Abel Zhakata Senior Reporter
NEWLY elected Mutare Mayor, Councillor Blessing Tandi, has a mammoth task to lead fellow city fathers, guide senior managers and bring on-board all stakeholders to rehabilitate and improve operations at the Civic Centre.
Service delivery is in the intensive care unit as the local authority struggles to collect garbage, provide water, upgrade sewer systems and maintain badly damaged roads among a plethora of other deliverables that need urgent attention.
Corruption is rife, worker morale is low and consequently units that make up the local authority are pulling in different directions, crippling operations in the process.
Council is owed millions of dollars by defaulting residents and businesses while the municipality is failing to service a litany of overdraft facilities with local banks.
In a nutshell, council has found itself between a rock and a hard surface.
Our senior reporter, Abel Zhakata (AZ) interviewed Cllr Tandi (BT) on his game plan on how he intends to change the fortunes of the eastern border city and make it tick once more.
AZ: Congratulations for being elected the mayor for Mutare. You are not new to the problems facing the city and now that you have been elected to lead council for the next five years, hopes are high that you will use your experience to change things for the better. Quickly coming to the real issues at hand, Cllr Tandi how do you intend to tackle the water shortages especially in locations like Dangamvura.
BT: Thank you for the congratulatory message Abel. Regarding the water shortages we had a programme that we had tendered and we are anticipating that the African Development Bank (ADB) will release funds. It is our hope that as soon as our committees sit, we will chart the way forward. Our major goal is to make sure that the whole of Dangamvura receive adequate water supplies. That’s the first priority that we have at hand as council.
AZ: Recently we read in the papers that council was now taking the $330 000 water pipes fraud case to the Zimbabwe Anti Corruption Commission in order to reclaim the money. What is your take on this latest stance bearing in mind that the water woes bedevilling Dangamvura could have been solved long back had this money been put to good use?
BT: In my maiden speech I talked about corruption; how we need to tackle it within the rank and file at the Civic Centre. Taking the matter to Zacc is a way of trying to recover the stolen money. If we recover that money we will be in a position to start from somewhere. We want Zacc to help us expose the rot at council. If it means that we have people who are still around here who were involved in the scandal they should be weeded out.
AZ: Our sewerage system is old for it was designed during the colonial times. Apart from failing to service the growing population the system is aged and this explains recurrent bursts that have heavily polluted our water ways like Sakubva and Nyamauru Rivers in Dangamvura. What course of programme is up your sleeves to solve this mess?
BT: Our first port of call will be Sakubva. This is closely linked to urban renewal programme that was commissioned by Government last year. We need to put new sewer lines and replace the old ones. This programme will then spread across the city. The burst sewer lines are creating a serious health hazard and these are some of the areas that we need to move with speed to redress and contain diseases like cholera and typhoid.
AZ: The outbreak of cholera and typhoid which you have just mentioned go hand in hand with council’s inability to collect garbage in the city because the uncollected garbage has provided breeding ground for pests and diseases. How do you intend to up refuse collection and make the City of Mutare clean again?
BT: I was talking to the Town Clerk Mr Joshua Maligwa recently on the need for council to continually collect garbage. We need to clear all dumping sites that have formed around the city. This week our tippers and front end loaders worked flat out to clear all dump sites. These efforts are not enough and more needs to be done. In the same vein we need to educate rate payers on the need to safely dispose of litter. With adequate equipment council will be able to collect garbage but presently we don’t have enough refuse trucks. They need to be procured immediately.
AZ: Coming to squatters that have formed in the city which have posed serious health hazards, how does your administration intend to tackle the existing squatter camps because efforts by the local authority to bring order some years back yielded nothing? How are you going to tackle this volatile situation that at times resulted in deadly skirmishes between council cops and illegal settlers who refused to vacate their dwellings?
BT: I think part of the solution to this problem was tackled by central Government following an order to bar co-operatives from undertaking housing development. As for the Federation and Gimboki housing schemes in Dangamvura, we are going to sit with the committees of the two groups and iron things out. As for Gimboki we believe that UDICORP that is now managing the scheme will resolve the impasse and ensure that services are provided to the new location. Serious engagements are required to bring normalcy to these squatter issues. Council cannot tackle this alone as evidenced before.
AZ: Roads is the city are in bad shape. Hopes were high some few months ago following the rehabilitation of Blessing Makunike Road in Dangamvura and Jeff Road in Chikanga but it seems that momentum is no more. These two roads were abandoned mid way and the rains are coming anytime soon. Apart from these two major roads, feeder roads in the locations are an eye-sore. How are you going to redress this?
BT: What you are saying is very true. I haven’t talked with the town clerk regarding the funding from Zinara that was bankrolling the rehabilitation of those two major roads. The Blessing Makunike Road was supposed to have been completed some months ago as well as Jeff Road. We are also anticipating that these two roads must be completed before the onset of the rainy season. Financially we are crippled but we shall try by all means to allocate something towards road rehabilitation in the suburbs.
AZ: It is no secret that council is facing financial problems, chiefly because ratepayers are defaulting. What is your course of action to collect the debts and ensure payment compliance?
BT: Our biggest challenge as a local authority which is national in character is that of transparency and accountability. Because of this, ratepayers no longer want to pay for services rendered. There is apathy regarding rates payment. Our first port of call is to try and restore confidence in our ratepayers. How do we restore that confidence? We shall engage everyone now. Our aim is to go back to the community and give them our budget performance for the last six months and at the same time encourage them to pay up. The community must be aware of our operations as council. They should know how much we are collecting and how much is being used for service delivery and so forth. Everything must be transparent so that people know for sure how their money is being used. When that happens, confidence is built. Currently, people are not informed of the actual position of council regarding revenue and expenditure. We should open up and Mutare must be transparent.
AZ: Worker morale at the Civic Centre is very low because of non-payment of salaries. This has drastically reduced worker performance which subsequently dovetails into poor service delivery. For you to achieve the goals you are outlining here, you need the input of committed workers who will walk your line and work well with you. You are the new broom in town, how then do you intend to redress this and ensure that your workers are paid on time?
BT: We are concerned about our workers and we know that a motivated worker will produce desired results. The issue of salaries needs to be looked into seriously. All this is linked to how council is going to fare in terms of collecting rates. My wish is that our workers must be paid on time and we are going to work on that. Our collection drive should be upped and raise money for salaries as well as pay up the salary arrears.
AZ: You have talked about corruption in passing but I think we have to revisit and talk about it on its own because most of the problems that the city is facing are due to fraudulent activities by top officials. How do you intend to sweep clean your corridors and freshen up operations at the Civic Centre? Some of the rotten deals involve city fathers and as a leader how do you intend to reign in everyone and leave no stone unturned to fight graft?
BT: Corruption has no room at the Civic Centre. Our challenge is within the DNA of the Zimbabwean people who are now deep into graft. I am going to support the current administration at the Civic Centre and expose some of the corrupt activities going on there. Council is going to open up and let people speak out. Anyone with tangible evidence about corruption must approach us and report.