October 5, 2007

Decentralisation a top priority, urges president

Although considerable progress has been made in implementing the decentralisation policy in Namibia, numerous challenges still hamper the effective implementation of the development process. A number of towns have been found to lag behind in economic growth. Towns such as Usakos, Karibib, Okakarara, Opuwo and Aranos have recorded slow economic growth, which has resulted in low living standards for the residents.
Officially launching a publication to mark the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the decentralisation policy in the capital, President Hifikepunye Pohamba said local and regional authorities have the responsibility to ensure that people are provided with basic social amenities and public goods and services in order to improve their standards of living. Addressing close to 100 high-ranking Government officials and regional councillors at a one-day decentralisation conference, the Head of State said the time has come for relevant authorities to hasten the implementation of the decentralisation process in the country. "You should therefore ensure that top priority is given to the speedy implementation of policies and programmes that will enhance the advancement of the formerly disadvantaged sections of our society," said Pohamba.
Most local and regional authorities are also finding it difficult to collect revenue and some municipalities have failed to account for goods and services provided to the public. This has been attributed to shortage of qualified personnel. Besides, among the many challenges is the fear or misconception among political circles that decentralisation may re-introduce pre-independence government structures and consequently de-link the regions from Government structures along ethnic or tribal lines. Another misconception is that of reform and the consequences of change. The publication states that the lack of human resources hampers the smooth implementation of the decentralisation policy. Another challenge arises from the legal framework of this policy, whereby the Decentralisation Enabling Act and the Regional Councils Act do not make provision for the decentralisation of functions as earmarked in the policy document endorsed by Cabinet in 1996.
"Such an omission is perceived as a loophole and a shortcoming in the legal framework," reads the publication. However, the document recommends that in order for decentralisation to work effectively, all relevant stakeholders have to remain "decisive partners" in the implementation of the policy. At the same occasion, Minister of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development, John Pandeni, said the process of bringing services closer to the people through decentralisation is a mammoth task and could therefore take some time. "The implementation of the decentralisation policy involves a multi-faceted process which may encounter numerous obstacles, or let me rather call them challenges, involving numerous stakeholders and requiring different approaches," stated Pandeni in the publication. He added that decentralisation has the potential to be a powerful means to contribute to empowerment of the grassroots in development planning and policy making and to achieve the overall objectives as set out in Vision 2030 and National Development Plans.
One of the key objectives of the decentralisation policy is to extend participatory democracy, enhance rapid sustainable development, transfer power to the regional councils and local authorities based on national ideals and values and lastly improve the capacity of regional councils and local authorities to plan, implement, monitor and manage delivery of services to their constituencies. (New Era, Windhoek)

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