Reigning on the golden triangle

Otavi is the district capital of the Otavi electoral constituency and is one part of an area popularly known as the “Golden Triangle” or Mahangu Triangle.

Moses Matyayi is the Chief Executive Officer of Otavi Town Council. He is rowing the administrative boat back into course after it almost hit stormy waters, which almost sank it when the town was downgraded to a village. He has been instrumental in steering it to less turbulent waters that saw the restoration of its town status in 2010.

Of the chief executive officers heading local authorities in Namibia, Matyayi insists he is the youngest ever.

Prime Focus spoke to Matyayi to hear how this vibrant youth and his determined lieutenants have managed to stay afloat and unravel the development projects lined up for Otavi in a bid to turn the wheels of fortunes in favour of the little town into a booming centre in the next few years.

PF: Who is Moses Matyayi?

MM: Moses Matyayi, born in Sauyemwa Township, is a simple, humble, dedicated young man, committed toward causes of action.

Born 28 years ago to religious parents, he started his primary education at Sauyemwa Combined School and completed High School from Maria Mwengere Secondary School in 2001.

He is a graduate of the Polytechnic of Namibia in Human Resources Management with majors in Strategic Business Management. He is a postgraduate candidate of the Namibia Business School (Unam) in Business Administration.

PF: You have been with the Otavi Local Authority during the turbulent financial period that saw the local authority downgraded from a town to a village status and was part of the team that helped it regain its status in 2010. What went wrong and what did you do right to regain the town status?

MM: In fact, by the time I was tasked to run the institution in April 2010, the town was already downgraded and was struggling to cope with the high demand for services and less provision of the latter. The challenges that bedevilled the institution were not alien but issues that needed to be tackled by the team were. My first assignment there was to understand the operations of the Council, identify the burning challenges from the perspective of the internal and external customers who are the businesses and community members as well as stakeholders. It came to light that these challenges were self-impelled. The spirit of the town was dimmed; community members had lost trust in the Town Council; the business people had lost confidence in the authority of the day and investors were sceptical, if not scared to invest in Otavi. The industries that fuelled the economic activities of the town were closed and many people lost their jobs.

For instance, one of the biggest Meatco abattoirs closed down and was sold to an individual on the condition that they may not operate the same business as the previous one on the premises. The consolidated sugar industry closed down in Otavi and moved to other towns. Perhaps we could attribute these normalities to the misunderstanding and/or misinterpretation of the “FREEDOM” (Independence). With this type of situation, it was not business inviting.

As an institution, we needed to identify with the culture of winning in the organisation. This is one of the most important building blocks of a company. We had to prioritise the perspectives and bring about a change of mind-set in the employees of the Council and the business fraternity by regaining their trust, thus building confidence. We had to consolidate between what the Council can deliver and how the Central Government can rescue the situation by regaining their trust. Internally, we had to cut unnecessary costs, operate within the budget and build a credible operation.

Within a period of five months, we had achieved a milestone by regaining the Local Authority Council from village to town in September 2010. It neither came as a surprise nor did it come on a silver platter but with good planning, execution and monitoring of internal activities. In the end, we gradually gained the trust of our clientele base and built confidence with our stakeholders and the rest is visible.

PF: You have been quoted in the local media as saying Otavi has been neglected and more than two decades after Independence, the town still uses septic tanks as sewerage and waste is collected from houses using trucks. How efficient and how healthy is this for the town and the workers who are employed to do this job in the face of increasing communicable diseases?

MM: The issue of the septic tanks is not only painful but demeaning to Government effort in providing services, thus 20 years after Independence; it is unacceptable that a town proclaimed under the statutes of an independent Namibia is still using a conservancy tank and not water-borne sewerage lines. It is common sense that the employees working under these circumstances are more prone to communicable diseases. As a Council, this affects productivity when employees get sick and need to be booked off. However, this will soon be something of the past.

PF: The media has also quoted you as saying the previous leaders neglected the town. Can you elaborate how?

