Residents up in arms at Council budget mtg

Accusations flew thick and fast at the 2012 Harare City budget consultations, with residents alleging misplaced priorities and gross mismanagement.

Residents said the council “does whatever it wants with the income it generates through property taxes, and water levies and generally pushes the people of the city around”.

Harare city councillors struggled to hold the first public event on next year's budget. About 100 people packed into various halls during the past week – dubbed 2012 City Budget Making Process – to input into the city's spending plan for next year.

The Harare Residents Trust slammed what it said was a “pathetic turnout” at the consultations, and said city fathers had abdicated their duty to mobilise residents to attend the meetings.

Only six out of 23 meetings attracted an attendance of over 100 residents – the number of people that must be in attendance to validate the outcome of the pre-budget consultative meetings.

Councillors at first tried to trumpet the city's blend of old and new, of lowbrow and high, as a mix that had revived the capital to its sunshine status and was attracting new residents and investment during tough economic times.

They cited the patching of Borrowdale Road and Fourth Street as among the city's accomplishments over the past year. But residents tore into the project, and said the council's plan should have prioritised water provision to ghettoes struggling with an acute water crisis instead of building a road in Borrowdale. Furious residents accused the council of having misplaced priorities.

Councillors said they had purchased 20 refuse collection trucks, two generators to crush stones for pothole patching, repaired water pumping and carriage pipes for Morton Jaffray water works, replaced water pipes in the Central Business District resuscitated sewerage plants, and improved sewer reticulation. They also installed solar-powered traffic lights and energy savers for street lights and demarcated roads.

But residents accused them of extravagance by paying themselves hefty salaries with money the city generated.

Precious Shumba of the Harare Residents Trust, whose monitoring group observed all the budget meetings in all the wards in Harare, said residents in areas such as Mount Pleasant, Mabelreign and Mandara criticized council representatives for reports that city directors and departmental heads were getting hefty salaries ranging between $10 000 and$15 000 per month – yet service delivery was collapsing.

"Although residents did not discuss the real aspects for the budget for example the cost of basic services such as water and refuse, they raised concerns over service provision and highlighted their expectations for the 2012 budget," Shumba said.

The residents’ top priority was provision of adequate and clean water supplies. Shumba said they also demanded to see audited reports for previous budgets before a fresh budget could be crafted.

However council officials noted that the budget did not perform according to expectations because residents were not paying their monthly bills, which impacted negatively on revenue inflows.

The Harare City Council is owed $2.5 million by ratepayers.

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