Smear campaigns against councils retrogressive

via Smear campaigns against councils retrogressive – NewsDay Zimbabwe August 18, 2015

A disturbing trend evident through the wanton suspending and firing of management at town councils continues to develop across the country despite the plain fact that every sector of the economy is struggling for survival.

Although most town councils are notorious for corruption, it would be wrong to use this as a crutch to decimate all councils as a general thing.

Virtually every local authority in the country has, at one point, faced some opaque allegations regarding criminal abuse of office or dipping into public funds. This has led, among other ills, to the unproductive exercise of endlessly suspending councillors and firing of town clerks. The claims against councils have, oftentimes, proved to be true, but at times the charges have proved to be nothing more than politicking and sensationalism which, unfortunately, has led to the dismissal of officials trying their best in a prohibitive economic environment; an environment characterised by residents’ failure to pay for service delivery.

The common tendency to arbitrarily fire town clerks through smear campaigns has made achieving consistency in running municipalities difficult as management has to be changed like diapers on account of the ever-flying allegations. While it would be wrong for anyone to defend mismanagement in councils, it is crucial to pursue objectivity and balance the equation by examining facts or substance in the much-preferred allegations of criminal abuse of office and misappropriation of funds. Some allegations, at closer scrutiny, have agonisingly turned out to be brazen smear campaigns with political innuendos.

A case in point is the recent corruption allegation levelled against the town clerk of Chitungwiza, George Makunde, accused of abusing Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (Zinara) funds meant for public service delivery. When the report against Makunde was made by the State-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, as intended, it triggered widespread condemnation of the dormitory town’s municipality. However, upon inquiry and investigation, the allegations turned out to be disgracefully vindictive as a glance at the Acquittal Report for the First Quarter of 2015 undercuts the accusations by conclusively presenting a breakdown of road maintenance expenditure against costs with the accompanying receipts attached on the report appendix. The Acquittal Report submitted in June 2015 indicates that expenditure squarely matches costs for the period between January and June and the $90 388 amount which was initially reported unaccounted for is all figured out in the report. By nature, vindictive reports are meant to stir public anger and prepare ground for attack on the preferred targets regardless of the inaccuracies of the claims and the ugly politics at play.

Bindura, Marondera, Gweru, Kwekwe and many other town councils, in recent times, have not been spared the “convenient” allegations of gross mismanagement and abuse of office.

By all means, it is unacceptable and contemptible for any council, whether rural or urban, to abuse public funds yet it remains imperative that thorough investigations are done before the reputation of individuals is soiled through uncorroborated claims.
Indeed, corruption must be fought, but allegations must carry substance. The sensational reports against town councils ovear the years have yielded no meaningful results, but instead, have proved to be extremely costly and regressive as they only lead to the interruption of work; the fomenting of public discontent, and ultimately, the demoralising of councils already operating under grim conditions. As a country, Zimbabwe is in an economic abyss and there isn’t much headway to be made in hiring, suspending and firing of town management based on the whims of tenuous reports. Otherwise we might end up dismissing every council in the country since payment of rates by residents, among other problems, is understandably at an all-time low.

The prevailing harsh economic climate, worsened by job losses recently, has led to palpable failure by residents to pay rates.
Top-drawer delivery from councils cannot be easy; even the government itself is struggling to keep head above water. Surely we must cease importing politics into the running of councils. Of course, most town councils have a sinister record, but it remains crucial that maliciousness and smear campaigns are kept out of administrative issues.

What further makes the Makunde case a curious one is that, typical of vindictiveness, the accusations never had a clear source of origin, not even the road authority itself. The obtainable Zinara Acquittal Report for the first quarter of 2015 clears the council of misappropriation of the said funds otherwise Zinara would not go on to avail funds for the Second and Third Quarters if the amount from the First Quarter is not fully accounted for. In my view, this unjustifiable attack on councils must be discouraged as it clouds genuine from non-genuine issues.

The indiscriminate firing of councils has little benefit except retarding the little progress and little gains made by the burdened councils. Accusations against public officials must not be motivated by malice, but a genuine desire for progress.

lLearnmore Zuze is a legal researcher, author and media analyst. He writes here in his own capacity.