MM: I realised that in a world as turbulent as this with ever changing environments, I was convinced that Otavi’s situation could have been handled better than the way it was. The Regional Council is not ever concerned of the development of the town. They were not available when Otavi needed an economical rescue plan. Considering the fact that most, if not all ministers and high-ranking officials in Government own farms within Otavi district, we expect that they will be supportive of the economic situation of Otavi. However, this is contrary to their intentions.

We want to see the first office of the Ministry of Home Affairs constructed in Otavi and the decentralisation of the office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the construction of a modern office in Otavi. We want to see that the Electoral Commission builds an election co-ordinating office in Otavi. We want to see that Ohorongo Cement make Otavi their headquarters and build an office in Otavi. We demand that Roads Authority builds a Testing and Registration Centre in Otavi. We want the Ministry of Works commission the first ever toll-gate in Otavi because we are centrally located and strategic to serve as an empirical method of validating its test.

Given the population of the farming community in and around Otavi, we expect the Fresh Produce Hub to be built here in Otavi. We also expect the Government of the day, through the Ministry of Trade and Industry, to construct Trade and SMEs facilities to complement their efforts in empowering the Namibian people. If need be, we could be considered the first town to have the first branch of the SME Bank that will cater for the north and north-eastern regions. Also supported by the fact that the Minister of Trade and Industry is farming in the Otavi area, Otavi has land for these projects and it is up to the Government to set their priorities right and explore the opportunities they have been ignoring all these years.

The time will never be right until we start with smaller actions that will bring about the bigger investments. I would suggest that instead of congesting the investments in one city, we distribute them among the emerging economies in order to level the economics of the country.

PF: You are the youngest CEO of a local authority in the country. How did you manage to be where you are? What is your winning formula?

MM: There is no formula to success than going for what one perceives to be challenging and working resiliently towards their goal. On top of that, one has to be a smart and hardworking individual to accomplish success. The formula to winning consists of being able to plan, organise, control and lead.

Some of the philosophies that guide me in my work is “To do things right the first time and every time. Everything in life can be achieved if we focus and be optimistic” and “A negative person has never invented anything”.

It is quite challenging to be where I am today but I have managed to reach here because of my upbringing for which I salute my parents and the almighty God for. This can also equally be attributed to my academic paths sustainably to the weathering of my career growth. Complimentary to that are the ways of conduct toward my fraternal networks in business.

Harvard Research has proven that business networking is one of the keys to success. However, one’s networks should be with individuals who command the best business principles and practices in different companies in the society. Setting your standards high in everything; remaining humble to everyone; focusing on the future; and setting goals all unconditionally add value to the ordinary man on the street.

PF: Residents have lost trust in the previous leadership prompting them to stop paying bills. What exactly bruised their trust?

MM: This matter must be viewed from all angles possible. The same people who want development to happen in their community are the same people revolting against their own bread. Community members need to be informed of their rights and obligations and where exactly both end. However, maybe the institution is to blame as well, as we were perhaps not delivering according to the expectations of the community.

A change in leadership perspective was necessary and information dissemination is relevant to the restoration of the trust of the community. The community ought to know what are the opportunities and developments taking place in their town so that they can capitalise on them for better living conditions.
PF: How are you motivating them to restore their trust?

MM: Communication is inevitable for development. The residents are required by the law to pay or face the wrath but that is not necessary, hence we educate them on issues such as why it is important to pay their bills every month and on time. We have embarked upon a sensitisation campaign to inform the community of the plight of the Council.

One of our philosophies in Otavi Town Council is to have an “Honest Opinion”. An honest opinion of what the Council is owed by its residents; an honest opinion of the inability of council to deliver the needed services with the inadequacy of funds; and an honest opinion of the state of affairs in the Council’s operation.

In fact, we have decided to have a quarterly breakfast meeting with business people in order to present to them the current situation of the operation of the Council and the opportunities that we perceive to take place in the not-too distant future. That is the philosophy of an “Honest Opinion” without exaggeration or exemptions.

PF: Otavi has a high unemployment rate as a result of investors’ reluctance to invest in the town. What is the cause of investors’ cold feet?

