The Otavi Town Council has made a sudden U-turn on its decision to write off millions of dollars in municipal debts owed by senior citizens.
This, the council says, is no longer practical considering its financial position, in which it sometimes fails to meet operational obligations.
Council’s initial plan was to waive N$3.12 million owed by 216 senior citizens. According to newly appointed CEO Wodibo Haulofu, the local authority can no longer stick to that promise, arguing there was no policy in place binding to authorise and expedite the process. “It is not for the council to decide, as this can only be undertaken through a ministerial approval, of which we don’t have,” said Haulofu.
“Also, the debt has become so much that as council, we are now failing to also meet our operational expenses and settle our creditors. Therefore, everyone must just come on board, make arrangements and settle their municipal debts, so we can move forward in availing adequate services.”
The CEO added residents have not paid for water since March last year, a trend he says will come to an end, as of this month, as council will not manage to provide free services anymore.
Residents currently owe council an excess amount of N$42.32 million in rates and taxes, while the town owes NamWater over N$23 million.
“Our financial position is not good, that is why we took a deliberate decision to start disconnecting services because residents are not honouring their monthly payments,” he reiterated, emphasising that all residents are compelled to comply whether they are pensioners or any other resident.
Earlier this month, council issued a notice informing residents of its intentions to start disconnecting services due to non-payment. Residents have until 27 August to make repayment arrangements, failure to comply by the beginning of September will see council start the disconnections.
Former mayor George Garab, who was one of the champions to implement the decision to write off debts, said it is not acceptable for council to refuse implementing such a good gesture, considering Otavi is endowed with plenty of underground water.
“This is unacceptable, one day we will also be old, and would want to be assisted in the same manner. There is no argument or good reason why they cannot write it off. Among the reasons why we took such a resolution then was the fact we are receiving 1/8 of free water from Olthaver and List Group’s borehole. So why not extend a helping hand, where you are being assisted,” stressed Garab, saying he still stands by the decision to write off debts.
Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement activist John Johannes also blasted council for its sudden about-turn, saying it has already put the residents in a predicament as they thought all was sorted.
“Why not honour the decision, because these things were made as an election gimmick, now that the councillors have been voted, they are relaxed to help the very same people who helped them. They cheated and garnered votes through such promises. Therefore, it is premature and unacceptable for council just to refuse at the last minute,” fumed Johannes.
“Why victimise the residents now in an effort to milk the little they have in order to revive the cash stripped council, which was brought to its knees by corrupt officials and councillors. Before harassing residents, the town council should focus on recouping what it lost through corrupt practices, as well as bring the culprits to book.”