Swakopmund handles N$132m debt in-house

Ester Mbathera

Swakopmund municipality prefers to handle its clients’ debts in-house.

This is despite the fact that residents, businesses, NGOs, ministries, and other property owners collectively owe the municipality a total of N$132 million.

Linda Mupupa, the municipality’s spokesperson, told the Windhoek Observer on Tuesday that they are merely sticking to their mandate to operate as a self-sustaining entity as per the Local Authority Act of 1992, as amended.

“Self-sufficiency in this regard means the council is to collect rates and taxes from residents, business owners, and property owners in return for services rendered. The council’s current stance is to allow residents to pay what they can afford if they have debt. This can be viewed as another method we use to manage debt, which is to allow for payment arrangements on outstanding accounts,’ she said.

Mupupa was responding to questions about whether the municipality has not sought the services of a third party to help collect the debt like other municipalities and town councils have done across the country.

She clarified that the municipality only transfers accounts to the office of credit control for management by attorneys.

“The council appointed a debt collection officer in 2023, and there is a debt collection committee that follows up on debts. The council enforces the disconnection of water services for outstanding fees on a monthly basis if an account is in arrears; a deposit from clients is required for the facilitation of water reconnections.

“We deal with debt by requesting payment via text messaging and written requests; should this fail, only then do we request payment through the services of our own lawyers as a last resort. Technically, debt management is done in-house,” she said.

Mupupa further explains that a significant portion of this amount accrued during the COVID-19 pandemic, as residents were greatly affected by the limited economic activity.

“This situation resulted in job losses and decreased income, rendering many residents and businesses incapable of making payments towards their rates and taxes. There is no special formula other than to render excellent services to our residents. Services that they are impressed and happy with. We believe that the provision of services encourages residents to make payments because they see where their money goes and there is proof thereof,” she said.

Other municipalities have resorted to enlisting the services of the Redforce Debt Management Company, which has also been resisted by many residents in those localities.

The last being Walvis Bay, Grootfontein, and Windhoek. .

In a letter to the council lawyers, Metcalfe Beukes Attorneys, dated 14 May, which the Windhoek Observer saw, Karel Gaeb of Sisa Namandje & Co. Inc., who is representing Redforce in the case against the Walvis Bay municipal council, stated that the council will face a cost order.

This is after the council stopped Redforce from carrying out water meter reading services, disconnection, and water connection in the town.

Gaeb added that the law firm will institute further legal action against the council for allegations of fraud against Redforce.

“These legal actions will be served on your client on or before Monday, 20 May,” he said.

The Metcalfe Beukes Attorneys disclosed that they have initiated an investigation into the potential insider trading of the municipality staff members at Redforce.

“It has become apparent that the finance department at the municipality of Walvis Bay has taken to handing over accounts of its residents that are 30 days in arrears and 60 days and over in arrears, as was the agreed basis for handover to your clients,” said the law firm.

The attorneys also questioned Redforce’s charging of a 12% collection commission, which appears as legal fees on statements, despite the company not being an admitted law firm.

Stephanus Pombili, a researcher and political analyst, has urged Namibians to boycott the RedForce.

He claims that politicians are helping the company secure a debt collection tender.

He questioned why Namibia is allowing a foreign-owned company to assist in debt collections.

“It is not surprising that there were dubious acts in awarding the debt collection tender because Zimbabwean businessmen, through politicians, make their wealth. How many Namibian companies are harassing Harare citizens to pay their municipal bills? We have elected councillors to help us, but it seems they are using Redforce debt collection to milk the citizens. If a thorough investigation is done, you won’t be surprised that politicians are benefiting from this scheme to continue milking the poor residents,” he said.

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