MM: You know quite well that if your house is not in order, obviously no investor will come to your town. However, that should not deter you from doing business. Firstly, one should understand the investors’ principles of business operation and where they want to direct their money. Secondly, you need to identify the root cause of the problem. Thirdly, after identifying the cause, one needs to put mechanisms in place to solve this particular problem.

An investor would want a stable, viable and sustainable investment environment that will guarantee their Return-on-Investments. It is very unfortunate that sometimes we do not foresee the opportunities that lie in the risks and threats that make us deviate from our economic decisions. This type of reluctance also shows the level of business maturity of our local investors.

The Otavi situation was even better than what transpired in Libya, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Egypt and other countries. However, businesses were opening and there were more indicative economic prosperity for these countries. Now, was the Otavi situation that bad that it shook investments off? The then personnel of our line ministry were catalyst to this demise.

The downgrading of the town from the municipality directly to village council status was not well-calculated. Hence, investors began to close down since they did not want their businesses to be associated with the status of the local authority, (village council).

The locals were left without jobs and this adversely affected the revenue of the council as it contributed to the rising unemployment in the town.

PF: Is it true that the local authority owes NamWater a hefty water bill? How much is it and how is the local authority going to settle it given the high unemployment rate and a high percentage of elderly people living in the town?

MM: Firstly, we need to dissect the term ‘debt’ and come to a sense of the matter. In terms of the Otavi Town Council, having a ‘debt’ is the inability to pay one’s creditors on time. The NamWater debt of Otavi Town Council is typical of the definition. In this case, all parties are to blame as they have overlooked the escalation of this debt. In reality, the total debt stands at about N$5.6m and this is for us, a strategic challenge. In essence, the plight of the town’s residents have an impact but it is our pleasure to mention that currently, the Council is able to collect 99% of the billed amount for services excluding the debts owed. We have worked out a Debt Management Plan together with the NamWater management. This, we believe, is something that will work.

PF: Unpaid bills by the residents at one time reached a N$3m mark. Does this pathetic situation still stand? What is the current scenario regarding this?

MM: This situation could have been prevented in many ways. The community still owes us money and is disadvantaging the Council from carrying out its mandated duties. However, we do have a plan for every situation and while we are researching on the best possible way of recovering these debts from our community, we do not want to tackle the situation haphazardly. I am delighted to mention that we have made strides in collecting these owed revenues. We have a routing debtors’ analysis, which is bringing helpful information as to how and why individuals owe the Council. We are going to pronounce ourselves on the matter soon. It may either be by taking action, or any possible way of doing it.

PF: How does Otavi balance the economies of scale in providing adequate and quality services given that unemployment is very high and 60-70% of the town’s populace is of elderly people with no formal employment?

MM: The reality is, those elderly residents are mostly the paid-up debtors of the Council. This norm is actually attributed to by the ignorant behaviour of the income earners. Recently after our debtors’ analysis, we realised that only the working population has signed the debt-servicing contract with the Council. I indicated earlier that our collection rate for the monthly billed accounts stands at least 90%.

The most challenging factors are the population and the inadequate client base for broader revenue collection. The Council is looking at a revenue collection mechanism and marrying it with the broadening of the revenue base. This will then enable us to collect adequate revenues in order to deliver better to the expectations of our community members.

PF: What needs to be done to overcome the hurdles that are affecting the economic growth and liquidity of the council?

MM: There is a need for serious capital investment in infrastructure by the Central Government. This goes together with investors who want to come to Otavi. Otavi needs serious investors who will bring about quick-wins and not those who we call ‘saviours’. They come and promise things, which they never deliver.

PF: In mid-2010, you said Otavi did not have policies and by-laws to guide it towards development. Are these currently in place two years down the line?

MM: As a Council, which has just been upgraded, we have even had more challenging tasks to complete. We managed to complete one of the most challenging projects - Transformation of the Council from Village to Town. This reorganisation process required that we devise a new organisational structure with a new position; compile new job descriptions that have more job depths; then come up with these policies. Our new organisational structure was implemented last July.

