THE city of Harare, which has been denied a democratically elected council by central government for the past four years, could soon have a commission foisted on it following the mass resignation of Movement for D
emocratic Change (MDC) councillors.
The MDC chose to withdraw all its remaining councillors three weeks ago, saying Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo had rendered the council ineffective. Chombo fired MDC executive mayor Elias Mudzuri, before dismissing 19 councillors and barring council from holding any meetings.
The majority of councillors resigned, forcing two full council meetings to be aborted because of failure by those remaining to form a quorum. To date, only four MDC councillors remain.
It is understood Chombo is mulling a commission to run the affairs of the city. Sources said James Kurasha, who chaired the committee that recommended Mudzuri’s dismissal, was tipped to lead the commission as he is already sitting in all council meetings.
The question that comes to mind is whether the commission will turn around the fortunes of the politically volatile Town House when the previous one dismally failed to make an impact in the three years it was in charge.
Harare’s problems date back to 1999 after the dismissal of the Solomon Tawengwa council on allegations of corruption, fraud and maladministration.
Government then handpicked commissioners led by former diplomat Elijah Chanakira to run the affairs of Harare.
Losing Harare to the opposition in the March 2002 mayoral election meant government had lost its grip on the capital, so by hook or crook it has worked to recover it.
Barely three months after Mudzuri’s takeover, Chombo started poking his nose into the daily running of Town House. Analysts say this had nothing to do with the interests of ratepayers but owed much to the ruling party’s insatiable hunger to control the capital.
Chombo’s first move was to issue directives demanding that the mayor refer all financial and human resources matters to him before making resolutions.
“Mudzuri managed to resurface all major roads leading in and out of Harare. Responses to burst water and sewer pipes were coming within hours of a report and he ordered the closure of all sanitary lanes in the city in an effort to control refuse,” one urban analyst said.
“Mudzuri’s biggest achievement was the computerisation of the city’s treasury department to improve revenue collection,” he said.
Despite Mudzuri’s spirited efforts to revive Harare’s decaying infrastructure, politics ruled the roost with his deputy Sekesai Makwavarara turning against him before defecting to Zanu PF.
The introduction of the Harare Metropolitan province to which was appointed Zanu PF top functionary Witness Mangwende as governor was the last straw for the MDC council. Mangwende and Makwavarara are currently running the show at Town House. The Combi-ned Harare Residents Association (CHRA), an umbrella body representing all residents associations in the capital, said Chombo’s interference was reversing Mudzuri’s achievements and council services had been deteriorating over the past year.
Harare residents this week said Town House started declining after April 2003 when Mudzuri was suspended and subsequently dismissed a year later.
“Virtually all the capi-tal’s infrastructure is in a free-fall characterised by burst water pipes, raw sewerage flowing in high-density residential streets, roads almost inacce-ssible because of potholes and decomposing mountains of uncollected garbage which are posing threats of disease outbreak at the corners of the streets,” CHRA said.
CHRA said Makwavarara had dropped the stakeholders’ consultation system resulting in council coming up with absurd rate increases and policies that were often 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 procedural 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 had resulted in the city deteriorating further in both infrastructure and its financial position.
“Council has been reported bankrupt on two occasions over the past year that Makwavarara has been acting mayor because residents have been refusing to recognise her thereby holding back rates payments, council’s main source of revenue,” CHRA said.
CHRA said Harare’s health delivery system had been thrown into disarray over the past year as Makwavarara had bungled other sources of revenue.
“Germany’s city of Munich suspended its cooperation with Harare citing dismissal of someone democratically elected by the people of Harare to take over the mayoral office,” CHRA said.
“Suspension of the Munich partnership has closed prospects of both medical equipment and financial support that could have improved the situation at city council clinics,” it said.
Other residents who spoke to the Zimbabwe Independent said water and refuse collection problems have been worsening over the past year with a number of residential areas going for weeks either without water or with mountains of decomposing refuse.
CHRA chairman Mike Davis said the appointment of another commission would not stop the city’s infrastructure from collapsing.
“Handpicked commissions will not have the mandate and capacity to reach out to the residents implying that their decisions won’t be ratepayer-sensitive,” Davis said.
He said the new commission would face a crisis of legitimacy and lack of cooperation which are very critical in local governance.
“Just as the Chanakira commission, it will be subject to court challenges, rates boycotts as residents fight for an elected council,” he said.
Analysts said the Chanakira Commission, which was thrust on Harare residents in 1999, had failed to perform.
“The city’s infrastructure was left to degenerate to a deplorable state,” said one analyst.
“Fresh water became a rare commodity yet it was estimated that the city was losing 40% of the potable water through leaks in the crumbling reticulation system. There was need for an overhaul of the old piping.”
Analysts said under the Chanakira commission suburban roads had become dilapidated and required reconstruction.
The commission also failed to address issues of street-lighting, illegal vendors in the central business district and providing a home for street children and vagrants.