Currency volatility plunges Harare council into turmoil

HARARE City Council appointed Hosiah Chisango as the substantive town clerk in September last year, ending a protracted process to replace Tendai Mahachi who left the municipality in 2015. Chisango came in at a time the city council is facing a number of challenges, among them water shortages and inadequate resources to ensure service delivery. Zimbabwe Independent business reporter Kudzai Kuwaza (KK) sat down with Chisango (HC, pictured) this week to discuss his plan to turn around the fortunes of the capital city, mounting challenges the council is facing and what has become of the US$144 million water infrastructure rehabilitation loan the municipality got from China, among other critical issues. Below are excerpts:

KK: How has your tenure been since your appointment as town clerk?

HC: So far so good, we are looking at the condition the city was in, what we have tried to do, and the strategies we have put in place to ensure good administration and good management for the city.

When I came in, there were issues of roads, they were not trafficable because of vendors and mushikashika. Some of these elements are still there, but with the assistance of the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the municipal police we have managed to restore some order but we still have a long way to go.

We also focussed on the vendors themselves where we were trying to house them, yet we had a crisis because we did not have sufficient infrastructure for the required numbers. We do have market spots around the city, but the demand for those has increased because our economy is largely informal so the erection of vendor facilities such as sheds, water, and toilets is work in progress.

The other issue of employees we have tried to speed up is the payment of salaries. There was a backlog of 4-5 months but we managed to reduce that to a month. Therefore, our policy now is that no employee of council will go 30 days without a salary. There are also issues of systems of council operations so that we minimise issues of leakages, be it financial or other issues, because what we want is for us to be in control of the work that we do.

Also, the politics of the day is also allowing us to implement some of these strategies with minimal interference rather than in the past where we had many directives that went against what we had to do. But now we have full support from government and council so we hope that we continue on a developmental projection.

KK: How successful has been your discount promotion to encourage people to pay council service rates?

HC: The discounts were successful because we were able to lift our revenues from $12 million-$13 million to $20 million within a couple of months. This has allowed us to settle the backlog of salaries and some of our creditors.

Now we want to decentralise revenue collection so that we capacitate all our district offices so that they are aggressive enough in collecting revenue so that they can plough it into service delivery.

KK: Are we likely to see promotions of this sort going into the future?

HC: No, it was just to give people a cushion for that period.

KK: What have been the major challenges in trying to implement the changes you have mentioned earlier?

HC: We do not have a small organisation, we are looking at 8 000-plus employees that you have to deal with, and obviously we have set in motion to bring changes first by changing their work culture so that it is aligned with the strategies we have. If we are to attain world-class city status by 2025, we need employees to be responsive to customer needs.

KK: So that has been your biggest challenge, aligning employees to that vision?

HC: That has been the biggest challenge because if you look at the complaints we get, it is that we are not responsive to customers’ complaints. It is like we do not care. So now we want to do what we are actually there for.

KK: I am sure you are aware of the uproar caused by the water rationing and there are fears that it might cause cholera. What is your plan to deal with this?

HC: Water rationing has been brought about by several factors, one of them is the drought, because two of our dams virtually have no water now. Our city has been growing but our infrastructure has not been growing, so we are forced to share the water by way of rationing.

The unfortunate thing is the timetable we produced, it had a certain level of production that when we were at a certain level of production of 350 mega litres per day, it would work. But then we had other problems with infrastructure like breakdowns and shortages of water treatment chemicals so it reduced production levels further and that then caused upheaval in the management of the programme itself. So we then said let us temporarily suspend the programme while we make sure that the issue of chemicals is sorted.
Fortunately for us, we managed to get some suppliers because what had happened then was our main suppliers could not supply us for three days so we had to scale down. The solution is working with government to make sure that an improved water scheme comes through but in the meantime we have got to be efficient with water.

On the cholera issue, I am happy that most people have been vaccinated against cholera and in the cholera hotspots we will be making sure that refuse is collected. We will also provide mobile water to those residents in the hotspots and the residents should use that water efficiently, that is to say 50 litres should be sufficient for a person per day, so if we can get a drum or two per house that should be enough.

KK: Can you give us an update on how you have used the US$144 million Chinese loan?

HC: The disbursement that came through is US$72 million which we have used for the rehabilitation of the Morton Jaffray pumping systems and then the other US$72 million, part of it was supposed to go to Ferrell and other pumps that include Crowborough and Warren Control. The money has not come through as yet. We are still engaging government to make sure that the money comes through. Because of that, we have not completed the work that we planned to do and that is why the benefits are not really being felt.
KK: How have fuel shortages hampered refuse collection?

HC: There have been cases where we had shortages; that is where you quickly see dumps emerging so what we are planning to do is engage private contractors so that they come and clean those dumps or disinfect the areas and the other thing is we are trying to reduce the amount of waste we are sending to the landfills.

Currently, we are collecting 60% of the refuse, but we then set up a material recovery centre in Budiriro where people can separate waste from recyclable materials. This will reduce what we have to take to the landfill site.

KK: How has the currency volatility in the market affected your operations?

HC: It has affected us because we had many contracts that were denominated in US dollars so after that movement in September and October that is where you saw most of our contractors on the road moving away from the sites because costs were now escalating.
Now we also have to look at procurement laws and see what they allow us to do but they have since agreed to new rates so we are bound to see those contractors back on the road but the other contracts that were in the pipeline would have to be re-evaluated because of our budgets.

KK: We saw a number of trucks filled with municipal officers during the clean-up campaign leading to reports that you hired extra people. Can you shed light on this?

HC: We did not employ more people for the clean-up campaign, but we employed municipal police to fill up vacant positions left through retirements and promotions; we had not done recruitments in a long time. Before this it was difficult to see municipal police detail in town. Even for our premises which we had to protect, we were now resorting to employing private security so this necessitated us to employ more municipal police officers.

KK: You have set in place an ambitious programme to rehabilitate Mbare, particularly the overcrowded hostels. What is the time frame for rehabilitating Mbare?

HC: We are looking at the period leading to 2030, we want to bring in new family units. What you have in Mbare are bachelor flats, but you find that they are occupied by families. We want to bring in family units, then we can move people from those flats and decongest them.

KK: What is the current state of your transport fleet?

HC: The ambulance and fire fleet are obviously not enough, but we are planning on increasing them. We have it on our budgets. We have a lot of developers that are coming through to assist in this sector, so very soon we will be announcing some of the deals that we are negotiating.