Outgoing City of Windhoek CEO Robert Kahimise (RK) this week spoke to New Era journalist Kuzeeko Tjitemisa (KT) on his highlights and challenges during his tenure at the country’s biggest municipality.
KT: You have been at the helm of the City of Windhoek since February 2017, what are some of highlights and challenges of your tenure?
RK: In the quest for excellence, the City of Windhoek successfully adopted a responsive five-year strategy (Transformational Strategic Plan 2017-22). This plan is aligned to the state’s ambitions – Vision 2030, Agenda 2063, National Development Plans, the Harambee Prosperity Plan; ambitions which include effective service delivery as well as inclusive, sustainable and equitable economic growth with the intended end goal of bringing prosperity to Windhoek residents.
As a city we are committed to ensuring that our vision of transforming Windhoek into a smart and caring city by 2022 is realised. A smart city restores its ability to govern itself more effectively, focusing on ensuring financial sustainability, affordability, technological advancement, cleanliness, greenness, vibrancy, and innovation. At the heart of a smart city is a more resident-centric approach to services.
Since joining, I embraced the city’s challenges and remained committed to finding ways to minimise them in collaboration with the council and staff. However, there does exist a smaller system within the bigger system at the city.
The city’s financial standing (debt book, funding for strategic projects, obtaining future clean audits, cash flow) remained the biggest challenge, however the opportunities within this specific challenge were endless: the continuous balance between service delivery within available financial parameters.
That said, the full IPSAS implementation allowing the city to provide better financial statements, Lending Loan Trade-offs vs. Government Land Allocations, Solar & Waste-to-Energy Plants are all projects aimed at turning around the city’s financial standing by unlocking revenue-generating potential.
By end of June 2018 debts were written off to the tune of N$191 million, inclusive pensioner debts in attempts to minimise the debt book; continuous efforts were made to improve debt collection with the appointment of a debt collector by the council.
The need however still exists for the city to develop a Financial Sustainable Model (5-10 years) as an aid to turn around the city’s current financial state, processes, practices, given the current financial situation. The asset register of the city has been updated and can now indicate the asset base of the organisation.
Enhanced and continuous engagements prevailed throughout my tenure. Quarterly performance reports added assurance that performance is being monitored in a more structured and consistent manner.
The council advisory committees on strategic issues were also another way in which relationships have improved in terms of two-way communication, joint problem-solving and council support at political forums where applicable. A formalised stakeholder engagement plan targeting key stakeholders with clear outcomes. Previous engagements were disjointed, with no clear/measurable outcomes or deliverables. Now the city has mapped who the key stakeholders are. We have prioritised specific issues and plotted what our desired outcomes are within certain timeframes and everyone knows what is being discussed when and who is required to participate and/or provide inputs.
In adherence to sound corporate governance best practices the city now has developed an enterprise risk register, internal audit charter, methodology and procedural manual, and a combined assurance guideline and structure. The Audit and Risks Committee was established. The Conflict of Interest Policy and Anti-Money Laundering Policy was approved by council.
Revenue enhancement and protection efforts remained throughout to safeguard the revenue and unlock new sources of revenue.
Dedicated focus was on service delivery within the informal areas with the establishment of the Human Settlement Division as well as a division on land delivery. This has led to the approval of the new affordable housing concept – with the intention to build houses below N$100 000, especially in informal settlement areas.
The Centralised Customer Centre is well on its way and will be fully functional by the end of the strategic period with the necessary processes, procedures, systems, provided the momentum is sustained with performance management implementation up to specific bands, [and] full implementation throughout the organisation as from the financial year 2020/21. Two annual council performance reports have been produced and the third year’s is now to be developed. The corporate and departmental scorecards are functional and have been monitored through quarterly reports.
Unfortunately, a clean audit status was not yet achieved, something which I would have liked to see during the strategic period, but it is not far-fetched and unachievable within the remaining two years of the strategic plan.
