HARARE mayor Bernard Manyenyeni has described his relationship with Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere as difficult compared to his predecessor Ignatius Chombo, citing excessive interference by the minister in council operations for political expediency.
By Wendy Muperi
The mayor, who has over 25 years of working experience in the finance industry, told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that vested political interests from both the ruling party and his party have made it impossible for him to implement the business strategy he believed would turn around service delivery in the capital city.
Waterborne diseases, potholes, waste management and the supply of potable water are among the perennial challenges the city is faced with.
“I have bigger problems with government than I have with my party. As far as my party is concerned, firstly there are times when they fail to realise the basic political truth that the council is captured by Zanu PF, people, processes and politics,” Manyenyeni said.
“There are also times when my party fails to realise that in council we are not in opposition.
“We are running a mini government. We are supposed to deliver through actions and decisions of a party in government. Some of the decisions we have to make are unpopular at party level, but they are the decisions that have to be made, particularly dealing with labour costs.
“We are a labour-backed party, because of that we believe we don’t touch employee welfare even if it is unaffordable and unsustainable. So my party has been against the mayor’s calls to right size, the same with Zanu PF.”
The local authority collects approximately US$12 million every month with US$10 million expended on the wage bill. Although Chombo directed that salaries be slashed to ensure 70% of the collected revenue bankrolls service delivery, there has been resistance from council managers who are mandated to effect the changes.
“The partisan capture of many of council’s projects, people and processes is not unique to Harare — it’s a national tragedy.
I have, for the past two years, tried to ensure that all our properties are outsourced to professional property managers outside council for improved revenue. Our management is supposed to action that but they haven’t. They like the way things are,” he said.
“People are so used to doing wrong things that any new idea is resisted, fought for two, three or four years. The best thing they like is the rotation of mayors. They get a new mayor who they hoodwink for a year or two, fight him for a year or two, then another one comes. It goes on like that. Business thinking has no place in council, people don’t like it.”
With his term spanning between two ministers holding high ranks in the ruling party, Manyenyeni said his experiences serving under Chombo suggest the minister was more experienced to handle sensitive local governance issues with the diplomacy they deserved.
“Minister Chombo was very experienced and could handle things in that context and a superior diplomat. My current minister would be a better minister for Harare’s turn around, but he is badly captured by partisan priorities. He is more ruthless in dealing with the opposition party under him,” Manyenyeni said.
Kasukuwere, who previously was Environment minister, took over from Chombo, when President Robert Mugabe reassigned several ministers in 2015. The Harare mayor has been suspended, arrested twice and at one time locked up in prison for two nights since Kasukuwere took over. The first time, he faced charges of disregarding procedure in the appointment of James Mushore as Harare town clerk to which he was acquitted in June only to be re-arrested by Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission officers on criminal abuse of office.
Speaking on the proliferation of vendors on the streets, Manyenyeni said his party preferred a situation where government creates jobs rather than chasing them from their sole source of income.
“My party is very clear, sort out the political mess and the vendors will go away,” he said.
Chombo cancelled all arrears owed to council by urban dwellers ahead of the 2013 election — a move described by critics as disastrous for the financially troubled council.
“Losing two years’ worth of your revenues is crippling — the resilience after such a financial earthquake is being tested daily over the last 50 months. It created an expectation; Christmas will always come. The ratepayers say so, why should I pay when bills could be cancelled again?” he said.
“The salaries must be right sized, the revenues must come in, the autonomy of council must be respected, there should be no conflicts of interest, no politicking and council must be well-resourced and it will deliver.”