URBAN local authorities have been accused of failing to provide basic services over the years. Different reasons have been given on the failure, with the ruling Zanu PF party blaming the opposition MDC and vice versa. The MDC controls 28 of the country’s 32 local authorities. NewsDay (ND) Senior Reporter Moses Matenga spoke to shadow deputy minister for local government, Clifford Hlatshwayo, to hear his thoughts.
ND: How do you rate the performance of your local authorities across the country?
CH: We have striven to deliver prudent services under a debilitating national economic meltdown. The MDC has a smart city agenda in all urban local authorities and development and urbanisation of rural areas for the rural communities. These are clear developmental programmes for a better Zimbabwe.
These two programmes are guiding all our work in the several local authorities that we lead, thanks to the voters in the respective local authorities.
In March this year, our president, Nelson Chamisa, will be hosting a smart city summit, where we shall take stock of our successes and sculpt further strategies to enhance service delivery and strengthen some weak ends.
We are pleased with the progress we continue to make in the face of adversities such as a run-down economy and an Executive whose illegitimacy drives them to spurn good governance tenets and constitutional provisions. Central government has displayed an insatiable appetite for destruction and a penchant for interference in this crucial sector.
ND: You have been accused of failure as a party to address basic service delivery issues. How do you defend yourself?
CH: The economy has been bastardised by the illegitimate regime, which has thrown all sanity through the window.
Inflation is runaway, the dollar, or whatever name we give our currency, continues on a downward spiral of exponential value loss against the United States dollar and other currencies.
This has been exacerbated by an inept government. Electricity is scarce in the country while local authorities’ contingent savings have been eroded 20-fold by monetary policy misadventures.
Government has also centralised the procurement of waste chemicals because of the acute shortage of foreign currency. This is the hard reality of our macroeconomic situation and sadly, all the above economic ills disable service delivery.
We bemoan government failure over the past four decades to invest in water harvesting. Our raw water sources are inadequate for the urban population bulge.
The plans for Kunzvi Dam and the Zambezi Water Project remain stuck on the drawing board, while Zanu PF makes sonorous noises about these projects towards every election.
In addition, there has been deliberate strangulation of local authorities’ revenue streams, thereby setting up our councils for failure.
For example, you ask why road user licensing has been taken away from councils. You ask why the EMA [Environmental Management Agency] takes hefty fees from local authorities and you ask why government allocates a paltry 5% of its budget to sub national governments. It’s all choreographed to cause councils to fail.
Further, the abuse by central government of the Local Government Act, which is no longer fit for purpose, is a key ingredient of defunctionalisation of this sector. Local authorities are barred by central government from investing in innovation and reform.
They can’t re-engineer their service delivery models because there is the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe, Joint Venture Committee Act and a plethora of other archaic acts standing as hurdles on the way of improved service delivery.
We thank our deployees for a spirit of never say die, the result of which is reasonable services against a background of serious interference.
ND: Your performance in rural councils by-elections has been dismal. Why is that?
CH: The people of Zimbabwe love the MDC. What you are witnessing are not elections. People are being frog-marched and forced to do what they don’t want. Our rural communities are very much vulnerable and exposed to Zanu PF militia tactics.
There is organised rigging and manipulation of all processes. Food aid to vulnerable communities is done on a partisan basis, leading to a captive community in our rural areas. We have witnessed traditional leaders being used as presiding officers, rogue war veterans being used to threaten communities, government property and employees being used, drugs being used to buy votes, just to mention but a few.
Now, in the delimitation process that is coming, gerrymandering has already begun. No normal person in this time and age will soberly vote for Zanu PF.
ND: There have been reports of corruption in MDC-dominated councils. As a party, how have you dealt with corrupt elements in your midst?
CH: Corruption is a scourge that needs to be dealt with ruthlessly whenever and wherever its ugly head pops up.
We are known for our uncompromising attitude toward corruption. As a party we are allergic to avarice and sleaze. This is why each time our elected officials have been found with their hands in the cookie jar, they have been removed from office. We set an example in Chitungwiza in 2010 when we fired a whole council for corruption, the only party ever to do so in this country.
On our part, very soon, we will be launching a hotline for all whistle-blowers on corruption in the councils that we run.
This coming month, we will be holding smart councillors accountability summits per province where our councillors will declare their assets and liabilities. This will be followed by periodic lifestyle checks and assessments.
Our president has established an integrity and accountability unit in his office, led by a renowned lawyer Advocate Thabani Mpofu. This is meant to sniff out rot in our councils.
Our councils are putting watertight systems to deal with corruption, which has been perpetuated by Zanu PF through space barons in markets and council properties and land barons linked to Zanu PF as revealed by a commission recently.
We will spare nothing in our quest for sustaining councils of high integrity, councils who stay the course to deliver superior services to all. There must be a social contract between the governor and the governed.
ND: Your councils seem to be relating well with the administration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Isn’t this a show of confusion on your part? Recognising ED as President in council and not recognising his legitimacy in Parliament?
CH: Mnangagwa is as illegitimate today as he has been on November of 2017 when he was foisted onto the people of Zimbabwe through a military coup.
He remains as illegitimate today as he was on August 1 of 2018 when soldiers killed peace-loving Zimbabweans on the streets of Harare.
He remains as illegitimate as he was on January 14 of 2019 when his marauding gangsters pumped live bullets into innocent citizens.
He remains illegitimate in central government as he does in provincial and metropolitan councils, spaces, where he has foisted his people to serve as Provincial Affairs ministers against the principle of devolution.
But as the MDC, we will neither allow nor give Mr Mnanagawa free reign on our zones of autonomy. It will be a travesty of justice to our voters if we were to abandon them and hand them over to a rejected and illegitimate President which they shunned in an election.
ND: Zanu PF has been mentioned as one of the biggest council debtors in Harare. What are your councils doing about that?
CH: The predatory instincts of Zanu PF are legendary. They are a serious pest that sucks its host to death.
This is wrong. They have bred a rotten culture of accumulation and impunity which needs uprooting.
Everyone must pay for services they get. The Zanu PF elite and their companies owe the people’s councils and they simply have to pay. Very soon, councils will start a process of sternly dealing with them so as to recover people’s money for better service delivery.