Thursday, 1 December 2011
The Hon. Deputy Minister of Local Government Hon. Sessel Zvidzai
All mayors and senior council officials here present
Representatives of sister associations from various countries in the SADC region
Ladies and Gentlemen
I feel greatly honoured to be invited to this important forum at the occasion of the conference of the Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe.
This is an important occasion because the men and women in this room, the mayors of our urban local authorities, are at the coal face of delivering basic service to urban communities.
As government, we recognize the role that you continue to play as urban councils in the primary delivery of basic care in important sectors such as providing clean water, housing and other social amenities.
Let me hasten to say I am aware of the mammoth task that you face in delivering basic services owing to lack of funding, even for important capital projects that would change the face of our towns and cities and uplift the standard of living of our people.
I have often said that the story of Zimbabwe is the story of reconstruction and recapitalization and I know that major projects have stalled in most urban councils owing to lack of funding.
Because of limited fiscal space, central government has very limited capacity to respond to some of the needs of local councils.
So I urge you to come up with innovative means to ensure that you get the necessary funds that will enable you to continue to provide basic quality service to the people.
The theme of your conference, Local authorities’ recapitalisation: the key to economic recovery and enhanced service delivery, is indeed appropriate for this occasion.
Once the local authorities that are the centre of activity at grassroots level are capitalized, we will begin to see immediate change that will impact on the lives of the people.
Indeed, investment and capital projects in the local authorities will help create jobs and end the endemic poverty that continues to be a scourge even in the urban areas.
But the local authorities must equally deal with their own internal challenges, especially the issue of corruption.
Corruption is a cancer that we must treat early and action must be taken against corrupt officials at whatever level, whether in government, local authorities and the private sector.
There have been reports of corruption in councils that have manifested themselves in reported cases of embezzlement as well as in the allocation of residential and commercial stands.
Reports that there are people, including senior officials in government, who have acquired vast tracts of land and residential and commercial stands in almost every city and town in this country is testimony to the fact that corruption is a scourge that must be stemmed in Zimbabwe.
I am also aware of the unbridled corruption in the allocation of Garikai Hlalani Kuhle houses as well as markets stalls in the various councils where senior politicians and politically connected barons are subletting and fleecing deserving people. Legitimate beneficiaries should not be prejudiced at the expense of corrupt barons.
As central government and as parties in the inclusive government, we have constituted the Anti-Corruption Commission to showcase that we have zero tolerance to corruption at every level in our society.
I know your concerns about the allocation of the Zinara funds which is disproportionate to the size and traffic volumes in the various towns and local authorities. There must be transparency in the management and disbursement of the money collected.
In this regard, I will be taking up these matters with the various ministers concerned to ensure that we rectify the problem so that citizens benefit equally from these funds.
However, it has not all been doom and gloom in the local authorities.
Over the past year, I have travelled to many towns and interacted with most of you in your local authorities and I am aware of the challenges that you face.
But despite those challenges, I saw a massive improvement in many areas, especially in the provision of water, sewer reticulation system and basic health and education.
Compared to 2008 when basic service delivery had collapsed, I saw functioning towns and cities, with a dedicated leadership and staff committed to ensuring that urban authorities deliver on their mandate.
I want to mention that I was particularly pleased to see the great work that had been done in order to solve the perennial water shortage in the city of Bulawayo through the Mtshabezi pipeline.
I saw functioning councils across the country committed to succeeding, even with the recurrent challenge in all cities and towns to collect the necessary revenue that will enable the local authorities to deliver basic services to the people.
And I want to acknowledge that my visit to the urban councils in the past year has also shown that government is the biggest debtor to most local authorities.
I indeed took up the matter with the Minister of Finance and I hope that there will be a significant improvement in government’s capacity to service its debt to the councils.
Yes, we are the biggest culprit and I acknowledge that it does not give a good impression if as central government we are given to truancy.
But I want to thank you as urban councils for staying the course and for your commitment to deliver service to the people.
You represent the government at the local level and you must continue to provide quality services and to be innovative by engaging in strategic partnerships in the areas of health, education and the provision of housing.
When I met the mayors in Harare in July, we were discussing one of the key issues facing local authorities and that is the provision of affordable housing to the people.
Central government might not have the fiscal space to undertake a comprehensive national housing programme and this leaves local authorities and the private sector with a key role to play in executing this urgent national assignment.
I know the anxiety that is gripping every one of those people on the long housing waiting lists, each one of them wondering when they will get a house of their own.
I also know that most urban councils have a problem with the Urban Councils Act and the excessive powers that the same Act gives to the Minister of Local Government.
This has particularly become apparent through the incessant meddling and the arbitrary dismissals of elected councilors for purely political reasons.
Democracy must be allowed to prevail in this country and elected officials must be allowed to do their duty. It is only the voters who reserve the right, at the end of their term, to see whether they should retain them or vote them out.
But despite your challenges, you must never veer off the mandate of delivering quality but affordable service to the people of Zimbabwe.
Those shacks in our towns, the raw sewage flowing in our streets, the street lights that last functioned decades ago, are all some of the stark reminders to the daunting task that we face as urban councils in providing service to the people.
But with unity of purpose between government, the local authorities and the private sector, we should be able to solve some of the challenges that we face.
I wish you fruitful deliberations at your conference. Let the dialogue begin.
I thank youPost published in: News