Chombo: wake up and smell the sewerage

SENIOR government officials last week, with a spring in their step, picked their way through streams of sewerage and piles of rubbish in Chitungwiza before they arrived at the town’s offices to declare that government w

as taking over the running of the local authority from the opposition MDC council.

Local Government minister Ignatious Chombo and his team appeared to have made an important discovery: that the town had serious water and sewerage problems!

Chombo, in sarcastic tones, berated the mayor Misheck Shoko for incompetence and lack of attention to detail in the administration of the satellite town. He also demanded that the council produce a turnaround programme in 24 hours.

The duplicity by the minister is breathtaking. This is a minister of a government that has failed to come up with a workable economic blueprint in the past decade. The evidence is there for all to see and Chombo should be the first to admit that the situation in Chitungwiza is hardly new.

Former Zanu PF mayor Joseph Macheka is very familiar with sewerage streams along streets and in open spaces.

Ironically, a sewerage stream has been a permanent landmark close to his St Mary’s home. Zanu PF’s Forbes Magadu’s footprints should also still be visible in the raw sewerage in the streets of Chitungwiza.

It is fair to say that officials running local authorities in most of Zimbabwe’s urban areas have been found wanting resulting in poor service delivery.

But the biggest threat to local governance is Zanu PF’s penchant for control. It has gone out of its way to subjugate opposition in urban areas, the case in point being the firing of MDC Harare mayor Elias Mudzuri in 2003.
The government has however no history of known competence in the running of towns and cities — or indeed anything else! After the departure of Mudzuri, the government took over the running of the capital and appointed political turncoat Sekesai Makwavarara to be the state proxy at Town House. Chombo claimed Mudzuri had failed to deliver on basic amenities and was corrupt.

We were promised that the new broom would sweep clean and restore the capital to its former sunshine city glory.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. Makwavarara has nothing to show for her leadership in Harare other than uncollected garbage, sewerage pools in high-density suburbs and dry water taps in the eastern part of the city.

Chombo will naturally not ascribe the dire situation in parts of Harare to incompetence on the part of Makwavarara and governor of Harare David Karimanzira (by the way, what is his day job?) but cites other reasons like shortage of foreign currency and sanctions.

Chombo, who has accepted the shortage of diesel as an excuse for the non-collection of garbage in Harare when everybody else manages to cope, was this week quoted as dismissing the same excuse in Chitungwiza.

Chombo is the embodiment of the destructive and incompetent hand of government in local governance. The same hand that has failed to nurture growth points and other rural service centres should not perhaps be expected to perform any better in the more complex urban set up.

In urban areas where the government has taken over there are traits of government’s ineptitude, bureaucracy and wrong decisions in planning civic affairs. Chombo’s fingerprints are all over the malfunctioning robots in Harare, the crumbling sewerage and water treatment plants, and poor lighting on major roads. His prints can be traced back to potholes and uncovered manholes on Harare’s roads.

He is the problem.

The assault on the civic authorities in Chitungwiza is part of a broad strategy by Chombo to directly run towns and cities. That way, residents associations — construed to be in alliance with the opposition -— are rendered dysfunctional while Zanu PF consolidates its stranglehold on cities and towns despite losing elections.

Residents have no obligation to support ministerial appointees brought in at the expense of elected councillors and mayors. There has not been any tangible investment in any of the major towns because of the economic collapse. 

Revenue from rates has not grown concomitantly with demand for capital to implement capital projects. 
No international financier will give Zimbabwe’s local authorities loans or grants because of President Mugabe’s hostile politics. Resultantly, the ageing sewerage and water reticulation plants cannot be repaired or replaced. In its wisdom, government has launched housing projects in urban areas which do not have sufficient infrastructural capacity to support new settlements.

Put simply, there is no basic planning by central government to ensure that cities and towns thrive, nor is there a climate conducive to investment. We would like to advise Chombo to wake up and smell the coffee. But the stench of sewerage probably prevents that!

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