Nelson Chenga and Tendai Makaripe
HIT by a flurry of adverse audit reports on its many local authorities, the main Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) has a lot of work to do to prove it is different from ZANU-PF, which faces accusations of running down the country’s once prosperous economy.
When the MDC-T entered the political space in 1999, expectations were high among the electorate.
This was the period Zimbabwe’s economy headed southwards, with all hell breaking loose in February 2009 when the country eventually ditched its medium of exchange, which had become useless due to hyperinflation.
It however, took the MDC-T’s participation in an uneasy inclusive government between 2008 and 2013, for those who had pinned their hopes on Morgan Tsvangirai’s party, to realise that it was easier said than done.
Instead of breaking with the past, the MDC-T fell for the very same things that had resulted in urban voters turning against ZANU-PF.
Service delivery in MDC-T dominated councils has gone haywire — with residents going for months without water.
Refuge is piling in street corners and street lights are now a luxury.
Residents across municipalities are also being fed with reports on corruption and mismanagement.
This narrative has come as manna from heaven for ZANU-PF, which is wasting no time in giving marching orders to those implicated.
As it is, Gweru council is now being run by a three-member commission, while Mutare council is on edge, not so sure of what tomorrow holds.
Results of council audits released so far have been damning.
The levels of mismanagement and corruption being unearthed by auditors need to be seen to be believed.
With what is now obtaining in MDC-T run councils, it is of little surprise that ZANU-PF has been regaining lost ground in urban centres.
But this is just to digress.
Currently, MDC-T councils are in sixes and sevens, drowning in the country’s urban planning mayhem.
MDC-T council face a real dilemma.
On the one hand, they must be seen to be enforcing the law by demolishing all illegal structures that have sprout up like mushroom in towns and cities.
On the other hand, they must also be seen to be having the people’s interests at heart if the MDC-T is to win the hearts and minds of the electorate at the coming polls in 2018.
It’s a catch-22 situation the MDC-T knows full well that it cannot escape without running into more trouble with the ZANU-PF government, which is determined to destroy what remains of their rivals’ reputation.
Apparently, all councils report to the Local Government Ministry, which is presently under ZANU-PF’s national political commissar, Saviour Kasukuwere, whose party duties obligate him to rally support for President Robert Mugabe’s political formation.
Kasukuwere has meant business from day one, directing councils to do the right things or face his wrath.
And true to his word, most illegal settlements have been disappearing one after the other, with the MDC-T councils doing the dirty work.
The only comforting thing for the MDC-T has been that most of the illegal settlements were invaded by ZANU-PF supporters who used their party connections to settle themselves as they please.
Inadvertently, MDC-T-run council have been dragged into the murky housing chaos.
While insisting it is only re-establishing the rule of law in urban areas under its control after years of chaos, many view the opposition party as drinking from a poisoned chalice.
And typical of MDC-T, it has been excuse after excuse on why it has, since 2000 when it took over control of councils, been unable to either stop the mushrooming of illegal settlement in urban areas or provide better service to residents.
The scapegoat for poor service delivery has always been the perennial problem child: “Lack of finance,” caused by “ratepayers who are defaulting on payments for services provided by councils”.
That the little which is being collected by councils is being grossly mismanaged and rampantly abused is hardly cited as an Achilles’ heel in MDC-T’s failure to properly run all the local authorities it is responsible for.
Last week, the MDC-T again washed its hands on the mayhem, blaming their rivals for the crisis.
In a statement, the MDC-T said ZANU-PF has in the past decade pursued a policy of taking over land that is either inside the areas controlled by councils or in peri-urban areas in almost all urban areas of the country.
The most affected city, according to the party, has been the capital city where some 250 housing cooperatives, all involving ZANU-PF functionaries acting as land barons or agents of the party, are running rings around city fathers.
Some 500 000 families have been settled in these unplanned and unserviced areas; many on land that is either unsuitable for housing or has been assigned to other purposes.
In Masvingo, these activities now exceed the total number of homes in the city itself, argued the MDC-T.
“MDC councils have not had jurisdiction over these settlements and have not been able to generate revenue from these activities which, under normal circumstances, under the Urban Councils Act, would have been paid into special estate accounts for the cost of services,” reads part of the statement issued in response to enquiries from the Financial Gazette.
