The multi-million pula Maun fire station, which was long completed in 2009, still remains unutilised. This is so despite an urgent need by residents in and around Maun to have the facility opened and fully operational as per their expectation, considering the many challenges they always face whenever there are fire outbreaks in the district. The absence of operations now leaves council with no choice but to rely solely on services provided by either the fire department at Maun airport or Botswana Defence Force even though assistance is never guaranteed because of internal commitments at the two parastatals.
The facility is part of the Maun Phase II Infrastructure Development Plan, which was supposed to have started operations soon after completion, even though that has not been the case. Because of continuous budget constraints, the North West District Council has over the years not been able to source funding for the procurement of all the necessary equipment and other related stuff, thus automatically putting some projects on hold.
Other developmental projects included the council chamber, the new bus rank as well as internal roads, most of which have since been completed and are currently in use. The NWDC has, on the other hand, always made numerous budget requests to the Ministry of Local Government to push projects in vain as they allege their budget is always little.
In an interview with The Sunday Standard this week, the Chief Fire Officer, Mathews Difele, said they experienced quite a lot of setbacks which were not bargained for, resulting in them having their hands tied as there was nothing more they could do. “Besides sufficient funds to keep us going, we are also very thin on the ground. We are, however, yet to recruit more fire personnel. So far the positions of lending firemen, fire control operators, fireman driver 1 and 2 have been filled and they will join us sometime in July,” said Difele. “The Chinese government donated an ambulance, which is yet to be inspected to see if it complies with our safety standards. The Japanese government, on the other hand, has also donated three and one of them has already been registered and is ready for use, while we await the modification of the other two.”
Difele further said that they had already made fire station specification tenders, amongst them communication systems, command vehicles, and two fire engines for rapid intervention. Once the facility is out and running, he said they might continue to experience other challenges, considering the size of the district.
“The vastness of this district is yet another setback which we are going to come across. Though stationed in Maun, we are going to have to travel long distances to as far as Okavango district. I am afraid our minute resources might see us failing in our job,” said Difele. “Also, access to some of the places around here is a bit of a challenge as some of them are not accessible by road.
Should government provide additional funds, then we might have to have some of our staff, ambulances and other equipment taken to Gumare as it is central to most of the villages in the Okavango.”
Meanwhile, Kubung Councilor Pelokgale Monyame said for a long time the NWDC has failed in setting their priorities right, hence delays by government to fund important projects such as the fire station. He pointed an accusing finger at government, which he accused of always failing to allocate the council’s budget as a package.
“How on earth are we expected to push projects when funding is awarded in installments? I think time has come for us as council to start thinking and doing things objectively because otherwise the people we represent may start questioning our credibility,” said Monyame.