BY MTHANDAZO NYONI
LONG-touted as the best-run local authority in the country, the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) is failing to offer efficient services as seen by collapsing water and sewer infrastructure, failure to fix the roads and collect waste.
In some high-density suburbs, incidences of raw sewer flowing, in some cases, into people’s homes are rampant, exposing residents to diseases.
Roads are in a sorry state with gaping potholes, increasing the cost of vehicle maintenance for motorists while solid waste is left uncollected for several days, also increasing the risk of disease outbreaks.
Due to poor service delivery, BCC — whose vision is to become a smart and transformative city by 2024 — in May this year recorded a third diarrhoea outbreak in 11 months, with 50 cases reported in Emganwini.
Residents accused the city council of failing to provide clean water, despite collecting rentals and rates.
In June 2020, there was a diarrhoea outbreak in Luveve suburb, which killed 13 people and infected over 2 000 others. Raw sewage had contaminated drinking water, according to council investigations.
Again, in October about 100 people, mostly children, were treated for running tummies in Mzilikazi and surrounding suburbs.
BCC, like any other local authority in the country, draws its power and functions from the constitution of Zimbabwe, Urban Councils Act, and the Regional, Town and Country Planning Act.
It performs a variety of functions chief among them the provision of water and sanitation, housing, refuse collection, road maintenance, and health and education services.
But the latest report of the Auditor-General on local authorities paints a grim picture of inadequate service provision by local authorities, municipalities and rural district councils, BCC included.
It depicts a pitiful picture of service delivery characterised by, among other things, paralysis, massive strain, poor and non-existent water provision, intermittent refuse collection and dilapidated service delivery infrastructure.
Research and interviews conducted by this publication show that the collapse of service delivery in Bulawayo is due to a plethora of challenges, chief among them, the economic meltdown, corruption, government interference, mismanagement, among other ills.
Florence Ndhlovu, a resident of Pumula South, spent more than a year with raw sewage flowing in her yard, a situation which posed a health hazard to her family, particularly the children.
“As a loyal ratepayer, I am really disappointed with the poor service delivery that my family and I are subjected to in Bulawayo.
“The sewage is flowing in my yard. I reported the case on the 16th of June 2020 and no assistance ever came until last week,” Ndhlovu said.
“This is despite the follow-up calls I made using my own airtime as the toll-free line is not working.
“So, I don’t know why I pay rates. When l probed them further on the delay, they told me they had no car to attend to these bursts.
“Further to that, they are supposed to disinfect the area, but they said they do not have the chemicals to do that.”
Bulawayo United Residents’ Association (BURA) chairperson Winos Dube weighed in saying service delivery in the city left a lot to be desired.
“Our councils should really pull up their socks and make sure they do their best whilst on the other hand as residents we should pay our dues even though we are going through difficult times,” Dube said.
Over the past few decades, Zimbabwe has been experiencing severe economic decline, adversely affecting the running of Bulawayo metropolitan activities while further negatively affecting the services discharged to residents.
The local authority faces a serious challenge in raising adequate finances to enable it to run its activities.
This is due to a number of factors such as unemployment of most of the residents and poor remuneration of the few employed residents, which inevitably leads to inability to pay for services rendered by the council.
Once the country’s industrial hub, Bulawayo is reeling under the effects of chronic de-industrialisation with over 100 firms — mostly in the manufacturing, textile and clothing sectors — closing down in the last 10 years, leaving thousands of workers jobless.
“For local authorities to function well they have to have resources and they get those resources from the economic performance of industries.
“The collapse of industry affects everything,” former Bulawayo mayor Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube said.
“Of course, there are directors and town clerks in the city council, but what can they do on their own when the country’s economy is falling apart?
“They don’t have resources.
“Yes, of course,there may be weaknesses here and there from the personnel of city councils, but the whole thing I have studied it well is because of the collapse of the economy. That’s the centre of the whole thing.”
Ndabeni-Ncube queried why the government was mum on the collapse of service delivery in Bulawayo.
“Why is the ministry of Local Government not intervening to sort out this mess?
“Why is it not questioning the non-functioning of city councils across the country? Where is the overlooker? It’s also politics at play.
“The city council is owed millions of dollars and also it owes millions. So where are we heading to? That’s the problem,” he said.
The BURA chairperson, however, argued hiding behind the economic situation for failure to deliver services was a lame excuse.
“It is highly believed that Zimbabwe’s economy is not all that good and we are seeing a situation where quite a number of service providers will always want to hide behind that economic statement,” said.
“But we want to call upon (local authorities) and say even when times are tough we need to put our priorities right as service providers.”
Dube, like Ndabeni-Ncube, urged the government to intervene.
One of the reasons cited for inadequate service delivery is Local Government minister July Moyo’s alleged abuse of powers in the conveniently amended Urban Councils Act (Chapter 29:15) to undermine service delivery in opposition-controlled cities and towns.
BCC is controlled by the MDC Alliance.
For example, the minister could issue directives to councils, rescind decisions and resolutions of councils, dismiss local authorities and replace them with government-appointed commissions, appoint the Local Government Board, appoint special interest councillors, and have unfettered access to minutes of council proceedings.