In the recent past, major settlements in the peri-urban areas have been transferred by the Ministry of Local Government to the Harare City Council for planning and formalisation and the provision of services.
Two such settlements — Hopley Farm and Centurion — involve over 240 000 people.
The MDC-T said this illustrates the magnitude of the problem being dumped on their laps by their rivals.
Councils have since now taken charge of these settlements following the appointment of Kasukuwere as the new Minister of Local Government in September last year.
“Councils are now taking charge over these settlements and where houses have been constructed without planning approval on unserviced stands, ‘sold’ by land barons to the occupants, the (Harare City) council has concluded that they cannot allow such settlement because: The land is unsuited for housing settlement (wetlands for example); the land is required for another priority which cannot be shifted elsewhere; or the land in question is owned by a company or institution which is not prepared to release the land,” the MDC-T further noted.
Although the party says it is now in full control of housing issues in the capital city, it admitted that ZANU-PF continues to control certain pieces of land where it is settling its people.
This effectively means chaos will continue to reign in urban areas as long as the opposition party is not in total control of all the land in and around these areas.
This apparent lack of control of all the areas under its jurisdiction has also affected the way the party’s personnel in councils have handled finances, resulting in a lot of rot in many councils.
The Affirmative Action Group has, for instance, filed an urgent High Court chamber application to compel the Local Government Minister and provincial administrator for Bulawayo, Konzani Dube, to exercise their discretionary powers in terms of Section 114 of the Urban Councils Act (Ch 29: 15) to dissolve Bulawayo City Council whose officials were accused of corruption and reportedly mismanaging council funds.
The Urban Councils Act (Chapter 29:15) mandates local authorities to audit their financial statements within 180 days of a particular financial year-end so that regular checks can be made.
But, according to the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s 2013 Report, nearly 90 percent of councils are breaching this legal requirement.
Lack of auditing between 2009 and 2013 resulted in local authorities losing over US$50 million through fake payment receipts and unspecified cash withdrawals.
Subsequently, the cities and towns have been characterised by poor state of roads, erratic water supply and uncollected garbage among other ills.
Local think tank, Poverty Reduction Forum Trust (PRFT), in its latest report, blamed the absence of public accountability systems for the sharp increase in cases of mismanagement of resources at public institutions, especially local authorities.
“At the time when the economy is shrinking with most people struggling to pay their bills, city councils have been involved in corruption scandals and mismanagement of public resources,” partly reads the PRFT report.
Local government expert, Kudzai Chatiza says lack of tight control measures is the major undoing of MDC-T-run local authorities.
“Weak monitoring by citizens, local institutions and central government sustains much of the mismanagement. It grew at a time when councils had access to considerable resources from both local sources and through government grants. As citizens, our local government literacy is low so we have been unable to follow processes in our councils closely. Even when audits (e.g. the Harare land audit of 2009/2010) revealed irregularities no ordinary citizens, local organisations and central government took the matter up. The councillors involved in the investigation were harassed out of council and we did not defend them,” said Chatiza.
“Central government has for the past 15 years been disabled by a focus on political control of councils and destabilising those controlled by opposition political parties to be effective at holding councils to account. In some cases, what we call mismanagement was/is sanctioned by central government. This makes it difficult for central government to act on mismanagement,” he said.
Asked on whether he feels the responsible ministry is doing enough to bring sanity to local councils, Chatiza said it was impossible to have sanity in councils when there is no sanity in government.
“The challenge is not necessarily or exclusively about the responsible ministry, but the rest of government. Some of the mismanagement is sustained by the multi-provider framework for service delivery which leaves too much room for excuses. Water, electricity, land and housing, roads, solid waste management and health services are not being delivered using models that rest exclusively on individual councils. As such, the Ministry responsible for local government can never do enough.
“We cannot hope for council-level sanity without central government level sanity. However, the ministries responsible for local government have instruments that they are using to curtail the problems. These require our support and capacity development at national, provincial and local authority levels. It’s a medium to long-term not short-term commitment as the decay of our systems (and by extension country) has gone on for at least a generation,” he said.
Harare Residents Trust’s council chairperson, Anesu Magwenzi, said the corruption in councils de-motivates residents.
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