MUTARE City Council has been making headlines in the past few weeks, from being sued by residents for failing to provide water to the recent uproar over former chamber secretary, Mr Cephas Vuta’s golden handshake after he had parted ways with the local authority.
Service delivery has remained a challenge, with some areas of the city grappling with water challenges. While residents are not happy with service delivery, the city fathers have been blaming residents for failing to meet part of their bargain by paying rates to the local authority. This week, the News Editor, Cletus Mushanawani (CM) hooked up with the director of the United Mutare Residents and Ratepayers’ Trust (UMRRT), Bishop Dr Sebastain Bakare, to hear what residents think about the prevailing situation in the city and at Civic Centre:
CM: What is UMRRT and when was it formed?
SB: The UMRRT was formed in 2014 after concerned residents had sat down to discuss what could be done about the situation. Litter was all over the city to the point that it had become a health hazard. This was due to negligence by city officials who were and still are busy collecting money from residents without service delivery.
CM: Who constitutes this trust and from its formation, what are some of the major programmes it has championed for the benefit of its membership and ratepayers in general?
SB: The board members of the trust constitute residents of integrity, men and women who love their city and consider it their home. The trust has a very able and functional board of trustees made up of residents of Mutare. At the formation of UMRRT, the board advocated for rights based on good governance, accountability and transparency centred on municipal services.
The goal of the trust was to find ways to mediate between the city council and residents, to find ways to handle noticeable areas of major concern such as Mutare’s potholed roads. There was no noticeable attempt from the city council’s side to try and repair those roads, yet some of the roads were just impassable.
Water was gushing out through unrepaired underground water pipes, while at the same time some Dangamvura households had no water supply for several years. We understand that the African Development Bank had donated some money for the project, yet the people in Dangamvura continued to suffer due to the officials’ irresponsible behaviour. Fern Valley, another residential area, also suffers from erratic water supplies.
The other issue is that traffic lights in Mutare seldom function. This causes traffic jams and makes it impossible for pedestrians to cross roads safely. Street lights have since disappeared in all residential areas and there is no attempt to replace the bulbs or conduct repairs where needed.
While the city council does not tire in collecting levies for road development, street lights and education, they are unprepared or unwilling to let residents know how much they would have collected. No one knows the levies will continue to be collected for how long. Residents have said enough is enough and have therefore decided to stop paying the levies.
CM: Early this year, your trust, together with some residents, successfully sued Mutare City Council at the High Court to ensure that the latter provides adequate water to Mutare residents. Part of the ruling by Justice Mwayera indicated that your organisation should partner Mutare City Council in the provision of water. However, up to now, some areas are still grappling with water challenges, what course of action are you taking to address this anomaly?
SB: UMRRT has been leading in litigation cases on behalf of residents. Attempts to engage in a constructive dialogue have proved fruitless. The officials show no interests at all. The main reason for their inability to cooperate with UMRRT is their profound fear that the abuse of ratepayers funds, resulting in poor service delivery, will be exposed. They appear to fear that the unearthing of corrupt practices will be to their disadvantage. Seeing that the city council was not prepared for constructive discussion with UMRRT, the trust was left with no option, but to take a litigation route to the High Court to address its concerns. We also assisted the Land Commission with information on how the city council officials awarded themselves with residential and commercial stands in the Beira Corridor. A petition with 2 500 signatures was sent to the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Local Government, listing multiple issues which are of major concern to residents. UMRRT does not condone corruption and therefore takes serious stances against those who practise it.
CM: As one of the watchdogs, what are you doing to ensure accountability and proper use of ratepayers’ hard-earned money paid as rates?
SB: The latest glaring abuse of ratepayers’ money has been in the alleged purchase of expensive cars for the Town Clerk, Mr Joshua Maligwa and Mayor, Councillor Blessing Tandi. Each of them got the latest Prado model worth US$75 000. The Dangamvura water project needs about US$60 000 to be completed for the benefit of some households that have not had a drop of water for years. No one in his or her right mind would condone such abuse of ratepayers’ money. The Mayor of Mutare is on record saying the purchase of such expensive cars is important in raising the status of the city.
The golden handshake given to the outgoing chamber secretary, Mr Cephas Vuta, was yet another extravaganza. While he was not given a Prado due to his hierarchical position in administration, his car was worth US$48 950, the same amount awarded to several members of staff at his level. In addition, the secretary was given four stands. The amount of money spent by the Mutare City Council for their personal satiation while ratepayers are being accused of failing to pay their dues is not only arrogant, but outright criminal. With such people running the council, the city will become a growth point. The traditional pride of Mutare as a beautiful entry point to Zimbabwe has been erased as some roads are in such a poor state, nearly impassable. They have neglected to maintain the roads and the only way they can now go around the city is through 4×4 Prados. It boggles my mind how such astronomical amounts could be spent on such expensive vehicles in an impoverished city with some residents going without a drop of water in their homes. Therefore the city fathers are there to take care of their own needs, not those of the residents. General welfare of residents and their wellbeing is of less importance. Our motto as the national consortium of Residents’ Association of Zimbabwe is: ‘We pay, you deliver’. Unfortunately, this is not happening in Mutare.
CM: Residents have always been complaining of not being consulted in budgetary issues. What awareness or educational programmes do you have in place to ensure that residents’ rights are observed and respected?
SB: Although ratepayers pay, service delivery is not a priority for the city fathers. In order to stop this rot, residents and ratepayers in Mutare are being made aware of their rights for them to change their mindset about who owns the city. The city belongs to residents, not those elected into offices or council employees. Without them, there would be no place called Mutare. So our appeal to residents is to stop being passive onlookers as the city is reduced to the status of a growth point. We need to redeem our city’s image. Residents and ratepayers, let your voices be heard louder than ever before. UMRRT calls for collective responsibility for the sake of our city, common solidarity for its wellbeing. The city fathers must take care for our needs.