Big Governor, Big Challenges [interview]

CLEOPHAS Mutjavikua is a big man standing close to two metres tall and tipping the scales at 130 kilogrammes.

He was recently reappointed for a second five-year term by President Hage Geingob as governor of the Erongo region and he knows he needs wide shoulders to ensure the “mighty Erongo” remains a key player in Namibia’s economy on the one hand while on the other managing some huge challenges like resource availability, land development, service delivery and wealth distribution.

The Namibian (TN) interviewed him about his reappointment and the challenges that come with it.

Did you expect to be reappointed?

It is the President’s prerogative. I expected him to make up his own mind to reappoint me or not. From a performance perspective, I was one of the governors who performed well due to my engagement with society and the business community. I suspect my reappointment in Erongo has to do with my business and labour background as managing director of Labour Investment Holdings, previous directorships on many boards and as trade unionist and politician and an industrial relations practitioner.

Erongo is a commercial and industrial region. I deal a lot with businesspeople. I also deal with labour issues on time. We have always been proactive and managed to diffuse some labour disputes. This is not easy in a region with a big industry.

What are the biggest challenges the region faces?

A lot of people look at Erongo as a region of opportunities. Most come here in search of jobs. That is a challenge in itself. We have a very high unemployment rate. The influx of people puts pressure on schools. We are not keeping pace with the development of schools and hospitals. Swakopmund and Walvis Bay are under pressure in terms of services.

Water and energy remain very serious challenges. Our resources are dwindling and unable tot keep up with the influx. We are under pressure from NamWater to increase tariffs. We are still trying to keep them down. NamWater has indicated that they would buy water from Areva’s desalination plant for the two towns.

As uranium prices go up, the mines will start working again. Water and energy will become an issue. We are consulting the utilities to map out short, medium and long-term interventions. In towns, we are battling with housing shortages. Shacks are burning. We are engaged in continuous interactions with the municipalities. There are also plans at regional level to address the housing issue.

The biggest challenge – I can put my head on a block now – is that Walvis Bay and Swakopmund will not meet the demand for land unless we have an injection from central government to service land. The municipalities do not have that capacity. There is a backlog.

Walvis Bay needs at least 20 000 serviced erven. It’s not a matter of applying. One applies when there is serviced land. If you just fill in a form but you know there is no serviced land, then what is the point? Swakopmund may need 15 000 erven. This is not a short-term problem.

What has been your greatest successes to date?

My successes can be measured as a collective output of our government. A governor is part of the collective government machinery and his or her output is measured as such. However, as part of my humble contribution to the collective, the following are some: the labour front where we brought about stability. Secondly, the business investment climate improved considerably. In the rural areas, we brought about some structural changes regarding poverty.

How would you respond to a possible land grab at the end of July as per Affirmative Repositioning’s plans?

First of all, we have to appreciate we have in Namibia. Peace is a prerequisite for many other things. To achieve and maintain peace, one has to sacrifice. Therefore, peace first. It should not be taken for granted. Those who like to repossess the land should think and appreciate the importance of preserving peace. They must think twice.

Invasion of land is illegal in Namibia.It is a violation of our Constitution. Let us try to be peaceful and do things orderly. Let us talk to each other and inculcate a culture of mutual understanding and problem solving without resorting to anarchy. Those that want to take land should be rest assured that the governor and the regional and local authority councillors are prepared to seek common solution through talking to each other.

Bureaucracy at national and local authority levels as well as the tendency of ‘we will do it tomorrow’, result in very slow output and continuous frustrations. However, if you look at it, lack of finance to service land is central.

The delivery of land and the impediments that hamper a faster delivery is well known to our former and current presidents. Our current President brought in a new minister who hails from the regional structures (former governor) and even our deputy minister comes from Walvis Bay as a former mayor. They brought in people who will address this issue to lessen the bureaucracy at national level.

We have dealt with it at local and regional level and unlocked some of the bureaucracies. We are vividly aware of serviced land shortages in the country but the current municipal structures and financial resources will not be able to meet the demand even if they want to.

What is the most important thing large companies in key sectors such as fisheries and mining should do to help develop Erongo?

In terms of the fishing industry, there is a lot to be clarified. Fishing quotas are allocated to the previously disaantaged, taking it from those who have and giving it to those that don’t have – it’s called equal distribution. I appreciate the fact that a lot of black people have been brought in but again that has nothing to do with addressing poverty alleviation.

The quota allocation did not address poverty alleviation. It never addressed issues of housing or salaries. You took from the big companies and give to the few blacks. That’s where it stops. It never went beyond that to provide housing. Eighty percent of seafarers don’t have houses. They don’t qualify for NHE houses. If you take it from the bigger companies, it must reduce the housing shortage, which is not the case.

Employment did not come with taking of shares from other companies and giving it to black companies. Large companies must invest in land and create employment but should not be punished selectively if they do not, while the newcomers do not create employment.

I will never propagate that big companies must get what they used to get but I also will not say give excessive quotas to a person who will never use them. It does not make sense. I believe the fishing industry [stakeholders] should talk to each other. It should not be one person having a stick and saying that if you don’t do something there will be consequences.

We need investment in land or new processing factories to add value. Our humble view, as a regional leadership, is that there is need for transparency and we should be clear as to what must happen to achieve that. As for the mining sector, we have a commodity price problem in the uranium industry. Commodity prices did not serve us well for the last four years.

We appreciate the fact that Roumlssing and Langer Heinrich managed to pull through terrible conditions. Most of the time, I was very worried why these guys are mining but because of previous contracts they had they managed to stay in operation. Employers like Roumlssing did a lot for Namibia.

In terms of developing Erongo, we would like to see them start with the responsibility of workers. Roumlssing is one of the highest paying companies. They do not treat workers badly but they need to invest in housing, reduce outsourcing their non-core functions because the so-called non-core functions are always core. Without non-core functions the core function will not work.

They must also have specific terms for the contractors that will take care of issues like housing, medical aid and pension benefits. The mines also contribute to education. I am very satisfied with mining but it is not at the level it should be. I understand the prices play a big role in their ability to contribute.

Tourism is another important contributor to the GDP and we need better accommodation facilities and conference centres for the international market. Namibia and our beautiful region is now a logistical hub of international stature. Our port is performing well, but we need to upgrade the road network from Walvis Bay to Karibib. Our railway needs to be competitive and the involvement of the private sector is a necessity.

Where did you come up with the term ‘mighty’ Erongo? Is it mighty compared to other regions?

Mighty Erongo is not an official name but a nickname. Other regions call themselves the ‘great’ this and the ‘great’ that. We wanted to be different. Erongo is a significant player in the Namibian economic, social and political landscape. Erongo will be even mightier if we could get The Namibian soccer cup for a change.

Source : The Namibian