Blessings Chidhakwa Interview
The year 2019 could go down in history as one in which Harare City Council expended most of its time fire-fighting at the expense of delivering quality services as expected by residents.
Water woes that resulted in the total shutdown of Morton Jaffray Treatment Plant twice, failure to provide efficient refuse collection, potholed roads, nepotism and a penchant for luxury sum up the year.
The city also recorded some positives, after successfully installing a new billing system and embarking on the beautification of Samora Machel Avenue, which caught the eye of President Mnangagwa.
Our Municipal Correspondent Blessings Chidakwa (BC) had a one-on-one with Mayor Councillor Herbert Gomba (HG) to get his views on the just-ended year.
BC: Your Worship, what can you say were council’s major successes in 2019?
HG: We managed to transform some sections of the city. I am sure that you heard the President saying our green project (beautification of Samora Machel Avenue) was one of the best.
This year had so many challenges, but for the first time in years the municipal officers received a bonus and pay. We have reduced what we owed to our creditors from $505 million to roughly around $250 million. That debt was choking the city.
We managed to construct and finish some long-standing projects such as Kuwadzana Library, Tariro Hopley Clinic, Highglen Gleneagles round-about and Mabvuku Polyclinic.
We also introduced a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and we are now trying to secure foreign currency to buy a bigger server than the one that we have. Relations with Government also improved. We said let us work together to solve the problems around the water situation in Harare and we are working collectively because we have engaged.
For the first time in 38 years, we are working as a team. You even saw the President touring Morton Jaffray Water Treatment Plant to get an appreciation of the situation on the ground and how Government can assist because in our discussions we had indicated that there are issues that we can address as a local authority and others which require Government’s involvement.
The discussion resulted in us being given the green light to draw water from Lake Manyame.
BC: Mayor, you highlighted the issue of water which is topical as no suburb in the city is receiving water on a daily basis. Will there be any changes this year?
HG: In terms of water, we have tentatively agreed with Government to draw more water from Manyame Dam and currently we are doing some works at the Morton Jaffray Water Treatment Plant, replacing the clarifiers, filters and the actuators and that is going to assist us to be able to purify and distribute more water to our people and now that cleaner water is going to come from Manyame.
We have received communication from central Government that they are going to give us US$9,3 million and that is going to assist us to be able to purify and distribute more water to our people.
Government has deployed engineers who are working with our technical people to make sure we work as a team because it is a collective responsibility between central Government, local authority and residents.
BC: Will drawing water from Manyame translate to improved supplies or it just cuts treatment costs compared to drawing water from Lake Chivero?
HG: It’s common sense that if you draw water from Manyame, which is cleaner than that of Lake Chivero, we are bound to have less costs in terms of purification processes and more water is going to be purified. Right now we are losing a lot of water through backwashing and that entails less backwashing because we are going to be purifying more water that is cleaner.
BC: Council also battled with refuse collection citing fuel challenges, yet other companies and organisations managed to offer uninterrupted services notwithstanding the fuel challenges. Can you please shed more light on this?
HG: On failure to access fuel, residents need to understand that it was not because we did not have the money to buy the fuel, but we paid for it and our deliveries were delayed.
BC: But Mayor, what you are saying is contrary to the open admission by the city’s finance director before a full council meeting at the time that the failure to collect refuse in some areas in November was due to non-payment for fuel.
HG: Documents that I have seen clearly indicate that a payment of $1,5 million was done and after a week or so, the fuel had not been delivered.
It was not only City of Harare that was affected by lack of fuel. Even ordinary residents were failing to access fuel. These are challenges that are national in nature and these can only be addressed in the context of the procurement laws of the country.
BC: Harare’s roads are in a sorry state, with council having only managed to repair and maintain about 50 kilometres against its target of 1 000km. What can we expect in this New Year?
HG: What you need to understand is that council works within the confines of the country’s laws. So, according to the law, we are supposed to get money from Zinara, a collection agent, empowered by the Roads Act and the Road Licensing Act to collect resources through taxes and levies, which will then be channelled towards the maintenance of the country’s roads.
If Zinara fails to give us money and the law still mandates it to continue collecting revenue, then it should be held accountable for the state of our roads and not us. On our part, we are in discussion with City Parking to borrow $30 million for road reconstruction and resealing in the CBD. But beyond that, I have also scheduled a meeting with the Zinara chairman to impress upon him the need to expedite the release of money to local authorities so that they can be able to do what they are supposed to do within the context of the law.
BC: Mayor, your council has also been in the limelight for its penchant for spending money on trips and workshops. Do you have a specific budget for trips?
HG: You need to de-construct every invitation and separate it from your general understanding of invitations. There are ones which are specific in nature that say hotels (and) food are going to be paid by so-and-so.
The purpose of the invitation is paramount for you to understand as to why you would really need to visit. We do have budgets for every transaction that happens in the city, this is why Government approves each and every trip by a councillor, mayor or senior official.
We do have Cabinet authorities that then authorise us to go out and it’s too harsh for one to say our trips are not in sync with requirements of policy, yet we have mountains of Cabinet authorities in our offices which give us authority to go.
As for residents, I have received compliments from some who are grateful that our trips have yielded so much, particularly in the context of our announcement last week that we have received US$100 000. I am not sure which residents are complaining about our trips.
BC: There have been allegations of nepotism in council, with both councillors and senior managers fingered. What is your take on this?
HG: These allegations are coming from a few people and one of those people (name withheld), who is with a residents’ association, recruited his wife to work as a finance director in his organisation.
BC: So, can we justify nepotism on those grounds?
HG: I am not implying that it must be condoned. To answer your question, those allegations are false because we recruit on the basis of an invitation through an advert which people respond to through applications and those qualified are invited for interviews and if they are successful they get the job.
That is how we have been conducting our recruitment. We have not had any incidents of a councillor or councillors that have sat on a panel while their relative was being interviewed because the law is clear; in such cases where one has an interest he or she must declare them and recuse themselves from the process and that is what has been happening.
BC: While it is commendable that you installed a new billing system, there are still many challenges. What are you doing about these?
HG: The system is functional to a larger extent. However, what needs to be done is that we have appealed to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe for foreign currency to buy a bigger server. The system is being constrained by a small server. We are hopeful of getting the money because the RBZ Governor, Dr John Mangudya, has promised to avail resources during meetings we have had with him.
BC: How much forex do you need for the bigger server?
HG: We need roughly around US$150 000. A bigger server will enable us to meet the requirements of our stakeholders.
BC: Mayor, in terms of housing, the city has a problem of illegal settlements sprouting all over and there are cases of a lot of people that have been duped by land barons who are behind such activities. What is council doing about that?
HG: As council we are doing our part, that is to sensitise and educate residents on the dangers of dealing with land barons. But it is every resident’s right and responsibility to check on the authenticity of any transaction they enter into. You must never allow yourself to lose money through shoddy deals and beyond that, we have undertaken a comprehensive regularisation programme in which we go around looking at where people are settled illegally and assisting them to regularise their situations.