjitombo indicated the debt collector will start in mid-October 2022 with the aim to strengthen the collection and tracing of defaulters.
However, the Okahandja community committee this week complained that the council took a decision to enforce RedForce without community engagement on the issue.
The committee charged that residents were surprised to receive SMS notifications from RedForce reminding them to make payment arrangements with them on their municipal outstanding bills.
The committee leadership, through its chairperson, Petrus Kampaku on Tuesday sought an audience with the council to discuss the issue of RedForce.
“We only heard about RedForce on the radio and on public notices. The council didn’t consult the community and engage them to hear their views on the matter. We believe 70% of that outstanding debt should be apportioned to the municipality because they fail to get correct monthly water readings of clients and just base their billing on estimates,” Kampaku maintained.
Kampaku on Wednesday said although the committee informed all the five local authority councillors of Okahandja, only two pitched up and two administrative staff.
“This was a very important meeting because the community is not happy and everyone is affected by the economy for the council to enforce RedForce on residents. We are disappointed because the CEO and the mayor were not around for the meeting. It is only one councillor who informed us that she won’t be around but others did not inform us,” Kampaku bemoaned.
The CEO was not available for comment on Wednesday on the matter and did not respond to text messages sent to him by the time of going to press.
Nonetheless, Kampaku said the meeting took place with the present two councillors and the administrative staff members.
The Okahandja community committee demanded the municipality rescind the current contractual agreement signed with RedForce Debt Collection CC in favour of consultations with the community through consistent and regular engagements to find sustainable and mutually-beneficial solutions.
“That, without any further delay, town council to develop a comprehensive programme with timeframes for consultations with the community through regular sessions of engagements,” the committee petitioned.
They further demand an explanation of why the town council failed to consider and arrange for any public engagement with the community on the matter that holds grave consequences for their families.
Equally, the community members want to know why the council had to proceed with the implementation of RedForce contract after the CEO had assured this committee that they would stall the agreement pending engagement with the community. “Please explain why the council’s commitment to community engagement is no longer a priority for town councillors as illustrated by ignoring them on the appointment of RedForce. What exactly has necessitated the appointment of RedForce Debt Collection CC? Is the current staff not qualified enough to do the job? If RedForce possesses the necessary qualifications, is it morally correct and financially sustainable for the town council to keep both the current staff and RedForce on the municipality payroll, or between the two, who is the council prepared to let go?” Kampaku asked.
The committee also demands to know what will happen in the event that any ratepayer failed to honour required payments.