Every house must have rules, procedures and legislations to guide its operations, however, it emerged that this was not the practice. To date, the Council has put policies into place that will maintain discipline while others are being looked at with time, considering all other complexities that we have to deal with on a daily basis.

PF: Tell us about the long-term and short-term programs of Otavi.

MM: We have devised the Otavi City Development Plan (OCDP) as a Strategic Developmental Plan. In this plan, we have the vision to become the industrial hub of Namibia. The OCDP has then dissected into short-term plans that will lead to attainment of particular developments. However, it will require the maximal support of all stakeholders and government entities.

The best part of this plan is that it will be monitored and evaluated regularly to cater for any alternative that may have been omitted as well as what is expected to pop up during the process. “There is no shortcuts to any place worth going”- Beverly Sills.

PF: Considering the fact that few small businesses in the town are owned by Afrikaners and Germans, 22 years after Independence, is this in sync with the black economic empowerment stance that Government advocates for?

MM: Your question is right, however, the history of the town gives us the best answer.

We have seen an increase in the opening of SMEs in the town by the previously-disadvantaged Namibians. Thus, we are confident that the situation is in the process of changing.

PF: Only one road is tarred. The rest are in a sorry state. What is the Central Government doing to improve the road network in the town?

MM: The Central Government should realise that the problems faced by our society do not revolve around Windhoek but in the very rural and semi-urban areas. The transformation of our economy is to first start with the empowerment of the Local Authorities since they are the arm of Government sitting with the problems and not the offices in Windhoek. The change in the perspective of the Government development agencies is promising with the implementation of TIPEEG. We have observed great support from the Central Government.

My counterparts in Local Authority fraternity will agree with me that local authorities are, for the first time, breathing a sigh of relief though not as adequate as the challenges have escalated through the years.

This year alone, Otavi has received funds that will facilitate some of the overdue economic woes of the past. However, the Central Government can do better than what they have already done and I believe that the issue of capacity must be tackled hands-on.

PF: Most of the town council’s equipment is run down or defunct. What is your take on this and the impact on the service delivery system?

MM: There is a quote that goes, “Human resources are the backbone of the company and without them, being equipped with the necessary equipment and tools to work with is not enough, as there is nothing a company can do to achieve its goals and objective”.

We may have the capacity but if the tools and equipment are not there, we cannot deliver according to expectations. We have begun to replace depleted equipment with the support of the line ministry in order for our arms of service to deliver the much-needed services to our community.

The Council has considered getting rid of these scraps by way of auctions. However, we are still waiting for the approval of the minister to go ahead. It is a cost for the Council to keep them while they’re useless. Repairing the equipment is even more costly.

PF: The Ohorongo Cement Factory must have brought economic benefits to the town. If so, how? If not, why?

MM: Definitely yes but it is not as we would have expected, following our engagements during the early days of establishing the plant. Ohorongo has brought a sigh of relief to Otavi to a certain extent. However, we know they can do more than what they have in the past.

We have a very sound relationship with Ohorongo Cement, which is cemented by the Ohorongo Otavi Community Trust. Under the auspices of trustees, we have implemented community projects such as bringing the Former World Soccer Pundits in collaboration with Global United Fund. We hosted a world class game in Otavi. We have renovated the children’s playground. We renovated the clinic and installed the solar geysers at Johanniter Hostel for vulnerable children. However, these are corporate social responsibilities. I have trust that they will venture in capital sustainable economic development activities that will immensely contribute to the emerging economy of this town.

For example, sponsoring a construction of a multi-purpose youth development centre; sponsoring the construction of an SME Incubation Centre and many more.

PF: A recent debate has been raging on about the town council’s proposed expansion program. Could you please outline the intended expansion program and elaborate the intended benefits with quantified economic gains?

MM: This is one of the projects that are inspired by the visionary leadership of this country.

As young executives entrusted with implementing developmental projects for the attainment of Vision 2030 and beyond, the Council thought it wise that we expand the town boundaries so that all other sectors of the economy in Otavi contribute to the development of the town. The project is stimulated by the developmental needs and future forecasts of this town.

