Friday, March 30, 2012
Friday, 30 March 2012 00:00
Demonstrations rocked the small town of Karoi in Mashonaland West province on Wednesday as residents protested against what they alleged to be corruption by councillors and council officials, poor service delivery and abuse of council money. The Karoi demonstrations were hardly surprising given the allegations being levelled against the Karoi Town Council.
If the council takes a decision to allocate plots and commercial stands to councillors for prices as low as US$12, then they are inviting the wrath of the residents.
We don’t dispute the fact that councillors offer services to the people for little remuneration and towards the end of their terms can be considered for stands to build their houses or go into business. But they must expect to pay reasonable purchase fees for those stands. Anything less than US$100 is ridiculous, let alone the US$12 dollars they are reported to have paid.
It does not matter that procedures were followed to get approvals for such purchases, the fees are just not acceptable. Most of these councillors have not offered many years of service to expect to enjoy such discounts.
This all happens when the same council is failing to pay its workers salaries on time.
The story of corruption and poor service delivery has become too familiar in Zimbabwe’s urban councils where councillors and officers misuse council resources with shocking impunity. Hardly any town council has been spared from allegations of wanton corruption. Perhaps only the Bulawayo City Council has been able to keep itself untainted.
Bindura, Mutare, Rusape, Redcliff, Chitungwiza, the list is endless — have all been haunted by allegations of financial impropriety.
MDC-T which is running these councils has every reason to be worried by the lack of corporate governance that its councillors have shown. The party’s president, Mr Morgan Tsvangirai has spoken out against the behaviour of the officials but has not taken any drastic action to end the shameful behaviour of the councillors.
What we have seen instead are running battles between Local Government, Rural and Urban Development Minister Ignatius Chombo and the councils, and MDC-T has reacted by alleging that the minister is interfering too much in the running of councils.
But the question is should he just watch when ratepayers’ money is being abused without any attempt to offer proper services. None of the councils, with perhaps the exception of Bulawayo, has been able to offer acceptable services in return for the money paid by residents.
Gradually a theory is emerging that the failure in local governance by MDC-T councils could be symptomatic of a bigger problem in how the party selects leaders for public office, a weakness that could be replicated in Government should they win elections to form a Government on their own.
This is not to suggest that Zanu-PF has fared any better in dealing with corruption within its own ranks. But the MDC-T has been campaigning on a ticket of change and the stint it has had in local government and to some extent in Government, weakens their claim to be a party capable of operating at higher levels of integrity and transparency.
If anything the experience of the inclusive Government has revealed a common weakness across party lines to abuse resources meant for the people. The recent revelations around the Constituency Development Fund are a case in point.
Whilst the councils are beginning to generate reasonable amounts from ratepayers, they will not be able to offer any meaningful services if they are spending this money on themselves.
This is the accusation that is now being levelled against the resuscitation team led by Fungai Mbetsa, which is seeking to turnaround the Chitungwiza Town Council. There are signs that they have put their snouts on the feeding trough. The members of the team get increasingly irritated if journalists ask them to justify the money they are spending on themselves.
Yet they can easily redeem themselves if they work on service delivery and bring enough improvement to justify the outrageously high fees they are drawing from the council.
Very few of our leaders still believe in the principle of servant leadership and of being faithful stewards of resources put on their hands on behalf of the people. They see each office as an eating place and they gobble as much as possible as long as the resources last.
It will be interesting to see how voters punish these leaders in the next elections. Have they learnt enough from what they have suffered to then carefully consider the candidate offering himself or herself for public office, irrespective of the party they are coming from?
It may be wiser to choose people who have achieved a lot on their own and are coming into office to serve the people and not to enrich themselves. The tragedy in most urban councils now is that most of the councillors did not have anything to their name before being elected into office. Because they did not have anything to lose they had the courage to challenge the Zanu-PF leaders that were in office and succeeded.
But after winning, they have nothing else to offer to the people and lot to take for themselves.