New Era journalist Loide Jason recently engaged Windhoek mayor Job Amupanda on a number of issues, including an assessment on the performance of the governing coalition since taking over the city last year.
LJ: It has been eight months since you took over as Windhoek mayor. What has been your highlights and lowlights thus far?
JA: One of the first things we have managed to do successfully is to elevate Windhoek and its leadership from the chronicles of pedestrianism to a stage where our city and its leadership are now a national and international discussion. Now, the residents and people of Namibia take Windhoek seriously and recognise the leadership in place. We are no longer a leadership that is located in the arena of lokasie gossips and seen as responsible for solving kapana squabbles but a leadership that can provide strategic direction, inspiring hope and providing answers to questions perplexing society. I hear President Geingob was telling some of his trusted lieutenants that Windhoek leadership provides a perfect model for the 21st century leadership. Everyone, including government, takes Windhoek leadership seriously, knowing that we are serious and want to be taken seriously.
If residents and institutions do not take you seriously, they will not pay your bills because they know you won’t do anything, apart from kapana squabbles. Everyone now respects and takes the city seriously. The second thing we have done well was to provide a strategic vision for our city, particularly giving direction to our senior management in which we informed them that we seek transparency, redirecting and prioritising city’s resources to the poor and marginalised majority and rebuilding the city’s internal capacity. Our senior managers now understand that the tables have turned and they are now expected to think and reason, and not just sign letters, authorising elite benefits.
They have been responding very well. They also gained confidence to face bullies and those who have refused, for years, to give the city what is due to it. Third, we have built good relations with cities, towns and institutions in Namibia and abroad. We call these the friends of Windhoek. Over the past few months, we have already received more than N$40 million from the friends of Windhoek for our developmental partners. We have also taken several resolutions on housing, land delivery and growth of the city economy, whose fruits are about to be realised.
LJ: What are some of the interventions introduced by your administration to bring about a healthy balance between its obligation to provide vital services, like provision of water and electricity to residents?
JA: When we came in, we found the city was owed close to N$1 billion by residents. Of course, with our resolute decision to terminate services, particularly for the rich who owed us and refused to pay, has reduced this figure. It is for this reason that we were able to clear the bills at NamPower that accumulated over the past 30 years. We realised that most residents owed mainly on water. We have now introduced pre-paid water meters, which is an intervention to curb the increasing debt. What this means is that the control of water consumption will now be in the hands of residents. It is like airtime from MTC and electricity; you control your airtime and units. It will give the residents sense of purpose and leadership, and we will no longer have a situation whereby a household has a bill of N$100 000 and unable to pay. On electricity, we have decided to also build our own energy sources. We have now advertised a tender for the construction of the 25 MW solar plant. This tender, for which Namibian participation is mandatory, will help us in planning for future industrialisation activities in Windhoek, for which energy is the alpha and omega.
In line with Section 11 (5) of the Local Authority Act, we have approved the Windhoek Economic Recovery Initiative (WERI). An Expression of Interest will be in the newspapers this month as per the approved calendar. WERI will provide an opportunity for entrepreneurs and innovators to submit business ideas to the city. It will bring forth innovation towards economic growth and employment creation. This will also increase the city’s revenue over time and contribute of the country’s GDP.
LJ: The city has always been criticised for the handling of its housing and land provision. Does the city now have a clear land release strategy in place to address land-grabbing?
JA: Yes, we have a clear strategy on land delivery, and this approach is multifaceted – and it includes formalisation of our informal settlements in line with our new Development and Upgrade Policy, streamline and building a land application framework and process, the city getting involved in actual land servicing and building houses, instead of relying on entrepreneurs, etc. We have allocated more than N$50 million on projects related to land delivery, particularly for the informal settlements. We are waiting for the budget to be approved by the minister and then rollout these programmes, starting next month.
LJ: You were also vocal about city farms that are being rented for a song, while thousands continue to rent from landlords. How is the council addressing this pertinent issue?
JA: By 2041, there will be more than 800 000 inhabitants in Windhoek; we are currently less than 400 000. Evidently, the coming population will require land as the city grows and expands. It does not require sophistication for one to understand that there is no future of Windhoek in which a tiny elite will sit on these farms for their aesthetic orgasms while the masses are without land. I have asked for a detailed briefing on all these farms. Our legal office has been hard at work on this matter. My instruction to them is that this situation must be reversed, and their task is to point out the fastest way. I call on those on those farms to work with the city and not put up an unnecessary resistance because the city under our leadership is like an elephant; it moves slowly – but once it steps on you, it will be fatal with one outcome; you shall become an ancestor. In the meantime, we inform them that I am willing to listen to their proposals for an amicable solution.
LJ: What are some of the initiatives undertaken by your administration to help cushion the impact of Covid-19 on ordinary citizens, especially when it comes to the provision of water?
