Protestors block plan to privatise Luderitz’ power supply

By Jade McClune

FOLLOWING Confidente’s recent revelations of a “highly secretive plan” to outsource power supply at Lüderitz, Oranjemund, Rosh Pinah and other settlements in southwestern parts of the country, defiant residents marched to the offices of Lüderitz Town Council last week to block the deal, which they said was concocted behind their backs.

In a petition handed to Lüderitz Mayor Hilaria Mukapuli on Thursday by longstanding community activist and former town councilor Reginald Hercules, the petitioners called on the council to immediately halt all plans to privatise the town’s power supply, and to launch an investigation into the deal.

Hercules said the purpose of the protest was “to record their formal objection and opposition to the disposal by Lüderitz Town Council of its electricity assets and distribution” through a “secret agreement”, in terms of which the town council “surrenders, transfers, cedes and assigns its income from electricity – estimated at N$100 million per year – to a third party company.”

The residents said the municipality would be crippled financially by the deal. They moreover called into question the legality of the proposed agreement, given that the contract had not been tabled before council when it was submitted to the Attorney General’s Office in July 2017.

The AG’s office approved the contract shortly after in August 2017, but would not provide Confidente with a copy of the approved contract, citing attorney-client privilege. The residents fear that they will be subjected to higher prices and lower standards once a third party is introduced.

The protesters demanded an inquiry into the way the whole plan was concocted and the parties involved, which the residents claim reached agreement without the knowledge of the ratepayers or key municipal officials, who were said to be left in the dark.

One of their main contentions is that approval of the proposed JV agreement between Lüderitz, Oranjemund, Conselect Engineering and CENORED – a draft of which was availed to Confidente – was gained by the proponents of the plan without following procedures set out in the Local Authorities Act.

Under pressure, the Swapo Party’s district branch also came out strongly on Thursday last week to reject the outsourcing plan after a heated meeting on Tuesday, saying they were “aware of the challenges to address the dilapidated electrical infrastructure network” of Lüderitz and the plan to set up a JV company.

“However, the district leadership, including Swapo Party councilors, reached consensus last Tuesday on the matter and resolved that Lüderitz Town Council should reconsider all options regarding the upgrading of the electrical infrastructure of our town, including reverting their council resolution about the application to form a joint venture with any third party.”

They asked that “a fully constituted council meeting” be convened to discuss this “serious matter” and that the deal “be parked with the aim to consult all stakeholders to get the best possible solution.”

The district leaders further called on municipal officials “to give the Lüderitz community the assurance that our electricity will not be outsourced,” as electricity is the main source of revenue of the council. They also advised that “own capital” should be used to upgrade the electrical infrastructure and to recruit suitably qualified electrical engineers for the job.

Mayor Mukapuli, on receipt of the residents’ petition, said she cannot take decisions on her own and would have to take the matter to full council.

“As chairperson of Lüderitz Town Council I promise that by receiving this petition I will put it to full council and after we deliberated [on it] we will come back to you with the answer… And I’m appealing to the community, let it not stop here,” she said before inviting them to attend monthly council meetings.

The residents roundly reject the notion that the town cede its property, income or legal powers to a private firm. In terms of the JV agreement, Lüderitz would be entitled only to a dividend in future, to be paid at the discretion of the company after deductions for tax and “abnormal expenses”, which payment to council would not amount to more than 50 percent of profits.

The residents labeled the deal with Walvis Bay-based firm Conselect Engineering and CENORED “a scam” to be rejected outright, referring it bluntly as a “criminal” enterprise. They want to know “when, where, how, by whom and under what authority this scam came about” and moreover demand to know whether formal legal processes and procedures were followed and why it did not involve the ratepayers.

The protesters, whose petition had gathered over 1,000 signatures and a further 350 supporters online within a week, gave the mayor five working days to respond.

Conselect managing director Wiseman Molatzi previously declined to respond to media queries regarding the company’s role in the proposed deal, which – once the other towns included in the original plan are locked in – would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars per year.