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Masunda speaks on poorly qualified councillors and why councils will struggle to handle coronavirus outbreak

Former Harare mayor Muchadeyi Masunda (MM) recently appeared on Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube’s (TN) online talk show In Conversation with Trevor where he outlined the source of problems bedelving the capital city and its capacity to handle the coronavirus outbreak.

In this second part of the interview he speaks on how lack of requisite skills among elected councillors is hampering development of the capital city.

Masunda also says lack of investment in health facilities by local authorities will make it difficult to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

TN: So that is one of the assets city council has in addition to rate payers, and there was a time they got revenue from the sale of beer but that has been taken over. So what are other sources do they have?

MM: So maybe the main source of revenue as you point out is the rates paid by the property owners, you know, residential premises, business premises and so forth.

But the tragic thing that has happened, let’s say the first part of the 30 year, the evaluation roll has not been updated in order to curb all these palatial mansions that have sprouted all over the place.

You see them in Borrowdale Brooke, you see them in Chishawasha Hills.

So there is an urgent need for the city architects in the department of works, ably be assisted by the city valuer, to update the evaluation roll so that all those new buildings that have sprouted all over the city can be captured and the rates bills revamped accordingly.

But the other sources of revenue, the traditional one it was obviously the beer account.

In the case of Bulawayo, we called it Ingwebu and there was Rufaro in Harare.

So before the advent of Uhuru in April 1980, the urban local authorities had the monopoly of brewing and selling opaque beer and that is where the beer profits came from.

You and I went to Mzilikazi High School, which was one of the best schools in Bulawayo to be built out of profits generated from the sale of opaque beer.

So those were the two main sources of revenue and the revenues generated from those two main sources were used or rather channelled towards financing the provision of the health services.

In the case of Harare you may be pleased or shocked to learn that the city runs two hospitals, Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital and Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases Hospital.

On top of that the city runs 14 poly-clinics and most of the babies that are delivered in Harare and beyond are delivered at those 14 poly-clinics, the Edith Opperman Maternity Centre, which is conveniently located less than 500 meters away from the Mbare Musika.

So you have all sorts of expecting mothers from literally every part of the country getting on the bus to go and deliver their babies in the safe knowledge that they will get to Mbare, disembark and 500meters away there is Edith Opperman Maternity Centre.

TN: That infrastructure has not expanded since independence, I mean, the clinic that you are mentioning now, Wilkins included, Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases Hospital, have not been expanded to cater for the expansion in the population of Harare and it has been because of the management and the leadership that we have, am I right?

MM:You are actually right, it is not just the housing services that have suffered in that regard.

It is also the delivery and provision of water in Harare.

The infrastructure that was put in place has not been expanded in sync with the burgeoning population.

Now let us just stay with the health services side for a bit.

I will tell you that over 2500 babies are delivered every month through those polyclinics.

Edith Opperman Maternity Centre on its own delivers over 600 babies, followed by Mabvuku Polyclinic, which also serves Tafara.

Visibly, Mabvuku Polyclinic is a great source of grave concern.

More recently, our government in its infinite wisdom decided that Caledonia Farm should be added on to the city of Harare.

Caledonia Farm alone has got in excess of over 200 000 people and that is almost as big as Bindura.

TN: So this means that we are now faced with the Covid-19 or coronavirus crisis, the infrastructure is not is not up to scratch, the leadership capacity is constrained.

Are we ready to deal with this pandemic?

MM: We are not, I mean by any stretch of imagination.

To bring into sharper focus, there are only three isolation hospitals in Zimbabwe, Wilkins Infectious Disease Hospital, Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases Hospital and Thorngrove Infectious Diseases Hospital in Bulawayo.

The combined three isolation hospitals do not have more than 200 beds.

TN: And in any case, I mean Wilkins has just been revamped following the death of Zororo Makamba in that place, which is a regrettable and very painful thing.

So that institution has been in total neglect and one would think that there is that similar situation at Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases Hospital.

MM: I would not go to such an extent of saying total disrepair and all that because the services that are offered there were okay up until the surge of the scale of the coronavirus.

Those establishments were set up to do, Trevor just a brief background, to help the listeners to get an appreciation of the background.

Way back, there was need to contain contagious diseases like measles, smallpox and so forth.

So an arrangement was made by the central government with local government that a capitation fee would be paid by the central government to encourage the local facilities to treat and manage these contagious diseases very well.

So the problem in terms of capacity at those two isolation hospitals started in the mid-1980s.

We were lumbered with the HIV and Aids surge and that had all sorts of issues and that is when it was realised that in capacity terms there was, we were woefully wanting.

And well of cause the advent of Ebola also made that capacity issue even more glaringly inadequate and more recently, this coronavirus surge.

TN: As you are talking Much, I am thinking of the fact that nothing was done.

It was discovered that capacity was not enough with the HIV and Aids pandemic and the Ebola but nothing was done about the infrastructure, hence now we are facing this coronavirus, totally unprepared.

