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Editr’s Memo

Harare on slide

THERE has been much comment in the government media recently of the deteriorating situation in Harare. And not without justification. Water supplies have been cut due to a number o

f factors including pumping capacity and shortages of treatment chemicals, refuse has been allowed to pile up around the city as the authorities battle with private contractors, and roads and traffic lights go unrepaired for months.

Now the “City Fathers” want to hike rates fourfold to fund a $1,1-trillion budget which includes upgrading and repairs to water supplies.

Ratepayers should mount a revolt against such an imposition. There has been a marked deterioration in the “services” the city provides, and indeed they are charged for “improvements” to their properties when all around them the city is falling apart.

While for once I agree with many of the criticisms levelled in the government press, there is an important part of the story they are not telling. And that concerns the deliberate incapacitation of the mayor of Harare by Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo.

Ignoring the democratic will of the city’s voters, Chombo has suspended Elias Mudzuri and set up a kangaroo court, called a committee of investigation, to try him for “crimes” such as failure to provide a strategic turnaround plan, arbitrary dismissal of senior staff, and inciting a stayaway.

The committee comprises Zanu PF-affilated officials whose mandate is clearly to prevent Mudzuri from doing his job. One is a losing Zanu PF candidate in Mbare, another a failed Zanu PF Bulawayo mayoral candidate.

Some of the officials Mudzuri was trying to get rid of were planted in the civic administration in the dying days of the Zanu PF municipal regime and clung on there long after their sell-by date.

The idea behind all this interference is to show MDC government doesn’t work. But the MDC appears to be conspiring in its own failure. It lacks direction, resolution or resourcefulness in coping with the crisis in Harare.

Who’s in charge with Mudzuri paralysed? Does anybody know? The minister appears to be giving instructions to the Town Clerk, an unelected official appointed under the old order, while shunting aside the acting mayor who should also be the acting chief executive officer. But the rot goes deeper than that.

I have been told of councillors who have not even had the courtesy to reply to letters from their ward residents seeking their help. Many are simply not functioning at any level. Their collective demand for a hike in their allowances should be flatly refused until there is an improvement in their performance.

The traffic lights at the junction of Bishop Gaul and Argyle roads, a dangerous intersection, have been out of action for over six months. Roads in Msasa, a prime business district, have reverted to dirt tracks. Meanwhile, the Director of Works blithely ignores the protests of residents who object to change-of-use applications by businesses likely to change the character of their neighbourhoods by increasing traffic flows and litter.

This is an unresponsive, uncaring council that needs to hear the crack of the party whip. But Morgan Tsvangirai and his “shadow ministers” appear to be indifferent to the fate of their key constituency – the nation’s capital.

Bulawayo by contrast is well run and looks a whole lot better. It is clean and relatively efficient (the residents may differ on this but let them spend a week in Harare!), and there is a sense of solidarity between council, its officials and the electorate.

Harare is a disaster area by contrast. Councillors and officials are at war. The government is able to play divide and rule by dealing directly with its chosen instruments at Town House. And there is no coherence to the MDC caucus in what should be its flagship council.

Instead of imposing an unacceptable budget on the residents of the capital, the council should be looking at ways of relieving the rates burden. Cities around the world cope under adversity by devising new management techniques and diversifying the revenue base. Brazil provides several examples. So does South Africa. It takes commitment and imagination.

Thinking outside the box.

The failure of mechanical equipment is cited as the reason for breakdowns and inadequate service delivery. In fact this is an administrative problem. There is a complete absence of a culture of supervision and maintenance. And mechanical equipment is not needed to remove rubble, cut grass and tend verges.

Where traffic lights cannot be replaced, a return to traffic circles might do in some situations. What is clear is the complete absence of a plan or direction. The announcement of a $1-trillion budget shows just how far removed the council is from the public it is supposed to serve. It sounds like a case of “think of a figure, then multiply by 10”. The residents of Harare must not be penalised for poor maintenance or inadequate investment in infrastructure under Zanu PF.

The MDC, little heard of nowadays just when it should be speaking out on the ruling party’s appalling misrule, needs to treat this as a showcase opportunity to demonstrate its capacity for governance. That means looking for ways to save money, using revenues thoughtfully, and above all responding to the needs of ratepayers. Cleaning the place up would be a good start!

That is not happening. Harare is slowly but surely going the way of Lagos and Kinshasa. Its residents deserve better but won’t get it if they remain silent.

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