JA: Provision and consistent supply of water, especially to those residing in informal areas, remains one of our priorities in terms of primary strategy.
This strategy saw unprecedented drive to ensure water by way of the installation of water tanks, provision of water at zero cost and the adoption of a strategy to place on hold water disconnections at the time as all stakeholders adjusted to the Covid-19 threat. Some of the initiatives that the city has taken were the provision and approval of sites to both government as well as private sector stakeholders for Covid-19 testing and vaccination initiatives and the participation in communication drives, highlighting the importance of residents participating in Covid-19 risk management initiates.
LJ: The city council recently discussed the possible creation of a Special Purpose Vehicle to create a subsidiary company specialising in protection and security services. What will essentially happen to companies already contracted by the city to provide security services?
JA: We want to ensure that we run a credible city that is financially stable. Our books are not healthy, and the city has never received a clean audit. For this reason, we have hired two chartered accountants, the only ones in the public sector, to clean our books. We have tasked them to ensure that the city obtains an unqualified audit for the first time since independence. Part of the strategy of financial sustainability is ensuring that all unnecessary expenditure and tenders are discontinued. One such unnecessary expenditure is a tender for security services and cleaners.
How do you explain that despite having City Police, our multi-million infrastructure are guarded by untrained youth, who are only armed with a pen, Facebook (cell phone) and uniform, yet we pay more than N$20 million to these companies?
For each of these guards, we pay more than N$8 000 but the same youth only take-home is N$1 200. As mayor, my office is guarded by these youth who cannot even protect me, particularly now that we are taking on the corrupt, who have become angry, thirsty and animated. We have decided to establish a municipality-owned enterprise that will do some of these things, such as security, cleaning, construction, brickmaking, investments, etc. When we enter this area, the youth employed by these companies will not lose their jobs; they will instead be absorbed and employed by the city through its owned company. Johannesburg and our cities in our league have already gone this way. I am informed that Tsumeb has also established such a company. We have decided to extend the contracts of current tender holders until 31 December 2021 while we put everything is place.
LJ: The city wage bill is also considered astronomical. Will the creation of a new company not increase the wage bill, which could end up as a further burden on the ratepayers?
JA: This is part of the propaganda that is being pushed by the corrupt, greedy, angry and thirsty cabal that have been controlling the cookie jar of the city over the past 30 years. The mistake that people make is to compare the city’s wage bill with that of Helao Nafidi. Compare us to Johannesburg and Cape Town – and not Helao Nafidi. Most pedestrians and angry tender holders talk about the wage bill; they must point to the numbers. For example, more than 80% of the budget of the basic education budget goes to salaries. In the city under our leadership, we have ensured that in the current budget, salaries are kept under 35%. The question we must ask the propagandists is this: are employees of MTC on the salary of government just because government created MTC?
The disease in our public discourse, perhaps because even the unenlightened have freedom of speech, is that the uninformed are courageous and the informed are not courageous and are submerged by the unenlightened mob. The workers of the city’s enterprises will not be on the payroll of the city. Those peddling these lies are those who want to keep washing their faces and brushing their teeth with cooking oil provided by the city over the past 30 years.
LJ: There have been talks that all is not well as far as the governing coalition of the city council is concerned.
JA: I admit that it is not easy to lead a coalition. It has been a challenge to me – and this are not as easy. Be that as it may, the coalition partners remain committed in building a transparent city that is solving the challenges faced by the residents, particularly housing and economic growth. People do not understand that the coalition functions at two levels. The first level is that of political parties and associations, and the second level being that of the functionaries in the actual chambers of the city. I sit at both level – and this assists me in assessing the state of the coalition. Sometimes, people think when there are political differences at the level of functionaries, they take it to mean the entire coalition is affected.
A governance framework (coalition) is like a state. Just because parliament is under Honourable Katjavivi does not mean that the Judiciary and the Executive are also in tatters.
Yes, there has been pockets of disagreement but that only constitutes 10%. In fact, most of the problems we had, we successfully managed to meet and resolved those concerns. I am in touch with Dr Itula, Hon. Venaani and Hon. Kauandenge. They have been helpful in advising us. As in any coalition, there will be disagreements and agreements but there are no disagreements on principles, particularly governance and development.
LJ: Are you standing for another year as mayor in December?
JA: Politics is generally an art of the possible. The same way there are those happy with our work, there are equally those who are not happy. Some have already started saying this boy must go in December because if he stays, “Atu kalamo nayi”. I know very well that I am not wanted by the corrupt and greedy. I am focused on my term as Windhoek mayor from December 2020 and December 2021. We have agreed that these positions will be rotated, and the coalition will determine what happens not me as an individual or AR alone as an association.