IPPR raises red flag over Local Authorities Bill

The Institution for Public Policy and Research (IPPR) have raised concern over the constitutionality of some clauses contained in the Local Authorities’ Amendment Bill which is being debated in parliament.

In a research paper, focusing on parliamentary matters, IPPR Associate, Max Weylandt weighed in on the Bill saying it is not evidence-based and was produced in haste as laws from other countries were not accessed during the drafting stage of the Bill.

“Since the proposed law could have a major impact on the economy, it is important that the effects of this legislation are carefully considered, taking into cognisance of the advice from both experts and other stakeholders.

The current Bill seems to have been produced in a rush, with even the Association of Local Authorities of Namibia stating that local authorities, the primary subjects of the Bill, were not consulted about its contents,” Weylandt stated.

He added that, “A number of countries do have restrictions in place, though these vary widely. There does not appear to be a justification for claiming that bans on foreigners buying land are common practice, although some countries do submit foreigners’ requests to purchase urban land and properties to foreign investment boards for review.”

Meanwhile, Namibian Chamber of Commerce and Industry boss Tarah Shaanika feels the amended Bill is longoverdue, but he would only like to see changes, such as on the issue of corruption.

“The current status of the local authorities all-in-all hampers the flow of business in the country. The amendments should make the local authorities easier to run, and more efficient. The local authorities have very limited power, and they can only do with investments from the minister. They cannot even go into agreements on their own, while the challenges surrounding them are vast as there is poor leadership at local level,” Shaanika said.

He added that, “If the minister has to make all the decisions, where will they get time? Depending on what type of minister is in charge of the line ministry, favouritism may not even exist, but we tend to overlook longterm consequences of the decisions we make. It is a bit too risky when all the power is given to one person, in this case the minister.”

Shaanika also opines that, “There should be a separation of power between council management and political interference. In addition, we have seen greed within the authorities, whereby those in charge want to enrich themselves. They allocate land to themselves, and this poses a challenge for the local authorities.”

He also questions the effectiveness of the proposed changes on the ground. “There should be a good balance between local authorities and government. Although political interference poses a challenge, many local authorities need political guidance, hence the balance needs to be drawn between the two,” Shaanika said.

On his part, political analyst Dr Andrew Niikondo told The Villager this week that the land issue needs to be centralised and encompassed in the amendments. He said generally, Namibians cannot afford the purchase of land, although foreigners usually have the funds. He felt that despite the law being fine, the issue of land needs to be controlled to be suitable for Namibians.

“This is a necessary commodity, and the Bill can encourage Namibians to buy land with a foreigner in a joint venture. But it must state that the land belongs to the Namibian, and the foreigner is just an investor,” he reasoned.

Sharing similar sentiments with Shaanika, Niikondo said the sole power given to the minister depends on to what extend that is done, saying that one can only hope that the power given to the minister is not misused.

He, however, added that it is a good idea to empower the minister for vital decisions to be taken quickly and effectively, instead of the long line of authority which needs to be used to finalise the decision.

“The bureaucracy within local authorities is a lot and it needs to be addressed, hence the minister getting all the power. Yes, decentralisation is good to a certain degree, but one needs to be careful in terms of this,” Niikondo stressed.

He went on to say that local authorities also have the challenge of human capital, as those who are qualified and educated enough for the positions do not want to be dispatched to smaller towns.

Furthermore, the reason why local authorities are under-funded is because they have under-qualified personnel, who would not use the funds allocated to them properly.

“Leaving government money is a gruesome fear of government officials. They do not want to dispatch large sums of money, if they see that the funds will not be used properly. Meanwhile, qualified people are refusing to be dispatched to smaller towns. Government needs to empower small towns with qualified persons as the current state at local level is very weak,” he added.