BULAWAYO — Resident associations across the country have welcomed a government ban on workshops convened by councils in areas outside their jurisdiction, saying the move was “long overdue”.
The ban came into effect last week and was communicated to all local authorities in a circular entitled: Financial Prudence, from Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister, Saviour Kasukuwere who said most local authorities were extravagant on seminars while service delivery in their areas of jurisdiction had deteriorated.
Under the new measures no out of pocket allowances are to be given for events held within council areas.
In addition, Kasukuwere said it also appeared that local authorities were abusing council funds to indirectly enrich councillors and their staff.
“In order to protect public funds and instil a sense of propriety within the institution, I hereby direct, in terms of Section 313 of the Urban Council’s Act, that no council may undertake any ‘look and learn’ visit, or any workshop or conference outside their area of jurisdiction without the written consent of the permanent secretary,” Kasukuwere wrote.
Lobby groups that spoke to the Financial Gazette this week said government action to force local authorities to tighten their belts was welcome.
“This decision was, from our own view, long overdue, because we have always argued as the Harare Residents Trust (HRT) that the council was being extravagant to organise workshops with councillors and officials in resort towns of Nyanga, Kariba, Victoria Falls and also in Kadoma where they pay huge amounts in travelling costs, venues and food, and also allowances for each individual, as well as mileage for the council vehicles the officials use,” said HRT director, Precious Shumba.
He said the huge salaries and allowances being paid to council managers and councillors were inconsistent with the revenue base of the local authorities. He cited Rusape Town Council which recently stoked controversy after its council chairperson and the town secretary claimed more than US$1 500 each on top of their given allowances for a trip to South Africa.
“As residents, any move that is meant to save our financial resources is welcome,” said Masvingo United Residents and Ratepayers Alliance director, Anoziva Muguti. “Councils are wasteful and usually have misplaced priorities which are meant to benefit those in management at the expense of residents and ratepayers.”
Muguti said, while the underperforming economy contributed to poor service delivery by councils, local authorities must be innovative in order to continue providing quality services.
Mutare Residents and Ratepayers Association director, David Mutambirwa said they also were in full support of the government ban.
“Councils have to adapt to the realities of the environment and there is no reason for people to be living beyond their means,” said Mutambirwa.
Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association secretary for administration, Anglistone Sibanda, said, while it could be true that local authorities were extravagant on public funds, they were not in any way different from government in the management of public finances.
“It is: Like father like son situation in that councils are behaving just like government,” said Sibanda. “We have a problem of a bad spending culture as a country. Central government must lead by example in austerity measures, then the Minister (Kasukuwere) will have credibility to issue such a directive.”
On the deteriorating service delivery, Shumba said the socio-economic conditions in Zimbabwe should not be used as justification for the failure of local authorities to provide essential services.
“They (local councils) need to greatly involve the citizens in line with the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Local authorities must set their priorities based on residents’ input and not based on the management’s selfish desires. The local authorities should adopt a singular model of billing that inspires confidence among the paying public, rather than the chaotic manner of billing experienced in most local authorities…,” he said.
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