THE appointment of a commission to run the city of Harare could see service delivery plunging to irretrievable levels if the performance of previous commissions is anything to go by.
Local Government minister Ignatious Chombo last week appointed
an eight-member commission led by the acting mayor Sekesai Makwavarara to run the affairs of Harare for the next two years. This followed his denial in recent months that a commission was due to be appointed to run the city.
The commissioners, a majority of them ruling party top functionaries, have been appointed to replace fired opposition Movement for Democratic Change Mayor Elias Mudzuri and his council. Mudzuri was fired earlier this year on allegations of corruption and incompetence.
The current commission is made up of Zanu PF’s Mbare East losing candidate Tendai Savanhu as deputy chairman, lawyer Terence Hussein, Mashonaland Central committee member Prisca Mupfumira, Professor James Kurasha, Noel Muzuva, Michael Mahachi, and a Mrs V Chasi.
The Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA), the umbrella body representing residents associations in the capital, said the appointment of the commission was done to ensure Zanu PF tightens its grip on Harare ahead of next year’s parliamentary election.
“As expected, Zanu PF has appointed several of its functionaries to oversee the capital city and to ensure that the municipality continues to operate as the private fiefdom of the regime,” CHRA said in a statement. “Once again and ad nauseam, government demonstrates its staggering arrogance and utter contempt for the norms of democracy.
“Despite the massive rejection of its candidates in the 2002 municipal elections, it continues to undermine our democratic rights to elect representatives to govern the city.” CHRA said the latest commission would face resistance from ratepayers. The resistance could result in the commission failing to fulfill its mandate. “Not one of the commissioners has any mandate from residents and as such do not deserve any respect or cooperation from our citizens. The commission is a political appointment not accountable to residents but to its political masters,” CHRA said.
Local authorities throughout the world can only be effectively run if residents are involved but in Harare, central government has usurped that right from residents.
CHRA said the Urban Councils Act clearly spells out that such commissions have a limited tenure of six months and during that time it has to ensure that elections are held. “CHRA will seek relief from the courts once again should this bogus commission remain in office beyond May 9 2005,” the association said.
In 2001 CHRA forced government through the courts to hold elections, which subsequently ejected the illegal Elijah Chanakira Commission after three years at the helm of Town House.
“In the interim, CHRA reiterates its call to all residents to withhold the payment of rates and other charges until democracy is restored to Town House.
“Do not give your hard-earned money to an unelected, unaccountable and blatantly partisan commission. Work with your fellow residents and the genuinely elected councillor for your ward to overcome these manoeuvres by the regime,” CHRA said.
The Makwavarara-chaired commission becomes the second commission to run Harare since Independence. In February 1999 government appointed the Chanakira commission to replace the now late Solomon Tawengwa council with the mandate to turnaround the fortunes of Harare city.
Chanakira and his team came into office to save council from imminent collapse following the firing of Tawengwa and his entire council over allegations of maladministration, corruption and incompetence.
The commission, which was in office for three years, failed to improve the situation at Town House.
Tawengwa was alleged to have corruptly allowed the building of a bus terminus and a footbridge at Machipisa shopping centre.
Analysts said when the Chanakira commission took over the city had gone for over a week without water, the sewer system was working in reverse, the city had a bloated wage bill and refuse collection was erratic.
The Chanakira commission was tasked to improve the city’s financial position. It had incurred an overdraft of $100 million and had debts amounting to $299 million. The commission was also challenged to upgrade the water distribution network, which was estimated to be losing about 30% of the treated water through leakages.
“Chanakira suspended all capital projects as a measure to stabilise council’s financial base but the move strained the ageing infrastructure,” one analyst said.
The capital projects that were put on hold included the construction of Kunzwi dam which was expected to be an alternative source of water for Harare. Tawengwa had contracted Biwater of the United Kingdom to do a feasibility study, mobilise funds and construct the dam on a build, operate and transfer basis. Up to now no follow up has been made.
Firle sewarage treatment plant was one of the projects which were suspended. Its construction would have greatly reduced the volume of raw sewerage that flows into Manyame river and Lake Chivero.
The appointment of the commission resulted in the death of the Inner City Partnership, an Old Mutual initiative to involve large corporates in the general maintenance of the city.
Donors’ also suspended their assistance to Harare demanding the restoration of a democratically-elected leadership at Town House.
In particular, Germany’s city of Munich suspended its cooperation with Harare citing the deposition of someone democratically elected by the residents. The move threw Harare’s health delivery system into disarray.
Analysts said the major question which remain to be answered is whether the Makwavarara commission can make any difference as it is coming in under almost similar conditions to those obtaining when the Chanakira commission came in. Council services have nosedived over the past two years since the suspension and subsequent dismissal of Mudzuri in April.
As the Makwavarara commission comes in, virtually all of the capital’s infrastructure is in free fall, characterised by burst water pipes, raw sewerage flowing in the high-density residential streets, roads almost inaccessible because of potholes and decomposing refuse mountains posing threats of disease outbreak around the city.
Over the past year when she was Harare acting mayor, Makwavarara has dropped the stakeholders’ consultation system resulting in council coming up with absurd rate increases and policies that have been resisted by residents.
“Council is no longer consulting residents in matters of budgeting as had been the norm but simply imposing its views,” CHRA said.
“Last year council had to be forced to revise its budget downwards because it had not followed the consultation process.
“Half the time Makwavarara has been fighting to keep her position instead of taking the city ahead through getting feedback from residents and responding to their concerns.”
CHRA said the one-man band attitude which Makwavarara has adopted resulted in the city deteriorating further in both infrastructure and financial position.
“Council has been reported bankrupt on two occasions over the past year when Makwavarara has been acting mayor because residents have been refusing to recognise her thereby holding back rate payments, council’s main source of revenue,” CHRA said.