Thursday, April 22, 2010
HARARE City Council rewards its senior staff exceptionally well by current Zimbabwean standards, indeed significantly better than most of the private sector pays its senior staff.
The actual salaries and benefits of the senior staff are not totally outrageous, if the information given by the Town Clerk to a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee is reasonably accurate.
All these salaries would be at least defensible in "normal" circumstances. The council has to attract and retain highly qualified staff to run a city the size of Harare.
But the percentage of income chewed up by salaries suggests that the city administration exists to raise the money to pay the city administration, with not much done.
Harare, in fact, is buying most of its capital requirements using loans, a measure normally only taken for very large long-term projects that generate income, such as water works and supply dams.
In the past, the city has been prudent before accumulating vast debts.
Short-term capital requirements, such as refuse removal trucks, were paid for out of current income.
And even major extensions to the water works relied on a mixture of accumulated funds and loans. The last major expansion of the water supply was funded almost 50 percent by accumulated funds, limiting the increase in water tariffs required to service the loan.
So these salaries are inappropriate when the income of the city is taken into account and the sorry state of most services.
The city should be spending a higher proportion of its income on goods and materials to repair roads, replace worn equipment, restore the street lights and get the health and refuse services back to normal.
Older residents will remember the days when major highways were resurfaced every three or four years and minor suburban roads at least every six or seven.
Potholes were not a serious problem then and patches were unusual.
Until a decade ago, the public lighting was fairly reasonable, and even being extended.
Now it seems a problem to buy light bulbs, a problem that also hits the traffic lights.
Refuse removal is still a joke. Even when the trucks do come round, no one knows, one week to the next, what day they will come or what time.
Yet a decade ago, it was possible to almost set your watch by the timetable.
The salaries are also inappropriate when the pay of the lowest council workers is considered.
The city has a very high ratio between the highest and lowest total pay. This is bad for morale and usually considered unfair.
There is the practical point that it is usually much easier to replace a young single-skilled or semi-skilled worker than a senior experienced well-qualified officer, but the extremes should not be as large as those seen in Harare City Council.
Climbing out of the mess that the council has created will not be easy.
It is difficult to cut pay. But pay can be frozen as the city finances improve and more and more money is spent on the equipment and materials needed to restore services.
Certainly, the council staff, at least in the most senior ranks, are earning the sort of money one would have expected in a couple of years, not now.