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‘City leadership just wants money’

The Katutura Residents Committee says all the City of Windhoek is interested in is money, and that it is not considering residents’ economic circumstances.

This allegation was yesterday made in a petition read by committee spokesperson Shaun Gariseb, in which an appeal was made to minister of urban and rural development Erastus Uutoni to remove the City of Windhoek’s leadership, as residents have no confidence in them.

“[T]he city’s sole focus is only on monetary gain, without considering the circumstances of the residents […] They still disregard other parties and only seem to focus on continually keeping residents in debt,” Gariseb said.

The residents yesterday staged a demonstration at the ministry’s head office in Windhoek to express their unhappiness about the appointment of RedForce Debt Management to collect arrears owed to the City of Windhoek.

Gariseb said they are not asking for the complete writing off of debts, but want to create an environment suitable for both residents and the municipality.

“We are not here to say we don’t want to pay our municipal bills, we are ready to pay them. All we want is to create a conducive environment for the city and residents,” Gariseb said.

The committee gave Uutoni 72 hours to respond to the petition.

Windhoek mayor Joseph Uapingene was present at the petition handover and laughed when protestors said they did not want him at the demonstration.

RedForce chief executive Julius Nyamazana said many local authorities struggle to recover outstanding money and are consequently unable to service the needs of residents.

He said the funds are vital to the operations of local authorities and it is imperative that they are collected.

“Our collection methods are holistic and ethical and are derived from the credit control policies that govern our clients. We maintain that all our engagements with handed over debtors are always above board.”

Nyamazana described the demonstrations as unfortunate and said it was important to examine the motives of some protesters, who owe the City of Windhoek thousands and have been failing to pay their accounts for years.

“It is our considered opinion that these leaders are intentionally inciting residents to serve their own interests and detract from their responsibilities.”

Nyamazana said he saw many pensioners protesting, but the City of Windhoek does not hand pensioners over to debt collection agencies, unless they are business accounts.

He said RedForce will continue to do their job as mandated.

City of Windhoek spokesperson Lydia Amutenya in an interview with Desert Radio yesterday said: “Prior to the appointment of RedForce, client accounts were handed over to attorneys for debt collection and those accounts were handed over for legal collection […] This has placed a huge financial burden on the city and its clients.”

Amutenya said accounts handed over to RedForce were those of clients who have been in arrears for more than four months.

She said residents are given ample opportunity to pay before being handed over, including making payment arrangements.

“You still have the opportunity to come to the City of Windhoek, and we can make arrangements.”

According to the petition, the committee expects the writing off of some debt, the elimination of consumption estimates, the introduction of prepaid water and electricity meters, the termination of RedForce’s services, and a re-evaluation of the debt management policy.

“What they are doing […] it’s unfair. We are having sleepless nights while we are the ones who voted for them; we put them where they are. We are the citizens,” said Katutura resident Jackline Kasume.

Uutoni emphasised that the city’s leadership were in attendance to personally hear residents’ complaints, and said it was important that the mayor was present.

“Although the mayor is listening and the petition was handed over to me, I will communicate to them, because as per the structure of government, elected leadership have to listen to the questions and demands,” Uutoni said.

In June, Okahandja residents joined Katutura residents for a demonstration at the City of Windhoek’s offices, during which they handed over a petition to Uapingene.