Govt has no money for Covid decongestion

By Maria Kandjungu

THE Ministry of Urban and Rural Development has no funds reserved for the costly decongestion of informal settlements as instructed by Cabinet, Minister Erastus Uutoni has said.

According to Uutoni, the Coronavirus which come as a surprise to everyone was not budgeted for and therefore the ministry has no money to enforce current Cabinet instructions.

Confidente understands that the ministry has now instructed local authorities to redirect funds meant for ‘non-urgent’ capital projects to fund for the decongestion of densely populated informal settlements in their towns.

As part of the revised measures and regulations against Covid-19, government instructed the urban ministry to identify facilities and venues where residents can temporarily be relocated in order to decongest densely populated informal settlements. Government further instructed that local authorities ensure availability of water and ablution facilities at these temporary centres; however no money has been made available for such a move.

Uutoni said that the process is going to be costly and Cabinet has not approved any additional funds for the ministry to provide not only land but services to those being resettled.

He said he has further instructed local authority officials to identify land and come up with a plan on how and where they are going to resettle people and how much it going to cost them. He said, they [local authorities] are also asked to revisit their budgets and find ways to fund the resettlement.

“I gave instructions to local authorities to identify areas where we may decongest people but since there is no budget for this, I have asked that they check their municipal budgets and amend them in order to accommodate it. They should amend on the less urgent capital projects and work out a plan that they would submit to my office on how much it is going to cost them.”

On whether people are going to be moved out of those areas after the pandemic as per Cabinet instructions point to the resettlement plan being temporary, Uutoni said he has advised local authorities to identify areas that can be used as permanent residential areas for the displaced.

“It will not be fair to move people after. We do not have the money to keep moving people. It will not be easy to remove people after, so already we are making it known to the local authorities that they need to identify permanent areas unless in urgent situations where people can be placed in temporary areas while they identify permanent ones.”

As part of the process, the ministry and local authorities will not only have to clear land, but they will have to provide resettled people with access to clean water, sanitation and electricity.

“We can only give the services that we can afford. Water is our first priority and surveying the land because we cannot move people to a serviced land, but other services will maybe have to come later.

“It is going to be costly and challenging especially for Windhoek which has a shortage of land and is surrounded by commercial farms. We will probably have to spend on compensation which would dig deep in our pockets. It will also depend on people’s willingness to be relocated because we cannot force the people. I cannot give you an estimate of what it will cost to decongest the whole country… we are waiting for reports from local authorities where each is working out a plan and we will find out,” said Uutoni.