Bill to suffocate decentralisation

The Association for Local Authorities in Namibia (ALAN) says the Local Authorities’ Amendment Bill will hinder the process of decentralisation.

ALAN president and Lüderitz Chief Executive Officer Leonard Jona said the planned amendments will only partly help with decentralisation as the amendments make provision for more powers to be transferred to the Minister, making the local authorities numb to Central Government.

“The whole thing of powers given to the Minister removes power from the local authorities, and gives power to only the Minister, which tampers with decentralisation. What is the duty of the town councils if they cannot make decisions of their own and have to succumb to the central government?” Jona asked.

The Local Authorities’ Amendment Bill was introduced to amend the Local Authorities’ Act, 1992. Some of the new amendments indicate that the minister can suspend any member of a local authority council from office on the recommendation of the local authority concerned.

Section 15 is also amended to give the minister powers to suspend any remuneration of the concerned local authority official for a period of 30 days.

“The amendments do not meet our expectations. A lot of very important aspects are left out, and the Bill must be improved. There were no consultations held with the local authorities, and therefore we cannot say the amendments of the Bill were all-inclusive,” Jona charged.

As part of the government’s plan to curb the skyrocketing prices of land, the Ministry of Urban and Rural Development said the new law will ban the sale of land within local authorities to foreign companies. Part of the new law is also set to exempt vulnerable people from paying some municipal bills.

The amendments also include provisions for the Minister to take action relating to the failure by a local authority council to exercise or perform its powers and functions, and also to extend the powers of the Minister to make regulations.

“In terms of amendments which can be made to the Local Authority Act, the ministry must recognise ALAN as an organisation representing local authorities. Although we are Bill to suffocate decentralisation  working under mutual understanding with the government, I think there should be a nationallyrecognised voice for local authorities,” he said.

The amendments are to make the term of office of members of local authority councils more clear, and to provide for additional sanctions in the case of members of local authority councils contravening or failing to comply with any provisions of the code of conduct.

The amendments will also enable the extension of the circumstances under which a member of a local authority council shall vacate office, whereby the current ones indicate that a local authority official becomes disqualified to be a member of a local authority council if they are convicted of any offence.

The current Act also indicates that a management committee formed within the authority shall be required to ensure that the decisions of the local authority council are carried out.

Meanwhile, the Amendment Bill indicates that the payment of remuneration, allowances and other benefits of members of local authority councils to the maximum will be determined by the Minister.

“Currently, local authority officials work part-time, but how are they supposed to carry out their mandate if they are not employed full- time? Amendments should be made in this regard,” Jona continued.

Meanwhile, the Deputy Minister of Urban and Rural Development, Derek Klazen said the amendments on the Bill are still being discussed in Parliament, and therefore the Ministry is not in a position to give any information.

The amendments also aim to empower the Minister to prescribe the categories and levels of income for the purposes of acquiring immovable properties in designated zones, and to prescribe certain levies in respect of immovable properties owned by foreign nationals.