MUTARE City Council has been making headlines for issues ranging from poor service delivery to corruption in land allocations. The local authority also stands accused of prioritising the purchasing of top range vehicles when residential areas like Dangamvura have gone for years without water.
The News Editor, Cletus Mushanawani (CM) managed to tie down the Mayor of Mutare, Councillor Blessing Tandi (BT) for an interview. Below are excerpts from the interview.
CM: You have been in the office for almost two years now, may you tell us the major highlights of your tenure?
BT: What I observed when I came into office was that City of Mutare was operating without any policies. It was a free for all situation where each and everyone could do whatever he or she wished to do.
We sat down with the Town Clerk and agreed that we needed to have policies in place. From January 2020, we have crafted close to 30 policies that are now being implemented in governing operations at the council. We are prioritising the issue of service delivery as we have managed to buy three compactors, one skip truck, four NP300 vehicles, two NP200 trucks and a tractor.
We have also procured three NV vehicles to add on to the same fleet. We are also looking at procuring other utility vehicles, especially an ambulance and other yellow machines (earthmoving equipment), that are needed.
We have also been renovating Sakubva Stadium for it to meet Zifa and Fifa standards. Very soon we will be boasting of having one of the best stadia in the country. We have also resurfaced the Jeff, Blessing Makunike and First Street roads.
We have been engaging key stakeholders like residents, businesses and churches to do away with perceptions that local authorities are not transparent in their dealings. In 2019 when we did our budget consultations, we used a two-prong approach where we went first to inquire what the ratepayers wanted included in the budget and also inform them about our budget performance for the previous year.
We also captured what they anticipated to see in the 2020 budget. We went back to them with the monetary value of the 2020 budget and their input was taken aboard in the crafting of our 2020 budget.
CM: What is your vision for Mutare?
BT: My vision is to see the growth of Mutare , a city that will be offering excellent services to residents.
I also want to leave a legacy like Alderman Lawrence Mudehwe, who is credited for bringing in water to the city through the Pungwe Water Project. I want to see sanity being brought in the Gimboki and Federation Settlements. Our five years in office should be remembered for transparency and accountability of all operations at the Civic Centre. Our service delivery should be world class.
CM: Service delivery has been a thorn in the flesh of most local Government authorities, how do you rate Mutare City Council in meeting this crucial demand from residents?
CM: I can rate Mutare City close to 70 percent because of our legacy issues. We have procured service delivery vehicles which increase our efficiency, especially on refuse collection, to about 90 to 100 percent.
Although we are aiming to have 100 percent efficiency in revenue collection, our efforts are being hampered by scarcity of fuel and some spare parts due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
Our roads are not in the best of conditions as we are rated at 40 percent. On tarred roads, we are rated at 20 percent trafficability, meaning that we have a lot of work to do in terms of improving the city’s road network.
The major challenge is that we didn’t have contingency plans as a local authority, in terms of how to maintain our roads. The introduction of a roads levy has helped us in maintaining the roads. This has increased our revenue and we can now use part of the funds as well those coming from Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (Zinara) to maintain our roads. The disbursements we are getting from Zinara are not adequate to maintain our roads. In all the locations, the roads are in a sorry state and need re-gravelling. However, as a local authority we don’t have the yellow machine to work on them.
We want to procure tippers, graders and compactors for this work. We need to do a lot on our road network.
For water provision, we rate ourselves close to 60 to 70 percent because we have areas in Dangamvura where we are not supplying them with adequate water. We have a 300mm line that supply Dangamvura and this means our reservoirs in that area will never fill up to meet the supply and demand of water in that area. We also anticipate that with the help we got from the African Development Bank in procuring 500mm high pressure pipes, we will be able to provide adequate water. We anticipate that the project will be completed at the end of this year.
CM: Some residents have since stopped paying their dues to council arguing that they are not getting value for their money. What are you doing to re-engage them to come on board and pay outstanding rates?