As planners of cities, towns and villages, we must be optimistic of the future and in Otavi. We are planning for the year 2099 and not only the immediate tomorrow. The project is fully supported by the Minister of Regional, Local Government Housing and Rural Development. This came in the wake of the boundary of the town being limited in terms of future expansions and town planning. Land was limited for investors and we did not have a clientele base for our revenue collection.

We have held several consultative meetings with affected farmers and relevant stakeholders over the projects. I am happy to mention that we have received overwhelming support to go ahead and only a minority of the population objected to the expansion.

The objective of the project and the methodologies of carrying out this exercise were elaborated and discussed at length. We have reached the final stage and we are good to go. The objections received were scrutinised and the ones that were relevant were positively considered. Preparations are under way to capacitate the Council with relevant skills according to our adopted organisational structure, which emanated for the transformation of the Council from village to town.

PF: What is the latest on the Oryx Gold Mine operation? How meaningful is the investment and its benefits?

MM: The information on this project is very limited due to the process of completing the bankable feasibility study. The company representative visited our office last year to brief the Council on the status of the development. Information received is that there are positive discoveries of mineral deposits. As a Council, we are preparing ourselves to strategically capitalise on the development that is coming our way. We do not want to be caught unprepared like in the past.

PF: The SMS Group of South Africa and Danieli - an Italian firm - are in a joint technological knowledge and equipment venture that is set to boost steel production to 10 million tonnes per annum and make it the largest steel manufacturing plant in Africa. What is the latest on this venture?

MM: This project will be very significant to Otavi when it is commissioned. We have been approached for discussions in considering the project and as optimists of the Council. We bought into the proposal but with a different way of doing business with investors. Our policy on investment is our guide but I should think that our approach to business is totally dissimilar to standard practice.

The town council is supportive of the project and we are enthusiastic about it as it will economically change the face of Otavi for years to come.

PF: How will Otavi town council cater for the anticipated massive 15 000 construction jobs? If the project comes to fruition, can this be a lifeline for the ailing Council’s finances?

MM: Definitely, any investment in this town will be an economic lifeline and the magnitude of the project is the motivation to bring about a paradigm shift in the Otavi area. These are running concurrent with our developmental determinations to enhance the living conditions of Otavi and her people. The Council has recently adopted an Otavi City Development Plan that will prepare the path for development of this nature.

The theme for the Otavi City Development Plan is “Your City, Your Say” and it is a marvellous piece of the guidance, which outlines practical milestones to be achieved within the period leading to 2099. We intend to establish more townships and service the available land for businesses and residential areas. I am yet to be convinced that there is no money in Namibia for these plans.

PF: Any other relevant information regarding the town council operations and bottlenecks?

MM: There is no organisation without bottlenecks and these are unique to one’s organisational culture. The catch is how do we expand the neck of the bottle in order to find a solution? As a team of advisors to the policy makers, we have adopted a culture to “have an attitude like a lion’s toward everything in life“.

The Lion is not the biggest in the jungle, neither is it the strongest nor the fastest. It is not the smartest in a jungle yet it is the King of the Jungle because of its attitude towards the jungle. When a lion sees a giraffe, it sees breakfast. When it sees a buffalo, it sees lunch. Thus, when we see challenges beyond our means, we welcome them because we believe we have the right capacity to accommodate them as long as we lay down the rules together.

The efforts to develop towns should not be left to Government alone but the private businesses must play their part. We have been very conservative in terms of investing in developmental activities, thus our call is for the private sectors to open up and take part in the economic struggle.

We are setting the tone and the standard for investors who want to invest in Otavi. “When investing in Otavi, bring the latest technology and challenge the status quo of the town”.

Otavi is an emerging economy in the Local Authority fraternity with a vision to be one of the most effective service deliveries in the Local Authority sector in Namibia. These standards will also be complimented to fruition if Government is willing to pump in the necessary funds for the interest of its people on the ground. Otavi has never been so hopeful before. PF