By Wadzanai Mhombera
Local authorities have certainly been making headlines for the wrong reasons in the recent past.
Everyday, every week the local media is awash with stories concerning the rampant corruption and maladministration found in local authorities, in particular urban local authorities.
Over the last few years, we have seen young, inexperienced, immature and un-propertied councillors being voted into power. The new crop of councillors is obsessed with amassing wealth in terms of acquiring housing stands and selling them without following council by-laws.
The councillors are corrupt and spend most of their time at council offices as if they are now full time employees for the local authorities. In short, the councillors do not have a grasp of their mandate at all. This has led to the dismissal of some councillors on allegations of corruption in stands allocation, house-grabbing scams as well as abuse of office.
However, this writer accepts that there are some councillors who are an exception; thumbs up to those who are people-oriented.
I remember at one time even Harare Mayor, Muchadeyi Masunda, complained about the crop of councillors he was working with, saying they do not understand their role in council and council meetings generate into useless arguments which cannot take council business forward.
My own councillor in my ward was suspended for engaging in corruption activities; the guy even had the audacity to build his house on a council pre-school stand, can you imagine?
Chitungwiza Municipality head office is always a hive of activity. You find an individual owning more than 50 stands and then he/she sells those stands at exorbitant prices ranging between $3 500 to $5 000. That person would have bought each stand for less than $500. I think in terms of corruption, Chitungwiza municipality must be the worst if there is to be a comparison of all local authorities in Zimbabwe.
Houses are being built everywhere in Chitungwiza. Sports fields, recreational facilities, open spaces, areas reserved for police stations and wetlands are all being turned into housing stands. What you call â€œinfillsâ€ are very popular in Chitungwiza, particularly in Zengeza.Â Every open space is being turned into a housing stand. Some of those allocated these stands corruptly have also complained of double allocations whereby two people are allocated the same stand. Just be away for a week if you are a Chitungwiza resident and you will get the shock of your life.
City fathers please tell us, where are the children going to play if all sports fields become houses? What about recreational facilities, are they no longer important? What about areas that were reserved for the police posts, should these be turned into houses too? How are we to deal with criminal cases and how do we seek protection from the police since you are removing them from the town plan? In fact, can you please educate us – all these â€œinfillsâ€ – are they part of the town plan? Can one find them on your master plan â€“ these residential areas which are mushrooming on a daily basis?
Yes, I know all local authorities have a huge housing backlog and everyone needs his or her own house, but allocation of housing stands has to be done in a transparent manner and these stands have to be in areas that are desgnated for residential purposes in councils’ town plans.
Local Government, Rural and Urban Development Minister, Cde Ignatius Chombo has on several occasions cited Chitungwiza and Harare as the major culprits in failing to adhere to the town planning regulations as all open spaces in Chitungwiza including playgrounds, car parks and recreational parks and centres have been allocated as residential stands.
Recently, the government through Dr Chomboâ€™s Ministry reiterated that the ban on the allocation of stands in unsuitable open spaces in all urban local authorities still stands.
“Victims of the clandestine dealings in stands allocation will not be compensated as only local authorities are mandated to allocate land for developments,â€ said Dr Chombo.
We wait to see if government will act on their several warnings to corrupt local authorities. For instance, in Chitungwiza the building and allocation of stands in unsuitable open spaces continues unabated. It is time Dr Chombo and his Ministry walk the talk and address this social ill that has seen local authorities neglecting service delivery while focusing on maladministration and corruption through allocating stands in every open space.
Reports indicating that councillors are looting council resources for personal gain show the calibre of people who were chosen in the 2008 harmonised elections. In future, it would be prudent for political parties to set acceptable criteria for candidates contesting to become councillors as it has emerged that every council that is dominated by the young and immature councillors is facing various challenges of mismanagement and corruption.
How can you vote or put forward a candidate who has no basic education â€“ 5 O-levels, someone who spends most of his time doing nothing, smoking dagga, drinking chibuku or scud in township bridges, council trenches and bottle stores? How do you vote for someone who does not own anything, not even a blanket to cover him/her when he/she retires for the night, someone who is being taken care of by his/her parents on a daily basis?
Can that individual bring any vision to council or to the ward he represents? Imagine that person in a council meeting, can he contribute anything worthwhile, can such a meeting attended by such a mediocre councillor come out with any resolution? Will that councillor be people-oriented, peopleâ€“centred?
Your guess is as good as mine. Any sane person would answer an emphatic NO to these questions. I am sure this is the folly of not having proper criteria for one to be eligible to become a councillor.
A criterion for the suitability of a person to become councillor is urgently needed if the local authorities are to go back to the days when service delivery was their priority. Todayâ€™s councillors are thinking of personal gain, family gain, clan gain, hence some have cut pre-school stands to build their houses.
Shame on you todayâ€™s councillors. You have failed the people of Zimbabwe. Shame on you Chitungwiza councillors, I give you a vote of no confidence. Where are the people in your leadership?
When are you going to think of the people that elected you? When are you going to finish amassing wealth and stands? When will that be â€“ corruption is a disease that is difficult to cure or treat, so will you really remember the people? Remember, one day you will come back seeking re-election â€“ what will you say to us? Only time will tell.
I end with this quote from Dr Chombo which I must say I cannot help but agree with the Honourable Minister:
â€œZimbabwe is a democratic country but the (political) parties should have set standards for the candidates because we cannot have a local government system run by small boys, who are careless and corrupt.â€ Food for thought.
The opinions expressed in this article are the authorâ€™s and do not necessarily represent those of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.