BT: We have been holding feedback meetings with residents so that we keep them appraised of developments happening in the city. Some of our major tenets as council are to be transparent and accountable to residents. Recently we partnered with the United Mutare Residents and Ratepayers Trust to embark on a door-to-door revenue collection campaign and this shows that we are working together with all partners to ensure that service delivery is improved in Mutare.
CM: In a recent circular titled “Councillors allowances and perks” which was recently sent to all Town Clerks and secretaries, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works, Mr Zvinechimwe Churu said Mayors and councillors should not receive exit packages. What is the situation like at Mutare City Council? There are media reports to the effect that councillors are getting both residential and commercial stands at 40 percent of their market values?
BT: It is true that we received a circular from the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works on the issue of exit packages and stands for councillors. The circular is very clear as it speaks to residential stands offered to a new time councillor for decent accommodation.
This stand is given at 40 percent discount and if that councillor needs a commercial stand in the city, he or she gets it at 100 percent of the cost, just like any other resident. On the exit packages, it is clear that there are no such pecks for councillors, including the Mayor. On the issue of double dipping on stands allocations by councillors, our minutes are very clear that stands are being allocated to those who never benefited from the scheme. As the Mayor, I haven’t received the stand I was supposed to receive during my first term of office. We are prioritising residents who are on the waiting list.
CM: You were recently quoted in the media saying council was acquiring Prados for yourself and the Town Clerk as part of improving your status and social standing in the community. What is the true picture regarding this issue?
BT: Mutare is one of the local authorities which does not have attractive packages for its executives. If you go to small towns like Bindura, Kadoma and Kwekwe, you will realise that the Town Clerks and heads of departments drive better vehicles compared to the Town Clerk here. Allocation of vehicles to executives is a contractual obligation to retain them in the local authority. In 2017 and 2018, we applied to the Local Government ministry for a Cabinet approval to buy vehicles for our HODs and so far we have received four clearances to purchase vehicles for the housing director, chamber secretary, director of health services and technical services engineer. Recently we had to seek approval for the purchase vehicles for the Mayor, Town Clerk and director of finance. However, the figure earmarked for the purchase of these vehicles is being exaggerated. We are looking at close to US$450 000 to buy all these vehicles. My predecessor, Councillor Tatenda Nhamarare, had also budgeted to buy a mayoral vehicle, but he didn’t purchase it because of budget performance and priority to service delivery. We don’t want to purchase all the vehicles at once, unless we get a lease financing arrangement. We recently separated ways with our chamber secretary, Mr Cephas Vuta, and he was given close to US$50 000 in lieu of his vehicle that had been pegged at about US$71 000. That is a liability that we had to meet. If the Town Clerk leaves today, he is also obliged to the same package, which means we will be paying him for the vehicle that he is still to get from the city. However, if the people do not want to see the Mayor being driven in a special vehicle, I have no problem with being driven in a Toyota Vitz or whatever vehicle that would have been availed. This will not be my vehicle, but the local authority’s vehicle. We are not here to drive vehicles, but to serve the community of Mutare.
CM: Pungwe Breweries is the liquor arm of the council, but we are being told that corporate governance tenets are being flouted as councillors who are supposed to be playing a supervisory role are now board members? Corruption allegations are also being thrown around. May you give us more insight on this issue?
BT: We are fighting tooth and nail to see Pungwe Breweries performing up to standard. We anticipate Pungwe Breweries to pay its dividend to the local authority as the shareholder. At one time we managed to appoint a board of private and competent players, but they failed to deliver. At one time, we even considered closing the brewery because the then general manager had teamed up with his personnel to fleece Pungwe Breweries. We had to dissolve the board and appoint an interim one. The interim board is being headed by the deputy Mayor and was given the mandate to run the affairs of the brewery up to December 31, 2019. We had to extend their tenure to March 31, 2020. Had it not been for the Covid-19 lockdown, operations at Pungwe Breweries could have stabilised. When we appointed this interim board, they crafted all the policies needed, which are ready for adoption by Mutare City Council. They have also paid back the loan that had been extended to the brewery by Mutare City Council. They have also bought two UD delivery trucks and have resuscitated the cooling tower that was having constant breakdowns. They have also acquired a sieve for the opaque beer.
