DOES a new commission have the aptitude to normalise operations or turn around the fortunes of Harare?
This is the quest
ion uppermost in the minds of many Harare residents following the expiry of the Sekesai Makwavarara-led commission’s term of office and the subsequent announcement that a new commission would be appointed soon.
Although Local Government minister Ignatious Chombo last Wednesday said that a new commission would be announced soon, there is simmering discontent among his colleagues in Zanu PF.
He said a decision would be made on whether to reappoint the outgoing commissioners in the new commission, taking into consideration factors such as individuals’ expertise in various fields like law or engineering.
But observers said as much as Chombo might want to reappoint or even retain Makwavarara as chairperson, her fallout with Zanu PF’s Harare province over her role in party structures should put him under immense pressure to justify her continued stay at Town House.
The unparalleled failure of the commission could be difficult to defend as is the widening rift in government over the general collapse of city infrastructure and Makwavarara’s extravagant lifestyle at the expense of service delivery.
With Chombo’s handpicked commission at Town House, residents over the past two years have watched Harare, once one of the cleanest cities in Africa, degenerate into a cesspool of waste and decay.
The provision of clean water has become erratic, refuse has not been collected while frequent bursts of raw sewage pipes have resulted in the outbreak of water-borne diseases.
The outbreak of cholera in the Epworth area, which claimed 14 lives, was just one clear testimony of how Harare — once dubbed the Sunshine city — has degenerated at the hands of the Makwavarara-led commission.
A survey by the Zimbabwe Independent showed that virtually all the capital’s infrastructure is in a free fall, characterised by unavailability of water in a number of suburbs, raw sewerage flowing in the high-density suburb streets, roads almost inaccessible because of potholes and decomposing refuse mountains posing threats of disease outbreaks at street corners.
Where water was available, most of it was lost through burst pipes, which went for months unrepaired.
Critics say the city’s mounting problems mark a grim new phase of Zimbabwe’s long-running political and economic crisis, which many blame on President Robert Mugabe’s government.
Repulsive sites of uncollected garbage piling on street corners are common in both high and low-density areas with residents saying that rubbish had not been collected in townships and some suburbs for months.
The lame excuse from council is the national shortage of fuel and the expiry of contracts for private garbage collectors and of course lack of foreign exchange to purchase equipment.
Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) chairman Mike Davies said the commissioners lacked the skills, mandate and financial resources to transform Harare into a habitable place.
“The commissioners’ calibre is suspect,” Davies said. “None of them has any experience in governance of urban authorities. Theirs is literally a trial and error exercise.”
He described the commissioners as “political stooges” who lacked technical know-how and financial support.
“The commission has no capacity at all. They are not technocrats,” he said. “Their major qualification is that they are Zanu PF members. Apart from that they have no idea of what they are doing. Makwavarara has no relevant professional qualification. Jameson Kurasha is an academic and the rest are Zanu PF functionaries, what would you expect?”
The residents’ umbrella body has blamed the city infrastructure’s collapse on political meddling and the commission’s failure to involve stakeholders.
Davies said Makwavarara had dropped the stakeholders’ consultation system resulting in council coming up with absurd rate increases and policies that are often resisted by residents.
“Council is no longer consulting residents in matters of budgeting as was the norm but simply imposes its views,” Davies said.
“Last year council was forced to revise its budget downwards, a situation likely to happen again this year because it has not followed the procedural consultation process,” he said.
“Half the time Makwavarara has been fighting to keep her position instead of taking the city ahead by getting feedback from residents and responding to their concerns.”
Davies said the one-man band attitude which Makwavarara has adopted, resulted in the city deteriorating in both infrastructure and financial position.
“Council has been reported bankrupt on two occasions during Makwavarara’s two-year tenure because residents have been refusing to recognise her and holding back rate payments, council’s main source of revenue,” he said.
The opposition MDC said residents deserved nothing short of an elected and accountable leadership to replace the corrupt and dysfunctional Makwavarara commission that was imposed by Chombo two years ago following the dismissal of an elected MDC council led by Elias Mudzuri.
“It appears Chombo is determined to stifle democracy by extending the term of the Makwavarara commission,” the MDC’s point person on Local Government affairs, Trudy Stevenson, said.
“This is despite overwhelming evidence of poor service delivery, rampant looting of council property, corruption, mismanagement of council property and carefree attitude coupled with downright arrogant behaviour towards the plight of the ratepayers exhibited by the commission. This is totally unacceptable and it must be stopped.”
Stevenson said the opposition party had joined Harare residents in resisting Chombo’s “obnoxious, stinking and hypocritical machinations by demanding their right to elect leaders of their choice to run the affairs of the city”.
Makwavarara, a political turncoat who rode to Town House on the coattails of the opposition MDC, back-stabbed Mudzuri before defecting to Zanu PF. The Zanu PF Harare provincial executive passed a no-confidence vote in her six months ago.
The spectre of a divisive showdown pitting Chombo against members of the Zanu PF Harare province over the extension of her term became inevitable forcing the politburo to intervene.
Zanu PF Harare province was seeking to oust Makwavarara, alleging that she had undermined the position of the party in Harare because of her lack of capacity to lead the city.
Zanu PF Harare provincial spokesman, William Nhara, this week said their position has not changed as Makwavarara was still unsuitable to lead the city since she lacked the professional and leadership skills to deliver on ratepayers’ expectations.
“Service delivery is not improving, contrary to minister Chombo’s claims,” Nhara said.
“We want to be educated on where there are improvements. Maybe the minister is measuring the city’s improvements using growth-point standards.”