Everyone expects local councils to perform, regardless of whether they are city councils, municipalities, town boards or rural district councils. Zanu-PF has already put those councillors who belong to that party on notice that they will be monitored and that the party will have no hesitation in getting rid of those who cannot deliver. Legally, since they are elected, this might mean that the party will not sponsor them in anything ever again, but the message is clear: “Deliver or your political career is dead.”
We hope the MDC-T will follow suit. Almost all councillors belong to one of these parties and all need to understand that there will be no forgiveness if they foul up.
The next election is only in five years and some very healthy competition from the two main parties over whose councillors are best will certainly help the residents of their areas.
All councillors need to understand for a start that their job is very much part-time. It is not a living, and it is not a career.
The allowances are simply to cover costs, these days petrol or bus fares plus airtime. The councillors give their own time for free with the allowances simply there so they are not out of pocket.
Councillors basically have two functions. They have to attend the meetings of the committee they sit on and the full council meetings, and they have to keep their finger on the pulse of their ward.
The meetings are the formal part of the job.
Decisions have to be made. Council officials prepare agendas with the full reports required and the options available and councillors debate and vote.
That is simple. A few dollars a month for transport is all that is required for fuel or fares, since the tea at meetings is free.
The second part of the job, keeping an eye on their ward, does not take up much extra time. Councillors almost always live in the ward they represent.
Going to work, going to the shops, taking children or grandchildren to school, going to church and they criss-cross their ward every day doing the sort of things everyone does.
So long as they keep their eyes open as they do the normal rounds and have their phone handy they can sort a lot out without effort.
The big difference between them and their neighbours is that they can do something about problems. They turn a tap and nothing happens, so they phone the water engineer.
They see a pothole, or a pipe leak, and they phone their district office. They notice garbage bags out on a street at 3pm, and they inquire why the truck has not come.And unlike the rest of us if the pothole is still there tomorrow, they can phone again, and again and again until some harassed official shuts them up by filling the thing.
This does not require a lot of extra time or cash, just a few dollars a month in airtime, the rest of the allowance, and a list of numbers.
The odd report back meeting can help, but few ever attend these. So standing in a supermarket queue, chatting in a school carpark, talking to neighbours as you walk the dog, and a councillor is likely to hear more than in a formal meeting.
Keeping close touch with the party leaders in a ward can also provide useful information, and a councillor should keep in touch with both his own party and the other one.
So far as we can see, none of this requires a residential stand in a fancier suburb, a business stand in the nearest growth point, official council transport or even a laptop as Harare councillors demanded.
In fact, a councillor should be “one of us”.
We agree that some councillors need to have qualifications to be effective committee chairmen or mayors, but careful selection of candidates should have produced suitable councillors from at least some wards.
“One of us” from Borrowdale, say, might well be an accountant, just as “one of us” from Glen View might well be a retired teacher with their head screwed on tight.
Being elected councillor used to be regarded as an honour, telling everyone that your neighbours thought you were the person who knew what was going on and could do something useful.
As towns and rural councils grew in size, modest allowances were introduced to cover transport costs and postage, these days that tending to mean phone bills.
All councillors now need to return to the old ideal, that a stint on council is the way they serve their neighbours, not themselves.