CM: Gimboki and Federation settlements have sprouted up and disputes continue rocking these areas. In what jurisdiction do these settlements fall? If they are under council, what is being done to ensure proper planning to avoid hap-hazard settlements?
BT: Federation was created by an organisation called Dialogue For Shelter when it purchased land for the underprivileged communities in Mutare. When problems rocked the scheme, some of the members moved in and developed the stands. This created a lot of challenges. Dialogue For Shelter out-rightly purchased the land and it is now private property. As a local authority, our role is to ensure that they achieve the right health standards.
In Gimboki, after the consortium that was responsible for the development of the area was found wanting, the then Town Clerk, Mr Obert Muzawazi, made an arbitration that there was need for intervention by the local authority in that project. The then Local Government Minister, Mr Kasukuwere had to second Udcorp to take over operations at Gimboki. However, Udcorp faced its own challenges in Gimboki. They worked there for about two years and withdrew.
What we only received was a letter from the Department of Public Works stating that Udcorp had withdrawn from Gimboki. We have tried to court the Local Government Minister, Dr July Moyo. He has his own reservations about the project. Gimboki residents have been enjoying the benefits of fellow ratepayers in the city, yet they are contributing nothing to the city’s coffers. We are in the process of trying to help them build a clinic because this settlement is a health time bomb. They are using open sources of water and this poses a serious threat to the city’s health. There is an arbitration done by Mr Muzawazi for us to address the plight of the people of that area. We are also looking at the area as a source of revenue for the city and we have to capture them in our data base. Gimboki and Federation have about 6 000 families staying there.
CM: Mutare has been embarked for the Urban Renewal Project. What are the timelines for this project and do you see this coming to fruition?
BT: The Mutare Urban Renewal Project was stalled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In January, we forwarded our names to the Registrar of Companies to register a special purpose vehicle company for the Sakubva Urban Renewal. It was registered. As of now, I can safely say we are now working on the project as some money has been deposited into the accounts of the special purpose vehicle company. We anticipate that work will be resuming very soon. We don’t have any timelines for the project, but we anticipate that most of the work will be done in the next five years.
CM: Mutare City Council is being accused of parcelling out stands to senior Government officials. What is your response to that?
BT: From 2017 up to 2019, council never sold any piece of land. This year, about 100 stands we identified for sale and we had to consider other stakeholders in the city. We did not only consider the Government officials as alluded in some sections of the media, we also considered companies that had applied for land. We offered land to people who were on the waiting list. Some names were removed from the list based on when they registered on the waiting list and whether the City of Mutare is their work station.
CM: Bickering and alleged abuse of funds have resulted in the cancellation of your project with Germany Aid (GIZ). What was the scope of this project and what benefits were coming to the city from this project?
BT: GIZ wanted to help us install a core service delivery monitoring centre at the Civic Centre. There was a report in the Press saying the council had spent close to $6 million during a workshop. Due to those reports, our partners thought that we had our own resources if we could spend $6 million in a single workshop. However, we used about $233 000 for two workshops in Masvingo and Nyanga. It was a worthy investment for the city because this enabled us to craft policies that we are implementing in the administration of the city. However, we are open to scrutiny.
CM: We have gathered that factionalism is also affecting decision making among councillors, with two camps always trying to outmanoeuvre each other, how is the situation like?
BT: Our orientation as councillors was not up to scratch. The issue at council is not about factionalism, but diversity of opinions. People are not whipped into line during debates. Everyone is free to contribute and the robust debates guarantee best resolutions that are good for the development of the city.