Harare mayor MuchadeyiI Masunda and city treasurer Misheck Mubvumbi unrealistic on rates

masunda5THE Harare Residents Trust (HRT) has repeatedly indicated that residents of Harare cannot live in their houses without paying for services provided by the City of Harare, the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) and any other service provider within their communities. (Pictured: MuchadeyiI Masunda)

Statements (Newsday 1 March 2011) emanating from Town House, being attributed to such honourable men as the Mayor of Harare and the City Treasurer Misheck Mubvumbi, appearing in the national newspapers, are reckless, lacking merit and demeaning the resident of Harare.

Making such pronouncements about the councils intention to launch a blitz against debtors is only but a temporary measure that is unsustainable and unjustified in many respects. The failure of the residents of Harare to pay their monthly dues is not deliberate but a symptom of poor governance, unemployment, poverty, and a failure on the part of the Council to emerge with plausible and practical alternatives to increase its cash flows.

The City of Harare has not realised its full potential due to laziness on the part of senior council management to go out of their offices and provide the much needed technical expertise to the policymakers- the councillors- within communities. While the District Officers are there at local council offices, the heads of departments should find time off their busy schedules to attend community meetings with councillors and listen to the real issues of concern to the citizenry. That way they are assured of real input from residents of how best they could generate more money for the City.

In the said article in the Newsday, the Mayor and City Treasurer were given a reality check by Councillor Herbert Gomba of Glen Norah Ward 27 who invited the two to visit the communities and observe how the council has abandoned refuse collection and the general declining state of service delivery.

As long as the City of Harare lacks accurate data on its revenue inflows it is going to remain difficult to improve on revenue generation and provision of world standard services to the paying public. In this vein it is important to note that the City of Harare has only started to talk of alternative sources of revenue, yet the current council has been in office since 2008. According to special council minutes of 20 January 2011 under item 7 (iii), it was the Mayor who called upon Councils administration to maximise the utilisation of its vast assets by making them sweat in order to generate additional revenue.

It was then resolved that the Town Clerk coordinates heads of departments in identifying and listing other ways of generating additional revenue for council. The councils administration was tasked to seek the authority of the relevant Committees of council to implement the alternative sources of revenue.

The above cited issue must inform the residents something about the calibre of employees serving Harare Municipality. The City heads of departments have a responsibility to make sound recommendations to the policymakers, by conducting the necessary research into the operations of council and exploring all loopholes. The expectation is that they must provide the councillors sufficient, un-doctored information about the situation in council so that the councillors can come up with the supporting policies to enable the city to progress.

From the conversations, public and private meetings convened by the HRT and its stakeholders, it is estimated that Harare has about 1, 5 million properties in both high and low density areas, excluding business and industry. Without alternative and factual statistics from the City of Harare, the HRT will continue to rely on these given figures as basis for the organisations lobbying and advocacy. If all of these households religiously pay a monthly figure of US$15 for all rates and services, the City of Harare is assured of US$22, 5 million. If the council takes 35 percent of this approximate collection for salaries and administration, which translates to US$7, 875 million, it leaves the council with an estimated US$14, 625 million for service delivery every month. For arguments sake, if industry and business are operating at about 40 percent of maximum capacity, they could possibly contribute between US$5-US$10 million to the council every month. Of this we have deliberately left out the money the municipality generates every month from markets, bus termini, city parking and licensing. Where is the money going to? Where else does council generate income?

With these figures as a starting point for discussions on rationalising the rates and services the HRT demands that the council recognise and acknowledge its shortcomings rather than continue in its current defensive and uncompromising attitude, which defies all logic. They need to attempt to humble themselves before the citizenry and consider the benefits that might accrue to the municipality in terms of refuse collection, road repairs and the upkeep of the councils community infrastructure.

However, the debt owed to the council by residents, government departments and other service providers, estimated at US$140 million, continues to grow by the day, yet the council is insisting, without justification, on implementing a US$260, 4 million budgets in 2011. What is apparently happening is that the City of Harare is earning maybe 20 percent of the budgeted for income, and from this little amount they still take 35 percent for monthly salaries and administration, meaning the few residents paying their bills are simply ensuring the luxurious lifestyles of senior management, when service delivery is collapsing. What is the rationale for keeping the bloated workforce if the revenue cannot sustain them?

Councils major expenses, besides salaries, which covers pensions, and other statutory obligations, are water treatment, administration of clinics, refuse collection, town house and rowan martin administration and electricity bills. Informed council staff tells us that ZESA demands and is paid by council a monthly average of US$5 million for electricity charges at water pumping stations, street lights and at its offices, which is something the council is reportedly negotiating with ZESA management.

But due to an arrogant approach to issues related to community development, City heads of department view residents as ignorant and lacking in capacity to make informed decisions on what they can afford against what they are being forced to pay. The City has dismally failed to provide an alternative answer that addresses the root problems of city governance- financial resources and attitude.

Recommendations:

1. The City Treasury Department should provide the residents of Harare a breakdown of how much the council is generating, district office by district office, in the high and low density areas, industry and business, and from the water account. Without this the City Council has no basis for demanding that people pay the exorbitant charges.

2. The City has to engage all stakeholders on finding alternative ways of raising revenue in Harare and improving service provision.

3. The HRT simply asks the council to reconsider its intended move to go into the communities to coerce residents to pay up what they owe the council. All debts must be scrapped and start afresh in January 2011, at rates not exceeding US$15, across board.

4. The City of Harare must comply with the provisions of the Urban Councils Act (Chapter 29:15) dealing with Budget formulation. As long as they refuse to bow down to pressure from residents, they invite to themselves regular and sporadic mass demonstrations at their district offices, and at some stage at Rowan Martin Building around the time the council would be expecting people to make their monthly payments.

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