Local authorities in Zimbabwe have in recent years made the headlines for all the wrong reasons chief among them being massive looting, corruption and politicking at the expense of service delivery.
Rural and urban councils are made up of management and councillors who, in an ideal setting, work hand in glove so as to serve the interests of residents.
In town and cities, the offices of the town secretary and town clerk are the most senior posts in the management side of urban councils. Theoretically, these posts are filled by appointment based on merit after due job applications and interviews have been done but this has often been abused by the Minister of Local Government to push for politically expedient appointments.
On the side of councillors, the town chairperson and mayor are the most significant posts in an urban setting and those posts are filled by internal voting processes involving the elected councillors themselves.
In Rural District Councils (RDC) the council chairperson is the equivalent of a mayor or town chairperson in an urban council while the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is the equivalent of a town secretary or town clerk.
These local governance structures, despite giving clear authority delineations and providing for separation of powers to ensure checks and balances, have often failed to yield the intended effect; with councillors and managers colluding to steal public resources to the detriment of service delivery.
In Masvingo the Mucheke trunk sewer project stalled midway and has failed to resume some seven years after its scheduled completion.
The trenches dug are now a danger to the environment while the big asbestos pipes that were scattered along the course of the trenches are going to waste.
Similarly, the second phase of water augmentation project is nowhere near commencement at a time when the city is growing fast while water supplies are getting more erratic.
In what seems a clear case of misplaced priorities, Masvingo City Council recently flighted a tender for six ‘operations’ vehicles with a budget of US$120 000. Some residents feel the vehicles are just but another extravagant bonanza for senior and middle-ranking council employees.
This is despite the fact that the city is in a precarious position financially, with the city having to do with only two refuse trucks that often breakdown leading to intermittent failure to collect garbage on time.
Mayor Collen Maboke told TellZIm News that inflation affected council’s ability to implement such capital projects as Mucheke Trunk Sewer which are critical for optimum service delivery.
“Coupled with Covid-19, inflation has greatly affected us especially on the budget so we didn’t meet some of our targets. Some residents didn’t pay for services so raising the money was difficult. We ended up channeling some of the money we got from government to other pressing issues like workers’ salaries so we had to delay resumption of such projects as Mucheke Trunk Sewer which we had wanted to resume this year,” said Maboke.
However, many residents are convinced that service delivery shortcomings are not merely a result of a difficult economy, but a combination of mismanagement and corruption too.
Masvingo United Residents and Ratepayers Alliance (Murra) spokesperson, Godfrey Mtimba misplaced priorities and shoddy dealings were also factors in poor service delivery.
“Although the poorly-performing economy is an impediment to quality service delivery; corruption, poor management and misplaced priorities are also key factors.
“There are good grounds to suspect corruption in tendering processes and we hear about clandestine land deals. Successive council administrations have also failed to invest in water infrastructure since independence. Roads are in bad shape and so is sewer reticulation,” said Mtimba.
In February this year, the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) petitioned City of Masvingo over poor service delivery which affects mostly women who are the caregivers at home.
WCoZ Masvingo Chapter chairperson Joyce Mhungu said poor service delivery made the lives of women harder as they are expected to maintain optimum hygiene at home with little or no water.
“When we handed over the petition, we noted some improvements in water supply but that did not last long enough. Soon, women in areas that receive water on a fairly regular basis had to go to the boreholes once again; risking the dangers of getting robbed, sexually abused and contracting coronavirus.
“Poor sanitation remains a challenge as refuse collection isn't regular. Sewerage bursts are not attended to in time and that exposes children to diseases. We feel that the services that we get do not tally the bills we receive from council,” said Mhungu.
This was echoed by Disability Amalgamated Community Trust (DACT) executive director Henry Chivhanga who said people with disabilities (PWDs) were uniquely affected by poor service delivery.
“As long as water is not taps, PWDs are in trouble because they cannot push their wheel chairs to boreholes. How do they carry buckets? If roads are not well maintained, mobility is restricted,” said Chivhanga.
In Harare, reports of corruption and looting in council are widespread and many arrests have been made in recent weeks, but whether or not the state can build watertight cases against the accused to secure convictions remains to be seen.
In August this year, then Harare Mayor Hebert Gomba and former acting director of housing and human resources Matthew Marara were suspended for allegedly being involved in massive corruption including the illegal sale of residential stands.
A few days later, Hosiah Chisango, the town clerk, also made headlines for allegedly influencing the allocation, at ridiculously low prices, of two low density residential stands to two acquaintances who were not on the housing waiting list.
In Chitungwiza, 723 hectares of Wetlands were lost to politically-connected land barons who swindled unsuspecting and desperate home seekers of their hard-earned cash.
Out of the 912 hectares of wetlands in the area, only 189 hectares remain.
Cities like Gweru and Bulawayo are also experiencing worsening service delivery due to many factors including corruption, bad management and infighting.
With the rate of corrupt land dealings, majoring of minors and political struggles in councils, there is cause for pessimism especially in light of the fact that case of corruption at high levels have seldom resulted in convictions.