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Rural electrification hit by lack of funds


by Tirivangani Masawi
Columns

 

The rural electrification programme has been progressing at a snail’s pace because of lack of capacity from local companies appointed to service the different regions, The Villager has learnt.
So far the programme that deliberately excluded foreign companies from taking up the available tenders to empower local companies has gobbled more than N$600m since its inception in 1992.
The Rural Electricity Distribution Master Plan for Namibia - completed in 2000 and updated in 2005 - currently forms the basis for identifying and prioritising rural localities for electrification.
Rural electrification of over 250 000 households is needed in order to improve social conditions of the rural communities that were previously denied such services.
The difficulties experienced by the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) in pushing the electrification programme faster will most likely leave most priority public institutions such as schools and clinics in the Caprivi, Karas and Kunene in the dark, while other easily accessible places in the rest of the country are being completed.
Rural electrification has been one of the major projects pursued by the MME in the past 11 years to provide electricity to the country’s marginalised communities, but The Villager has it on good authority that all has not been rosy in the implementation of the project although significant ground has been covered.
Permanent Secretary of the MME, Joseph Iita, revealed that most local companies have been shunning the project in the Karas and Caprivi regions because of rugged terrains and their consequent inability to handle those areas.
“We have done quite well with the rural electrification project, but the biggest stumbling block is that most local companies that have been assigned to service the regions countrywide sometimes lack the technical capacity to deal with challenging terrains. The most affected regions have been Karas and Caprivi were most companies shy away from taking up the projects,” he said.
According to Iita the project has been deliberately made a preserve of local companies in a bid to promote them but the move has not been the easiest to deal with and the Ministry is now taking remedies and encouraging the companies to partner each other in most of the projects to enhance capacity.
He added that some areas in the country including the northern part of the country have been moving on with the project swiftly but since the country does not have many companies that have experience in the installation of advance electricity equipment countrywide, it has not been easy to move fast.
Iita acknowledged that the rural electrification project faces budgetary problems.
“We have had problems with the budgetary allocations from the Ministry of Finance and in most cases the provided expenditure does not cater for the implementation of all the targeted projects. On the other hand we are already implementing three year running projects including the rural electrification programme,"  said Iita.
Although Iita would not reveal the intended deadline for the completion of the whole project, he stressed that the Government has since made it official to allocate the resources available to the companies working on the project.
“The problem is that the rural electrification project is driven by companies in the private sector and the Government sometimes can do very little to push the companies to move faster,” the PS lamented.
The project which was reviewed in 2005 to follow the internationally recognised master plan received an N$100m budget support from treasury last year for the current financial year.
According to Iita the project was also put under TIPEEG but has been moving at a faster pace than the prescribed plan by TIPEEG architects because the MME has not adopted the slower implementation plane used by TIPEEG.
In 2007, the rural electrification programme was almost put on ice because of lack of funds. Namibia has Africa’s third highest electrification level at 20 percent. The electrical sector in Namibia has the potential to become the driving force behind economic development.