via We cannot reward under-performers forever | The Herald January 14, 2014 by Benny Tsododo
Reports that Harare City Council directors gave themselves hefty bonuses on top of their salaries at a time ordinary council workers had not been paid their salaries for two months and residents are receiving shoddy social services are not only disheartening but mind-boggling.
One would think that senior council officials were rewarding themselves for a job well done but a look at the bleak state of affairs in the city tells a starkly different story. City roads have become impassable and a danger to road users due to huge potholes blighting the city’s road network. Traffic lights are regularly dysfunctional and are in a constant state of disrepair. Storm drains are blocked and have not been cleared resulting in street flooding whenever there are heavy rains.
Water supplies are intermittent while the quality of water is suspicious. Refuse remains uncollected and is accumulating on children’s playgrounds, sanitary lanes and on road sides posing a health risk to residents. There is no plan of action in place to resolve this growing problem.
All these maladies are unravelling before the unconcerned eyes of the city fathers who are busy lining their pockets. There are even allegations that some of the council executives have opened offshore accounts to stash their obscene loot siphoned from the depleted coffers of the underperforming council.
This has impelled the Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, Dr Ignatius Chombo, to look into the allegations. He was quoted in the media as saying: “We have set up an investigation team to look into reports that some of the council bosses are holding offshore accounts to hide their scandalous salaries.”
Under the circumstances, who can blame the council refuse collectors for dumping the acrid contents of their labour at the populated Mbare Musika? Although such kind of devious demonstrations are irresponsible and reminiscent of the behaviour of some University of Zimbabwe student leaders-cum-politicians who urinated in fridges, public opinion could forgive them due to the extenuating circumstances of their dire financial positions.
Against this backdrop, questions arise as to why senior council officials are paying themselves handsomely despite poor service delivery and failure to pay workers? Why should they get bonuses for mediocrity and non-delivery?
Something must be done to bring back sanity to the capital city. The council has the capacity to restore the “Sunshine City” status to Harare. The city has a wide revenue base that has potential to easily sustain service delivery and ensure that workers are well paid.
Why should the City of Harare fail to pay its workers when it daily collects thousands of dollars from residents, motorists, companies and from other revenue streams? Council cannot argue that residents are not paying their dues when its revenue collection halls are daily packed to the brim with patient residents lining up to pay their rates under frustrating circumstances.
Those who have visited council banking halls such as Rowan Martin will agree that residents are trying to meet their financial obligations despite receiving shoddy service from the city council. These places are perennially crowded. This is worsened by council clerks who discharge their duties with unnerving lethargy.
Considering that residents are paying an average of US$30 in rates and the city’s population of around 1,6 million people, it can be deduced that council is collecting a steady amount of revenue monthly.
Residents are made to pay for water, refuse and sewerage rates. Put simply, it means council receives money for refuse collection, procurement of water treatment chemicals and for the rehabilitation and maintenance of the sewer system.
Why is council failing to collect refuse that is accumulating around the city, putting the residents at the risk of flies and mosquitoes that are spreading contagious diseases. Why is council failing to buy new refuse trucks or repair the existing ones? Where is the money for refuse charges going?
Similarly, if residents are paying for water services, why is the council failing to provide adequate clean water to residents? Why should council say it has no money to buy water treatment chemicals or to attend to burst pipes?
Council also collects money from companies operating around town. All business operators, including hundreds of small to medium operators, pay operating licence fees to council. Considering the magnitude of companies doing business in town, council is raking in thousands of dollars from the business sector that should be used for service delivery.
When it comes to the issue of road maintenance, council has several revenue sources. Council receives annual allocations from the Zimbabwe National Road Administration for road construction and maintenance. Zinara has also supported council by donating front-end loaders and state-of-the-art pothole patching machines among other road construction equipment.
In addition, council also raises road-related funds from its 7 000 parking lots dotted around town. Huge amounts of money are collected hourly for parking fees. The Council’s City Parking (Pvt) Ltd also collects thousands of dollars from towing and charging motorists who unlawfully park their vehicles in the streets of Harare.
Recent reports indicate that motorists are charged from US$57 to US$80 for unlawful parking. Those who have their vehicles towed away have to part with heavy fines of up to US$423.
Given this background, it is puzzling that the City of Harare appears to have no will, money or resources to patch up potholes or resurface roads. It is worrying that council cannot repair streets lights or traffic lights. With all these road-related revenues, how can council fail to put road markings?
How many commuter omnibuses are arrested daily in Harare for unlawful parking? Where is the money going?
Notwithstanding all these conventional revenue collection bases for council, the local authority also raises money through its own business operations. Council has a farm where it keeps cattle. Council also leases its beerhalls and other premises where it collects reasonable amounts of money. Council has potential to grow these business portfolios to widen its revenue base and augment its earnings.
With all these revenue streams, one wonders why council is failing to honour its service delivery obligations or to pay its workers on time. Council is stymied by a lopsided salary structure that awards huge benefits to executives with up to around 70 percent of revenue going to salaries and only about 30 going towards service delivery.
We welcome the intervention by Dr Chombo to order all councils to trim salaries of senior officials by 50 percent and give these executives performance-based contracts.
Dr Chombo also directed the local authorities to trim salaries for town clerks to not more than US$8 000 including allowances and make their earnings public. What is more interesting and of relevance to solving the malaise besieging Harare City Council is the introduction of the Integrated Results Based Management (IRBM) system.
Describing how IRBM would work, Dr Chombo said: “What we are saying is let the heads of departments say by end of 2014, 20 percent of households in Harare will be receiving water every day. If the director of water fails he is gone because we cannot pay people for failure, they must bring achievable targets.”
This paradigm shift would be a panacea to the problem of councils rewarding mediocre officials in town councils. City fathers would now be paid against their performance. No more would the city fathers be rewarded for bringing down service delivery in towns. IRBM should be pursued in letter and spirit to bring city fathers to account.
We look forward to the City of Harare drawing up performance- based contracts for council officials. We expect prioritisation of service delivery in council than the paying of under-performing officials. Residents are looking forward to getting value for their money. Under-performing officials should be fired instead of being rewarded.
We are looking forward to bringing back of the “Sunshine City” status for the City of Harare.