Lüderitz residents uncover ‘secret plan’ to privatise town’s power supply
The contract for the establishment of a joint venture company between Lüderitz Municipality and a Walvis-Bay based engineering firm — among others — was approved in record time by the Attorney General’s Office, despite not even having been brought before council.
The CEO of Lüderitz said on Wednesday that he was not in a position to confirm or deny whether any council officials or staff members have interests in the proposed outsourcing deal, as the matter is “very difficult to discuss.”
Some officials, who were reluctant to come forward, are uneasy about the deal though. Residents are also increasing alarmed by the proposal, which would mean higher prices and a loss of control of publicly-funded assets.
In a petition launched on Monday that has already gained over 200 signatures online, many residents rejected the “secret deal” and called for “an immediate halt to the illegal outsourcing of Lüderitz’ electricity” distribution function.
“We, residents of Lüderitz and concerned ratepayers hear that certain individual Lüderitz Town councillors are arranging for a private Walvis Bay company, Conselect, to take over Lüderitz’ electricity supply assets and accounts.
“A draft agreement will apparently be presented to the town council for final approval without further ado. This is totally unacceptable. There are serious issues involved. Council procedures were not applied. [There was] no public involvement, discussion or information.”
Why the hurry?
The residents, acting on information from well-placed sources inside the municipality, also put a question-mark over “the speed with which the Attorney-General’s Office ‘scrutinized’ the so-called draft agreement to a scheme apparently without checking its authenticity or procedures.”
The JV contract was reportedly approved within two weeks, whereas in some cases the process is said to take years.
A source at the local authority said the relevant municipal officials were not even aware of any such decision to outsource the town’s power supply or the details thereof and maintained that the proposal had not even been tabled yet before council when it was sent for the AG’s approval.
There is “suspicion of underhand dealings and shady intentions.”
Asked for his view on the matter, longstanding community activist and former Lüderitz councilor Reginald Hercules said as far as he could see there was “no consideration of the impact of such a deal on ratepayers or the council, as electricity is the main source of income for the municipality.”
Lüderitz residents, who currently have the lowest household electricity price in the country (under N$2.01 per KW unit), worry that — as in other towns— they will be subjected to higher prices and lower standards of service once a middle-man private firm takes over the function of supplying power to homes and businesses.
“We, the undersigned residents and concerned ratepayers hereby petition Lüderitz Town Council to call an immediate halt to such activities; defer any decision to part with any such Lüderitz electricity assets or accounts to any other party…; immediately open a full public inquiry; and consider the possibility of criminal intent and/or activity (hence charges).”
Fingers in the pie
Lüderitz CEO Ignatius Tjipura confirmed this week that they had indeed gained approval from the AG’s office for the establishment of a JV between the municipality and Conselect — among others — but insisted that although there had been some discussion on the outsourcing plan among councilors, “There’s nothing to say that project can proceed.”
Negotiations with Conselect Engineering and a number of as-yet-unnamed parties over the proposed deal had started already in 2017, he confirmed.
But the plan was still subject to council approval, he stressed. “The AG gave the go-ahead for the JV, but the AG does not consider the viability of the business plan,” adding that it was a matter for elected officials to decide on.
Asked about the rumours that certain municipal officials may have a finger in the pie, Tjipura said he was not in a position to discuss the business interests of councilors.
“Perhaps some have shares, but it is very difficult to discuss. At management level we ask if anyone has any conflict of interest to declare [before deliberating on issues], but none have declared any interest in the outsourcing deal.”
Questions that need answers
Tjipura agreed that there are questions that need answers, such as how much Conselect would profit from the deal. “If the council feels that if we go into this marriage then council will lose,” it still has the option to walk away from the deal, he argued.
“As a staff [member] of LTC, I have to try to look at both sides, at the [potential] benefits. We have to study the proposal” before making a decision on its viability.
“From our side we are being careful,” he added, noting that he is also a resident of the town. “So, why would I accept something that will cost me [more]?”
Unlike in previous times, council workers must also pay their municipal bills and are in the same boat as the town’s residents, he suggested.
Residents on the march
The no-nonsense residents of the town are preparing to march to Lüderitz Town Council on Monday 24 June to hand over their petition against the outsourcing deal and to call for a full inquiry. Hercules believes they must act before it’s too late.
Asked for his response to the residents’ concerns and the planned protest, Tjipura insisted that nothing was finalised yet, as the Urban and Rural Development Ministry would first need to approve any such contract before the outsourcing plan can proceed.
“People are making noise because the AG has given the go-ahead,” but the AG has no mandate to decide on whether Lüderitz should enter into the contract or not. “People have a right to act… but nothing is finalised,” he maintained.
Conselect Engineering is said to be a 100% Namibian-owned company that has won many multi-million dollar state contracts in Namibia and was in the running for the design and installation of ICT and electronic systems at the proposed new parliament building.
The company’s managing director Wiseman Molatzi declined though to answer any questions this week regarding the plan to privatise power supply at Namibia’s southernmost port.
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* A version of this report was first published in Confidente on 20–06-2019.