MM: But in a capacity point of view, in terms of the health services personnel, I am the first to admit that the calibre of the staff that we have is second to none, starting with Dr Prosper Chandavengerwa Chonzi, the director of health services department in the City of Harare and the other dental surgeons, the doctors.

Dr Hilda Bara – the superintendent of Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital and the other doctors.

Hilda Bara, the matrons that we have and over time these people that work for the city health services have been better paid than their counterparts.

TN: That is good to know.

MM: And rightly so. But we have a situation, Trevor, just again to go back to something that I mentioned.

I mentioned when I was describing the committee system, the human resources and the general purposes committee.

That committee was responsible for the welfare of, when I first started, 11 883 employees in the city of Harare.

And of course the first thing that I asked was, where are they, who are they and I put up an assessment supported by Dr Mungai Lenneiye, the then resident director of the World Bank in Zimbabwe.

He got three work study practitioners, two from Italy and one from Denmark, and the idea was to whittle down that number to 6 000 because the exercise that was done by those work study practitioners and the practitioners indicated but the city could be run cost efficiently and effectively by no more than 6 000 employees.

TN: From the situation that you have described Much is that the professional staff, your doctors, nurses and matrons, we have got the best people there but the top layer is these political people that come in and overlay the system.

But you have paralysis in terms of expanding the infrastructure, catering for the growth in the city, am I right?

MM: Yes, you are absolutely right Trevor.

Let me put it more bluntly. Among the 46 democratically elected councillors that I had the pleasure to work with, there was not a single one of them who had any medical qualifications.

So how can the human resources and the general purposes committee plus the health education housing and the community services committee provide the much needed oversight role when they themselves councillors have not the smallest clue of the way it takes to run the clinics, the hospitals, schools?

In addition to that there were 32 primary health care service centres that fell under the city health services department and on top of that there were 32 schools that had to be run by the city council but there was no single educationist among the councillors.

TN: That’s sad. Much as you are talking now I am getting to the point of the coronavirus.

I am thinking of the overcrowding in Mbare for instance, the overcrowding in Makokoba that you know very well.

I mean how do you talk about social distancing to somebody living in Mbare who does not have running water, who has to drink water using their hands and they live in very crowded infrastructure?

How do you talk about social or physical distancing in that kind of environment all because our city fathers have not been strategic enough to plan for the expansion of the city?

What is your view on that?

MM: It is well-nigh impossible and it just does not make sense because those very same people will look at you and shake their heads in utter despair and they will be well within their rights to ask the question: where have you come from and from which planet do you live?

So the point Trevor is that we really need to do and focus our energies on is that we are to blame for the calibre of the councillors as well as the members of the National Assembly that we have and the senators that we have.

The cruel irony of it all is that we have amongst the highest literacy rates not just in Africa, but in the world.

What we need to do is to encourage honourable man and women who have got the skills to make themselves available to assist and that is the one side of the equation.

The other side of the equation is that we need to appeal to the democratically elected councillors to be magnanimous enough, I think that is the best word to use, to accept that they do not have the skills that are required to be in those committees that we referred to and, therefore, make things to work in the council.

So they need to accept assistance from wherever it may come from and the other idea that I have been working during my five year stint as mayor was to harness all these bright spots that we have and we take them out from various institutions of higher and tertiary education and make them serve on those committees and then get the bright sparks that come out of that, to synthesise those board packs for councillors and reduce them to adaptive summaries of not more than one or two pages because there is no way all the councillors are going to have the capacity that we both have of plans to take that thing because it’s not part of thier DNA.

TN: I think the bottom line here is that you and I have to step up to ensuring that when we elect councillors, we elect men and women who have got the skills and the capacity to do what a modern city expects.

Let us leave that and move to the issue about how autonomous the mayor of Harare is?

How autonomous are the councillors, is it that they have free reign or the government interferes and tells them what to do?

MM: In my experience I had no interference from either Robert Gabriel Mugabe as president or from Morgan Tsvangirai as prime minister or any of the other ministers.

But I must say I had a tremendous relationship with him in the cynical Ignatious Chombo who was the minister of local governance but in our discussions behind closed doors I tried as much as possible to avoid allowing those spats to spill into the public domain because it is easy to be side-tracked and you take your eyes off the ball and forget what you are there for.

TN: As we round of, given the fact that we are faced with this corona virus, what message would you have for the central government as far as this issue is concerned?

MM: My message is simply this, whoever is in a relevant ministry in relation to the City of Harare, and I am taking here of the Ministry of Local Government , Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development, Ministry of Health and Child Care, people need to focus on the bigger picture because it is one thing for our President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa to say that Zimbabwe is open for business but when people come here they will want to see what is on the ground infrastructure wise and otherwise.

When investors come here and find that infrastructure is not quite up to scratch, they will walk away because capital is a very timid animal and it is not like going where it is going to be threatened and it will not have an opportunity to grow.

It is going to make the situation even worse.

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