Opinions

By-Elections Give The Electorate An Opportunity To Vote For More Competent Councillors

182Views

By Precious Shumba

 

The upcoming by-elections in local authorities present Zimbabwean ratepayers with a great opportunity to rise above emotional partisan political choices and elect capable individuals who have the mindset, attitude, experience and capacity to serve the ratepayers.

 

 

The Harare Residents’ Trust (HRT) considers transparency, accountability and democratic governance as the foundation for improved service delivery in Zimbabwe.

 

These by elections have the capacity to set right the anomalies that became apparent after the July 2018 harmonised elections when the voters simply voted their political party candidate irrespective of capacity or competence.

 

 

Undeserving, incompetent and very corrupt political party activists became councillors. Some of these incompetent councillors became so corrupt that they became untouchable and unaccountable to the ratepayers as they pursued their personal interests, especially in land allocations and creating low-level job opportunities for their party activists.

 

 

It is in light of the demands of the ratepayers that the HRT issues this press statement in order to reinforce the aspirations of ratepayers to have responsive, capable, experienced and upright councillors.

 

The tragedy of 30 July 2018 harmonised elections is that most of the Councillors got elected because they were in the most popular political party, and not necessarily because they were capable or experienced to deliver services to the people.

The outcome has become known and experienced by all ratepayers. Some of wards remain orphaned, even if they have their councillors.

 

A significant number of these councillors were not recalled yet they have been some of the worst performers in council. They have failed to organize ward feedback meetings once in every three months as required by council policy.

 

 

It is saddening that in a few wards, the recalled councillors were fully engaged with ratepayers and made tangible contributions to council functioning.

 

However, the majority of the elected councillors who were elected in 2018 represented their political parties more than they really cared about the provision of services to ratepayers. They converted land designated for schools and health facilities into housing stands, and still claim to represent the ratepayers. Ratepayers across the 87 wards of the Harare Metropolitan Province comprising of Harare, Chitungwiza, Ruwa and Epworth have experienced deteriorating service delivery with no sign that the situation will be reversed anytime soon. Refuse is not being collected in most suburbs, and piles of garbage are visible on street corners, along major roads, in residential areas, central business 2 district and industrial areas, with the high-density suburbs most affected.

 

This is because in the northern suburbs, the ratepayers have the financial means to adopt alternative means of clearing their garbage and avoid illegal dumpsites, but the majority of the residents in high density areas are very poor and cannot afford an additional expense on refuse collection beyond what they are charged by the council.

 

 

Service delivery has been worst in the areas of water and sanitation, nurses are resigning and leaving council in dozens per week, corporate governance, very low revenue collections, absence of a proper billing system, stakeholders’ engagement, most departments are led by acting directors, several council managers and some recalled councillors face corruption charges in the courts involving land sales, allocations and abuse of power.

 

 

 

Sewerage bursts in most communities are overwhelming the responsible council division. Based on the local government system in Zimbabwe, the provision of social services is a shared responsibility between the policymakers, the ratepayers and the council management.

 

The town clerks and their management have executive authority and have the mandate to implement council resolutions and decisions, including rules and regulations.

 

 

The policymakers have to be making the policies and decisions through council committees and the full council. A lot of their resolutions and decisions remain unimplemented several months after being made due to lack of financial resources and poor leadership. Ratepayers remain excluded from fully participating in council affairs.

 

 

At the national level, legislation to facilitate constitutional devolution implementation has not been enacted. In light of these significant challenges affecting our local authorities, it is very critical for the ratepayers to seriously think about who and what their elected councillors would be capable of changing if they are elected into office.

 

 

Within the current legislation and policies, councillors are responsible for representing the ratepayers in council, policymaking and play oversight role to ensure that council management implements council decisions, policies and laws.

 

Experience has however revealed that the councillors facilitate dozens of workshops outside their local authorities as a way of getting allowances and other benefits.

 

 

Whenever a councillor is elected into officer, they are given a residential and commercial stand as part of their benefits. The HRT believes Councillors should only be eligible to receive a council stand if they do not already have a property of their own, and they should be allocated the stand after they have served the ratepayers for at least five years

 

One of the reasons most of our wetlands and golf courses have been sold for housing developments is because of the involvement of council management, land barons and councillors in the land sales, with most of them pocketing the United States Dollars while remitting ZW Bond notes or RTGS to the City of Harare. This reveals that the bulk of the work that councillors do while in office pretending to be 3 serving the ratepayers is land allocations and sales through their proxies.

 

A selected few councillors however have done exceptionally well to represent, make policies and laws and play oversight roles on behalf of the electorate, thus giving value to the electorate. In order to better serve the ratepayers, residents have repeatedly indicated that they want Councillors with a minimum of four years of secondary education, with a tertiary qualification most ideal like lawyers, media practitioners, teachers, accountants, engineers, medical doctors, social scientists among other competencies.

 

 

A track record of performance in serving the community, property ownership or a known business in the ward one wants to contest in, a police clearance so that no one facing criminal charges is elected, mature in age and experience, easily accessible to people and keen on building stronger ties with ratepayers.

 

 

The HRT therefore urges residents to evaluate the performance of their councillors and make the right decisions during the by elections and the 2023 harmonised elections. The choice should be based on the reality of service delivery and not driven by partisan political emotions. Once a councillor is elected into office, if they are highly partisan, they will simply be loyal to their political party leadership and never to the ratepayer.

 

 

However, if the Councillor is mature, experienced and passionate about community development, they will be able to balance their political party interests and the aspirations of the ratepayers. The electorate is therefore urged to make their choices based on their knowledge of the candidates to be presented by political parties and those who present themselves as independent candidates. The central government should reduce its interference on council affairs.

 

The three key players who have a responsibility on service delivery, and hence have distinct roles and accountability are the Government, the councillors and the technocrats.

 

The government should create a conducive and supportive environment for local authorities to discharge their responsibility.

 

The councillors come up with policies, projects and programs to benefit the residents and committed and competent management who ensure these programs are implemented. The HRT is not interested in which political party or independent candidates win in the by elections. What is important to the organisation is that the elected councillors are people who have the interests of the ratepayers at heart.

 

 

The most difficult reality to accept is that central government still wields excessive powers over local authorities such that councils will always be under tight supervision by the national government, represented by the Minister of Local Government and Public Works. This calls for the election of councillors with the stamina and experience to withstand the pressure from council bureaucrats and national government.

 

 

It is important that whoever is elected into council, councillors must unite and focus on providing an efficient and effective service to the ratepayers.

Robert Tapfumaneyi