The Okahandja Municipality is under fire from community members who accuse it of disregarding a 2015 moratorium on land sales and leases after it allegedly agreed to lease property to a Malaysian company that wants to establish a private university.
The moratorium was put in place by the then Minister of Urban and Rural Development, Sophia Shaningwa, in August 2015 in an effort to curb land sales and leases after it emerged that the municipality was selling land without following the correct procedures, including getting approval from the minister.
In a letter addressed to the municipality from Shaningwa in 2015, she insisted that an investigation into the municipality be carried out while all land sales and leases were put on hold.
“I have been briefed that 99 percent of sales and other transactions involving land in Okahandja were done without ministerial approval as required by law and that in some instances this has happened without council resolutions,” the letter from Shaningwa read.
Shaningwa said she would direct the council on how to proceed as soon as the investigation has been finalized.
Sources said this week that the Okahandja Municipality had agreed to lease a 13,000 square meter property to Limkokwing University without following the right procedures.
Council is alleged to have approved the lease without consulting current Urban and Rural Development Minister, Peya Mushelenga, who is said to have directed it to follow procedures after he got wind of the deal.
“They took the resolution in April, but after the minister found out he told them to get the land rezoned as well as get approval on lease from the Attorney General (AG) Albert Kawana,” the sources said.
Council was then placed a notice in last Friday’s edition of New Era, announcing its plans to lease immovable property on Erf 930 situated in the Nau Aib location.
“Notice is hereby given in terms of section 63 (2) (b) of the local authority act No 23 of 1992 (as amended) that Okahandja municipality intends to lease immovable property by way of private transaction,” the notice read.
Okahandja Mayor, Congo Hindjou, confirmed in an interview that there are plans to lease the property, but insisted that everything that has happened thus far has been done by the book.
“Procedures were followed. We wrote a letter to the Ministry of Rural and Urban Development asking them to consider the proposal to lease the property. They instructed us to advertise in the paper which we did,” Hindjou said.
He said those who are against the deal are malicious residents interested in his position.
“They are here to sabotage the SWAPO-led government. If they want to be councilors, they must wait until 2020,” Hindjou said.
He added that although council had resolved to lease the property to the university, nothing has been signed off yet.
“The ministry gave us a chance to plead our case and that is why they asked us to follow these procedures first,” he said.
The Windhoek Observer is in possession of a letter from the Ministry of Rural and Urban Development signed by the Permanent Secretary, Nghidinua Daniel, instructing the council to provide details of the proposed leasehold fee/price.
The letter also requests council to re-zone the plot from general residential to institutional and to submit a draft if there are no objections as well as provide the lease agreement for scrutiny from the AG.
However, community members are skeptical about the deal, alleging that there is more than meets the eye.
A member of a community committee, Joe Diehart, alleged that council members were benefiting from underhand deals.
“They do not want the community to know what they are busy with and they are doing secret deals,” Diehart declared without providing proof.
He further claimed that community members are chased out of public meetings because council has something to hide.
“We were at the municipality attending a special meeting that was being chaired by the mayor on April 30 2018 and he called the police to take us out,” Diehart said.
Community members also alleged that council is evicting residents who live on the property where the university is planned to be built, but Hindjou denied that evictions have taken place.
“It is only the first phase of the project so no one will be evicted yet. The people who are staying there are ‘renting’ from the municipality and they are not even paying that rent. They have owed the municipality money for years,” he said.
He also maintained innocence when quizzed about the allegations of underhand dealings.
“Allegations are there, but until proven in court, I am innocent. They need to bring proof,” he said.
If approved by the ministry, the council will lease the property for 10 years with an option to renew.
When quizzed why the council did not just sell the property, Hindjou reiterated that the council was not in support of selling council property.
“We cannot sell council property, we need assets or we will not have anything to leverage at the bank.”
It is still not clear when the ministry will lift the moratorium on land and property leases.
“There were investigations and resolutions recommended by the ministry and we have since submitted a report to the ministry. We are now just waiting to hear from the ministry on the way forward,” Hindjou said.
The council sent the report to the ministry three months ago.
The current political leadership of the town also faces allegations of corruption, and taking bribes from business people to push deals in their favour.
Hindjou, who was also implicated in a media report about a land deal at Okahandja in 2016 when he was not yet the mayor, has been at the forefront of convincing the government to remove the ban on the sale of land at the town.
Mushelenga told The Namibian recently that the ban was still in place at the town, adding that his ministry would investigate matters there.
“No moratorium on the sales of land have been lifted, but since the community is complaining about such acts, the ministry will investigate the issue to establish the facts,” the minister stated in that interview