KT: When you took over you vowed to clean up the city’s toxic culture of self-enrichment, especially in relation to crooked land deals and other alleged practices of corruption; how have you fared on that front since taking office?
RK: Upon my assumption of duty, the city embarked upon an organisational cultural survey to diagnose the culture of the organisation. This has rendered an opportunity for potential respondents to air opinions pertaining to the prevailing culture within the organisation. It highlighted the entropy levels as well as potential limiting factors impacting service delivery. To this end, various stakeholders provided inputs into the crafting of the organization-wide culture intervention plan proposing interventions to address areas of concern and maximise areas where there are pockets of excellence.
Council approved the plan and departmental cultural plans are now incorporated as part of performance agreements of the CEO as well as departmental heads. Proposed interventions ranged from enhanced consequence management to develop/review identified policies, processes and procedures. The next survey is due in 2021/2022 to assess the full impact of the proposed interventions. I remain confident the foundation was laid for my successor to build on and enhance further.
KT: Do you think there are still some corrupt elements within the City of Windhoek?
RK: Corrupt practice is of concern and faced by any organization, with no exception to the City of Windhoek. The elimination thereof is vested in ethical leadership, sound internal controls/measures with appropriate and consistent consequence management.
KT: Housing and the provision of land remain a big challenge in Windhoek, especially in the city’s informal settlements, what have your office done to address some of these shortcomings?
RK: On issues related to land you can speak to our head of department of urbanisation, planning and environment, Mr Fanuel Maanda.
KT: Speaking of lack of housing and the provision of land, what seems to be the biggest stumbling block? Is it poor policy frameworks or is it lack of political will?
RK: Also speak to Maanda
KT: Your tenure as City of Windhoek CEO has been marred by infighting and political interference. Has that affected your overall performance, especially the execution of your duties?
RK: Due the nature of the organisation it is to be expected that there would be organisational dynamics – the unique setting the organisation is operating within. I must admit that at times it impacted the execution of duties, but most of the time such dynamics equally shaped the leadership capabilities of myself and those who were open and willing to learn crucial leadership lessons.
KT: The City of Windhoek recently announced your resignation, what prompted such a move?
RK: The electricity sector has always been a keen interest throughout my career, so when an opportunity presented itself, it served as the next logical step in my career aspirations and calling. However, most importantly one normally follows the path that the Almighty leads you to.
KT: What is the financial state of the City of Windhoek?
RK: The city’s finances were moving in the right direction just before Covid-19. The city could be able to meet all monthly obligations with ease and start paying off historical arrears the city has with NamPower of which the balance stood at N$268m on 31 January 2020 excluding their impact on the bank overdraft which continues to rise.
During the completed year we had paid off N$68m of the N$268m and had reduced the average monthly bank overdraft from N$350m to N$200 million.
The city’s finances were faced with historical financial challenges, which prompted me to institute best financial practices through the appointment of chartered accountants for the first time in the history of the organisation. This has resulted in proper financial planning in terms of budgeting and cash flow management.
The debtors book remains a challenge, but despite that, we contained an average 3% increase compared to an average of 6% increase in revenue until March 2020. The income disparities that exist in Windhoek coupled with the huge responsibility the city carries will remain a challenge for the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 came, and certain national and local decisions were taken which resulted in debtors increasing from N$840m in March 2020 to N$1.1bn by end of July 2020, which means the cash flow gains achieved have also been eroded.
The financial sustainability of the council is being discussed on both political and management level of the council, and it is gradually being rolled out to all levels to ensure that everyone is on the same wavelength. I am leaving the council’s finances heading in the right direction and in appropriate hands.
KT: What legacy do you leave behind?
RK: The critical role of local government in transforming the landscape of government in its totality through service delivery. Most of my attention focused on sound strategy, steering implementation through policies, processes, unlocking sources of revenue whilst embracing a customer-centric approach and commitment to service delivery.