Gobabis municipality forges ahead with unauthorized salary increases amid financial struggles

Hertta-Maria Amutenja

Gobabis Municipality is embroiled in a heated dispute over a proposed 4 percent salary increase for its employees, despite dire financial warnings and mounting debts.

An open letter addressed to the Minister of Urban and Rural Development, Erastus Uutoni, this week by the town’s former mayor Elvire Theron and Management Committee member Isak de Beer alleges breaches of protocol, including the unauthorised negotiation and signing of salary increase agreement with Namibia Public Workers Union (NAPWU) by the municipality’s Chief Executive Officer, (CEO) Sophia Eises.

The letter highlights that the decision was made without proper authorisation, igniting a fierce debate among council members.

“The outcome of the negotiation between NAPWU and the Gobabis Municipal representatives were at no point on tabled at any Management Committee (MC) meeting nor was it recommended to the Council for its deliberation and approval,” read the letter.

Despite the MC’s rejection of the proposed salary adjustment, the CEO reportedly proceeded to enter into a settlement agreement with NAPWU, further exacerbating tensions within the council.

“The acting CEO acted prematurely by entering into a written agreement with NAPWU on the 29th of September 2021, in direct contravention of section 31A of the Local Authorities Act, Act 23 of 1992 as amended,” read the letter.

At a scheduled monthly meeting of the Management Committee in March this year, the decision to decline the salary adjustment was met with dissatisfaction from some council members.

Mayor Melba Tjozongoro and former Chairperson of the MC Sylvester Binga advocated for further deliberation on the matter at a special council meeting.

However, the MC stood firm, emphasising the need to adhere to the legal framework outlined in the Local Authorities Act and expressing concerns over the municipality’s precarious financial position.

According to financial submissions by the CEO this month, the council is facing a total expenditure for salaries, including March 2024, of N$5,505,857.57. However, available funds in the operational account is only N$2,408,211.27. Insufficient to cover salaries and mandatory expenses such as NamWater and Nampower bills.

“Management Committee takes note that Council can only utilise the money in the operational account amounting to N$2 408 211.27 which is not sufficient to pay salaries and two mandatory expenses of NamWater monthly bill of N$2 million and Nampower monthly bill of N$5.5 million,” read Eises submission.

With outstanding debts of more than N$7 million to both NamWater and Nampower, the council is grappling with limited resources, struggling to meet its financial obligations and facing the threat of electricity disconnection over unpaid bills.

In a letter addressed to Eises last month, NamPower’s Managing Director, Simson Haulofu highlighted the situation facing the municipality and warned regarding its overdue accounts.

NamPower expressed disappointment over the municipality’s failure to honour the terms of a previous settlement agreement, despite receiving a partial payment of N$4 742 136.18 in February 2024.

“NamPower acknowledges receipt of N$4 742 136.18 on 19 February 2024 as partial payment towards outstanding electricity invoices. Despite past communications by NamPower to remedy the account and to recover the overdue amounts, the Municipality has not taken the necessary steps to settle the account,” said Haulofu.

The outstanding balance on the municipality’s electricity account stands at a staggering N$33 631 200.38 while the water account at Namwater stands at N$31 958 003.32.

Approached for comment, Minister Uutoni said he had not received the letter yet.

While the CEO did not respond to questions sent to her.

De Beer acknowledged that he and Theron wrote the letter.

The Ministry of Urban and Rural Development issued stern directives last year, urging the council to exercise financial restraint and prioritise essential services to the community.

Executive Director Nghidinua Daniel, emphasised at the time the importance of prudent financial management and compliance with statutory obligations.

“The Council is advised to avoid by all means uneconomical entertainment and travelling exercises and implement drastic measures to manage and control the limited resources of the Local Authority in order to pay basic services such as water and electricity as well as other development initiatives,” he said.

He further advised the council to make sufficient provisions in the budget to pay the outstanding NamWater and Nampower debts as per the settlement agreements to avoid inconvenience to the community as it will affect the entire town should the water and electricity supply be suspended.

The Gobabis Municipality’s budget for the fiscal year 1 July 2023, to June 30, 2024, was estimated at N$161,498,119.00.

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