HARARE – The Daily New on Sunday’s senior writer Mugove Tafirenyika (Q) sits down for a wide-ranging interview with Wellington Chikomba, the Glen Norah MDC MP and former Harare councillor, who has worked both as chairperson of Harare City Council’s Business Committee and Human Resources Committee.
Find below excerpts of the interview.
Q: You have been a councillor for two terms in Harare and chaired very senior committees. You stand accused of approving ridiculously high salaries and perks for senior management as you worked with them in corrupt deals including the illegal sale of residential stands. How do you plead?
A: Such allegations are completely unfounded. For the record the exec payroll was under minister of Local Government Urban and Rural Development. Not even a single councillor was allowed peep through that proverbial cookie jar. Councillors only determine welfare of employees from grade five to 16 through CBA (collective bargaining agreement) in Employment Council. You might also be aware that the same government audited the exec payroll to see whether their agreed salaries are being followed or not and some senior council functionaries are on suspension facing charges of abuse of office as a result of that audit. I’m not too sure if it’s not a double standard principle on part of this government as you might be aware that when a leopard wants to eat its cubs, it starts to accuse them of smelling like goats.
Chinhu chavo (it’s their baby). Maybe it’s a case of issue being hoisted by own petard.
Q: So what challenges did you face in the two important positions you held?
A: In 2008, I was appointed to chair the Business Committee by the then mayor Muchadeyi Masunda and I think we did very well in terms of registering business ventures and Zimbabwe was on the positive radar of attention mainly because of inclusive government. However, in 2013 I was appointed to chair Human Resources and General Purposes Committee and it wasn’t a walk in the park. I had a lot of clashes with my boss then (mayor Bernard Manyenyeni) mainly on procedural and tactical issues. He was so devoted to what he termed “benevolence dictatorship” mainly because of frustrations induced by beauracratic and red tape associated with these organisations. It was a justifiable expression, nevertheless, in my view. Benevolence dictatorship is incompatible and uncouth in contemporary HR practice. The disregarding of stipulated employment procedures was a recipe for legal consequences. I had a duty of preventing the council walking on a legal minefield. My fear was always our inability to follow our procedures as stipulated in various statutes and I was unhappy to see our employees recklessly subjected to ocean of poverty. Employees should always realise the fruits of hardworking. It’s a natural covenant. We don’t take a gamble with employees’ welfare. Their well-being is our happiness, their comfort is our security, their profit is our success, and their fortune is our safety. I believed we did not need to conflict statutory procedure or social contract and effort designed to promote the basic physical and material well-being of our people. It is an affront to some of us considering our history as a labour offshoot. The City of Harare being a stratified organisation, we were duty bound to protect the sanctity of various contracts. Whilst I was amenable to changes, I always remind myself of the contract with our employees through CBA — collective bargaining agreements and any attempt to vitiate the same should be structured and procedural. I therefore had a herculean task of transforming the incorrigible human resources system into a modern, transformative and adaptable function that was seized with the mandate of propelling the human resources agenda in the City. I felt I needed an HR team of Black Belters and Rainmakers (professionals) who could provide solutions and turn around the aura of the city.
Q: But what you say was your inspiration does not seem to match what was eventually achieved because we constantly heard that employees at Town House had not been paid.
A: I don’t think that is a fair assessment of our performance because we managed to launch of the vision 2025. Prior to that, there were number of visions that did not have enough stamina and focus but the current is still driving council to the Disney day. That vision dealt with restructuring and transforming the city. We managed to restructure it by reducing the number of directors from 13 to seven. We saved a lot of money in the process and it got channelled to service delivery. Managers were equally reduced from 48 to 35, again we realised pecuniary savings. The vision had a cost containment agenda. We managed to save more than $1 million from the employee attrition through the readjustment on the age of retirement. We, therefore, right sized the city and made savings. We also established a wellness policy. The city successfully launched Social Sport and Inter Sport Festival for Local Authorities as a vehicle for building high performance teams as strategic pillar to supporting Vision 2025. At the time of leaving Council, there were more than 14 local authorities participating in this festival. During our tenure, we also introduced IRBM as a performance tool and culture especially for the top management. Currently, the system is being used in council. Contrary to what you are saying, there was high level of employee morale since 2013 to date. Zero industrial actions recorded as a result of our continuous engagements efforts through central Works Council and Employment Council, a rare feat considering uncertainties hovering the political sky then. We managed to review key HR policies and conditions of services — code of conduct, talent development policy, recruitment policy, promotions policy and wellness policy.
Q: That is about council in general. What about the ward you represented?
A: In the constituency, I pushed for housing cooperatives and pay schemes, road construction from Chitubu Shopping Centre to Glen View 7 and other roads tributaries, the establishment of a billing office and Chembira Hall. We were instrumental in the construction of shops, bottle stores and night clubs, warehouse and clinic at Chitubu Shopping Centre now at 80 percent complete. The clinic is meant to provide maternal and child health, antenatal care, post-natal care, provision of family planning, growth monitoring, immunisation of children and so forth. This cost us about $250 000.
Q: Now that you are now MP for Glen Norah, what is your vision?
A: I will strenuously push for total cooperation by the government to align and implement the Constitution especially the devolution part which is our revolution as a party. We want executive mayors in our cities. People must be given unfettered mandate to govern themselves. We are a great nation, bold in our vision and confident in our strengths.