A report by Sylvester Marumahoko, Olugbemiga Afolabi, Yolanda Sadie and Norman Nhede, titled “Governance and Urban Service Delivery in Zimbabwe”, revealed that the changes in the political landscape made urban local authorities a point of intense political contestation.
“The failure of the governing party to retain urban local authorities was a bitter pill for the Zanu PF government.
“With rural voters remaining faithful to the governing party and urban voters opting to embrace the MDC, local government was polarised along political party lines, to the detriment of service delivery,” the report reads in part.
For example, shortly before the 2013 watershed elections, then Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo ordered all 92 rural and urban councils to write off ratepayers’ debts for the period February 2009 to June of that year, in a move seen as a Zanu PF vote-buying gimmick.
Although the debt cancellation was welcomed by heavily indebted service consumers, it nevertheless did not translate into more votes for Zanu PF in the urban local government elections.
The decision to write off debts nearly crippled service delivery and some urban local authorities never recovered.
BCC lost US$47 million in 2013 following the directive.
The report revealed that Zanu PF’s rejection by urban voters in the contentious 2013 and 2018 elections seemingly eroded the already fragile relations between national government and urban local authorities to the detriment of service delivery.
It said the so-called Second Republic, just like the First Republic under the late Robert Mugabe, continues to be characterised by deplorable urban service delivery.
This, among other things, is evidenced by obsolete service delivery infrastructure, uncompleted capital projects, poor water supply and sanitation programmes and infrequent refuse collection, it added.
The Zanu PF governing party made a politically motivated decision to amend the Urban Councils Act, which undermined local service delivery under opposition-run cities and towns.
“In this regard, it passed the Urban Councils Amendment Act No 1 of 2008 which abolished the executive mayoral system, which was credited with facilitating for mayors to engage in service delivery issues on a day-to-day basis. It was replaced by the ineffective ceremonial mayoral system, which facilitates for national government to meddle in service provision,” it said.
Another tactic, according to researchers, was delaying the approval of local authority budgets in the hope of crippling service provision operations.
In 2007, Ndabeni-Ncube, whose administration was owed millions of dollars, accused national government of inordinate delays in paying for services delivered to the police, army and other government institutions in the hope of worsening service delivery and using that as an excuse for a takeover.
Efforts to get a comment from Local Government minister Moyo were fruitless.
Corruption and mismanagement
Poor service delivery in most urban areas is also largely due to corruption and mismanagement by councillors and management.
A report titled “State of Service Delivery Report: Cities at the Crossroads. Volume 1”, by We Pay You Deliver Consortium, reveals that 77,7% of ratepayers interviewed were of the view that councils were not transparent in handling public finances.
Such a perception on council financial management operations means local authorities have to introspect and develop public finance management confidence measures.
In September last year, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission descended on BCC to investigate alleged corruption and malpractices in the municipality, particularly issues to do with allocation and sales of council land.
This led to the arrest of BCC director of housing and community services Dictor Khumalo on allegations of criminal abuse of duty as a public officer as defined in the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
Inefficiencies in revenue collection
Researchers contend that urban local authorities are also hampered in their service delivery operations by inefficiencies in revenue collection.
This is an institutional weakness for which blame is pointed back at urban local authorities.
The catalogue of inefficiencies include poor databases, the use of outdated valuation rolls as a basis for determining rates on property and land, and poor financial accounting systems, the researchers said.
In the same vein, it is often claimed that urban local authorities do not do a good job of capturing new properties onto their valuation rolls.
The degeneration is exacerbated by the fact that urban councils do not levy rates on government buildings and state land. A 2019 report by auditor-general Mildred Chiri exposed massive malpractices among local authorities, with some said to be operating without key policy documents, a practice which promotes corruption and undercuts service delivery.
Chiri cited failure by councils to review payrolls prior to processing, absence of control over contracted-out services, improper management of council assets, and development of, among others, internal control deficits.
Bulawayo deputy mayor Mlandu Ncube denied charges of poor service delivery saying: “We can’t say there is collapse of service delivery when council is working flat out to rehabilitate the roads and attending to sewer bursts.
“ As we speak, we are patching Khami Road.”
On the issue of sewer, deputy mayor said the pipes were old but the council was replacing them with funding from the African Development Bank (AfDB).
“So we can’t say on that side there is collapse of service delivery. We are actually rejuvenating it.
“Roads became bad during the rainy season because you can’t repair roads during the rainy season,” he said.
“Yes, we have challenges due to economic hardships as a number of residents are not working so they are unable to pay.
“The raw material, which we need as council needs foreign currency yet residents pay using the Zimbabwe dollar.
“That becomes a challenge.”
AfDB is funding three major projects in the city which include the Bulawayo Water and Sewerage Services Improvement Project (BWSSIP) to the tune of US$33 million, the US$2 million Beef and Leather Project as well as US$22 million for the ZimFund Emergency Power Infrastructure Rehabilitation Projects Phase II.
In terms of the BCC’s master plan, the council has a deficit of US$600 million for it to meet the city’s infrastructural requirements.