Vusumuzi Dube, Senior Municipal Reporter
THE recent decision by the Bulawayo City Council to move the Mayor, Councillor Solomon Mguni, into a mayoral house has since reignited the debate on the existence of a functional council asset register.
According to a council confidential report, the “mayoral mansion” is located in the exclusive Hornung Golf Club in the leafy suburb of Burnside. The property, which is owned by the local authority is being leased out to a council employee.
Investigations by Sunday News have revealed that the local authority has many such properties including a number of flats in the city which have been all leased out to council employees or former council employees.
Last year, a council audit on the Estates Department revealed that more than 600 non-residential properties belonging to the Bulawayo City Council are not captured in the local authority’s inventory, raising fears that some bigwigs were taking advantage of the loophole to use the facilities for their businesses without paying rentals.
The state of the council inventory has for the past 10 years been subject to intense debate with residents questioning whether the local authority has the capacity to capture their vast property base. A few years ago it was reported that the local authority, which owns numerous properties in the city was not aware of the net worth of their properties, exposing the local authority to possible fraud and undervaluing if the properties were to be sold.
As an example, it was revealed that there was a business that was operating at the council-owned Aisleby Farm without a lease agreement, with the business reportedly disputing the council’s ownership of the said property.
Sunday News has over the years attempted to get hold of the council asset register without success.
However, the local authority’s corporate communications manager, Mrs Nesisa Mpofu said;
“The City of Bulawayo is in the process of updating its comprehensive Asset Register. Once the updated Asset Register is finalised an evaluation exercise will also be undertaken.”
Commenting on the issue, Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA) co-ordinator, Mr Emmanuel Ndlovu blasted council for “not being honest” with its residents over the issue of the asset register, noting that they were clear irregularities on the matter.
“In the past there have been concerns around irregularities surrounding the BCC asset inventory. Every entity no matter how small, must have an inventory of its assets. Poor maintenance which has become part of the BCC culture could be traced to the issue of how council manages its assets inventory. Without a proper asset register in place, BCC cannot keep track of the status of its assets and the threats thereof. As such there has not been effective utilisation of council assets. Councill is therefore missing out on maximizing revenue from its assets,” said Mr Ndlovu.
Local governance expert, Dr Rodrick Fayayo said there was a need for a forensic audit.
“My take is that the issue of the assets needs us to either go back to the report by the auditor-general or request for a forensic audit. Council can’t still be working on their asset register to date. Something surely is amiss,” said Dr Fayayo.
Bulawayo United Residents Association chairperson Mr Winos Dube concurred, revealing that every year as an association, during the budget consultative meetings they always request the council to avail their asset register with no luck.
“To be honest, this is now worrisome, we have constantly tried getting this asset register but clearly council does not want us to know what they own. Right now, they are telling us they have a property in Burnside, clearly there are a lot of such properties, which they don’t want the public to know about for whatever reason. We now suspect that these people are hiding these properties so that at the end of the day they sell them to each other for a song.
Residents must know what they own because such properties were purchased or built using rate payers’ monies,” said Mr Dube.
When the council last carried out an audit on their properties it emerged that tenants, some of whom were given 10-year leases in the 1970s, were still occupying the properties and were no longer paying rentals to the local authority.