Mukaratirwa’s challenge as he takes over Masvingo
Masvingo City Council's new acting town clerk Edward Mukaratirwa is probably the man who will oversee the long-awaited completion of the Mucheke Trunk Sewer Project which remains stalled six years behind schedule.
Mukaratirwa assumed his new role on September 01 this year following the retirement of Adolf Gusha who had served in that capacity for 15 years.
Mukaratirwa acknowledges the ‘legacy’ issues associated with the previous management which he has been part of, the same management which presided over the botched project.
With 18 years' experience working in local authorities, Mukaratirwa's capability to handle the pressure which comes with the city's top job will be put to test. The city is faced by many service delivery shortcomings including inadequate water supplies and unreliable refuse collection schedules.
In a wide ranging interview with TellZim News, Mukaratirwa shed some light on some of his service delivery priorities, saying he respected residents’ huge expectations for change under his management.
Who is Mukaratirwa the man?
He is 42 years of age, and is a civil engineer.
He did his primary and secondary education in Gutu district, finishing his advanced level at Gutu High School in 1996.
He then enrolled at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) in 1997 for a Bachelor of Science honors degree in civil engineering, and graduated in 2001.
Mukaratirwa joined Gweru City Council in September 2001 as a water engineer until June 2002 when he joined Gutu Rural District Council the following month as district engineer, a position which he held until September 2006.
In October 2006, Mukaratirwa became Gutu RDC acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) until February 2011 when he left and joined Masvingo City Council in March the same year as the deputy city engineer.
He was in the same post until August 30 this year when he assumed his current position as acting town clerk.
The Mucheke Trunk Sewer project
The Mucheke Trunk Sewer project dates back to 2012 when the then Masvingo mayor, the late Femius Chakabuda, confirmed in one interview that work on the project was already underway and was expected to be complete by 2013.
This project is probably the biggest blight on both council management and councilors who were in office that time because seven years later, the project remains uncompleted. The deep trenches have become a hazard to man and to the environment, and many of the fibrous pipes still lie unattended in the open veld; some of them being vandalised.
With the expansion of the city partly due to the growing peri-urban settlement of Victoria Ranch, council realised the need to upgrade the sewer system which last received such attention in the late 1990s.
Mukaratirwa was already deputy city engineer when the Mucheke Trunk Sewer project started, and there have been numerous twists and turns as to why to this day it has not been completed.
Mukaratirwa says this is one of the very first projects he would want to see completed as a matter of urgency, seeing that it has been hanging in the balance for seven years. He says from the technical advice that council got, the sewer line will be completed in three years’ time.
"As council, we resolved to mobilise internal resources for the completion of the project. We will also use funds allocated by government through devolution to do the work," Mukaratirwa said.
"We also plan to approach Victoria Ranch residents through the land developers to make them contribute a levy towards the completion of the sewer line since they are the direct beneficiaries of the project. Whatever happens there (at Victoria Ranch) affects us so it's only fair to engage them. We have a council resolution to that effect," said Mukaratirwa.
He said council bought pipes for the project from Turnall in Bulawayo a few years back, but has not been able to transport them due to the cost, but a recent disbursement of RTGS$624 000 from government will go towards that.
"The $624 000 we received from government is all going towards the transportation of the pipes we bought. We expect the tender process to be completed by end of October and the transportation to start in November through to December," Mukaratirwa said.
"Work on the ground will probably start at the end of the rainy season and by then, we hope all the materials required for the completion of the first phase will be in place," he said.
Assuming that work on the ground will start early 2020, project's completion will be 10 years behind schedule.
The initial contractor who won tender failed to complete the project after telling council that he had underestimated the cost of the work despite council confirming that it had paid him US$2 million.
He is reported to have demanded a further $2.5 million from council, after which council then cancelled the contract.
Masvingo City Council in 2015 advertised in the media its intention to borrow US$1.7 million for the completion of the project, and after getting the nod to borrow, council confirmed that work was to commence soon afterwards.
Former town clerk Gusha is on record admitting that council had not done the feasibility study prior to the start of the project, and council had to engage a South African consultant for the study. This raised eyebrows as to how the tender process was conducted in the first place.
Council also borrowed US$900 000 from NSSA for the same project, with the later pledging another US$1.7 million subject to government approval, but still the project remained dormant.
Some residents recently complained that they suspected council had increased bills behind their backs as part of desperate efforts to raise new funding for the project.
In 2017, council spent $500 000 on vehicles for deputy directors and what they termed ‘other uses’, a development which caused serious disagreements between councillors and management.
The expansion of the city has further worsened the water situation as the city is currently supplying only 30 megalitres a day instead of the required 48 megalitres due to many factors including load shedding.
Mukaratirwa says council has completed the technical feasibility analysis for the scheduled water augmentation project.
"The consultant we engaged has completed the financial feasibility analysis and will present to council management in the first week of October. The consultant will then add the management's feedback on the report and by end of November we will be having both the technical and financial feasibility reports.
"Both these reports will help us look for money for the water augmentation project, and by year end, we will be going around looking for partners. We also want to lobby government to give the project a national project status so that we can look for funding even beyond our borders," he said.
Load shedding, on the other hand, has been one of the unforeseen challenges that hit council this year. Mukaratirwa says going the solar way could save the city from the short-term water woes, adding however that going the solar way is very costly.
"The water treatment station requires a 200kva of power to run and the solar system needed for that costs approximately US$2.5 million. We just did a rough estimate but in our 2020 financial year, we have included fees for a consultant to do a feasibility study on that," he said.
Mukaratirwa admitted that there were parts of the city that have gone for over two weeks without running water because load shedding worsened from only three hours a day to around 11hours a day at Bushmead Water Works.
He said that through council's engagement with power company ZESA, the situation might improve starting this week as per the latter's promise.
Council recently flighted a tender invitation to private local transporters who are willing to be contracted by council for refuse collection, but Mukaratirwa says he is disappointed by the response.
The council's refuse collection fleet has suffered mainly from overuse, and council intends to beef up the fleet by purchasing a truck or two in the 2020 financial year.
"Our trucks are suffering from overuse and we wanted communities to play a role in refuse collection hence the tender invitation. The response we got was underwhelming therefore we are planning to engage them at both association and individual levels," Mukaratirwa said.
Mukaratirwa said collection of refuse in the CBD where most of the economic activities happen will continue, as well as at schools during the school terms.
The previous council is known for blaming predecessors for most of the problems faced but for Mukaratirwa, stepping into the shoes of a man who has been town clerk for 15 years entails dealing with many ‘legacy’ issues.
Most, if not all of the service delivery issues he needs to address have been troubling the city for years and residents can only hope that he too will not spend most of his time in office quenching fires started by his predecessors.