RURAL District Councils (RDCs) are doing a lot to change the face of their districts – with the advent of devolution helping them to close lots of gaps. Their service delivery efficiency has jumped from 30 to 65 percent, and with more funds, they can hit the 80 percent target.
Our Senior Reporter, Samuel Kadungure (SK) caught up with the RDC CEO’s Forum chairperson, Dr Edward Pise (EP). He is also the Makoni RDC CEO. Below are excerpts from the interview.
SK: Can you tell us what necessitated the formation of the CEO’s Forum? What is its mandate?
EP: It articulates issues affecting RDCs, like devolution and circumstances where some ministries interfere with our operations, while capacitating new CEOs to operate effectively. It is made up of 60 RDCs and its national executive meets monthly to discuss emerging issues.
SK: What is the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on RDCs’ revenue streams vis-a-vis service delivery expectations?
EP: The pandemic seriously affected our operations. Our ratepayers, mostly farmers, should be paying now but cannot do so because most of them have not delivered their crops (tobacco) to the market. They cannot auction their cattle due to the lockdown. Even small rural businesses that normally pay us are not trading and cannot pay. There is no fuel to work on roads rehabilitation as well as delivering other services like refuse collection and water reticulation.
We cannot do much due to lack of financial resources.
SK: What are RDCs doing to compliment Government’s efforts to fight Covid-19?
EP: We have set up quarantine centres, most of which are training centres and high schools. We have also identified isolation centres and made submissions to be assisted in equipping them by Government. We have also identified vacant posts in our health centres. Health workers are at the frontline of the fight against the pandemic so all those posts need to be filled. We have also tabled our PPE requirements and we are sanitising all our market places by constructing necessary ablution and proper vending facilities. RDCs are moving in one direction.
SK: People must regularly and thoroughly wash their hands with running water and soap as the first line of defence against Covid-19. What are RDCs doing to ensure provision of adequate water in rural areas?
EP: RDCs have problems with provision of water in the centres. We have made our requirements known to Government, for example in Makoni, our major problem is 567 dysfunctional boreholes that need $3 173 000 to rehabilitate as well as $2 173 000 to drill an additional 18 boreholes.
SK: What is the state of the roads and dip tanks in rural parts of Manicaland?
EP: Most dip tanks are functional, and in the case of Makoni RDC, we have secured dipping chemicals for the next two years. However, the roads are bad because Zinara has not released funds to local authorities for the past two years despite having submitted our requirements. We have already raised the issue with our parent ministry (Ministry of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development) since people are suffering. The roads are not trafficable, yet some rural people need to receive drought relief. Most transporters are either refusing or charging exorbitant prices to deliver grain to rural communities.
SK: What is the impact of theileriosis (January disease) in communal parts of Manicaland?
EP: The disease wreaked havoc, and in our case, Makoni West and Makoni South were the worst affected. We lost lots of cattle. Buhera and parts of Chipinge and Mutasa were also badly affected.
SK: What roles are RDCs playing in the devolution agenda and how have they fared so far?
EP: They facilitate development using resources coming from Government. Government is not able to reach all corners of the country and RDCs are close to the communities and can respond effectively to their developmental requirements. This gives us impetus to decide what our communities want and implement it.
SK: How much has Makoni RDC received under devolution and how did you use the funds?
EP: We received $13 million and used it to buy refuse compactors for Nyazura and Headlands, a tipper truck for our roads department and to repair our road equipment. We also constructed the Nzvimbe Clinic in a record nine months and fitted it with a solar system. We have also revamped the sewer system for Nyazura and bought computers and survey equipment.
SK: RDCs, led by Makoni, were recently up in arms against the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture & Rural Resettlement over control and collection of land levies from farmers. What is the exact situation on the ground?
EP: Our fight got support from the new dispensation, which upon assuming office, quickly adopted the Makoni position. They agreed with us that it was illegal for the Ministry of Lands to collect levies on behalf of RDCs and an amendment was made to the legislation to indicate that local authorities should collect levies, not the Ministry of Lands, so we are quite happy about it.
SK: Why is it that Makoni RDC, and particularly yourself, has a knack for picking fights with authorities. What gives you the courage to lead the fight in circumstances where your colleagues in other local authorities shy away?
EP: Government policies like the Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP), which recognises the rule of law, is one of the things that give us courage. The President has indicated that no one is above the law and that is how we operate. We do not get arm twisted in circumstances where the rule of law is not being observed. In the past, people used to bulldoze us without following the law, but in the new dispensation, they cannot do that. We stand our ground as clearly stipulated by the law. In the case of the Ministry of Lands, we said no, we took them to court and they lost. We do not allow our rights to be interfered with. That is our trademark.
SK: Last year you clashed with your parent ministry to the extent of chasing away auditors who had been dispatched to investigate you. Why did you reject the move by the ministry and does it mean you are not supposed to be audited?
EP: Section 309 of the Constitution gives only the Auditor-General the mandate to audit public entities, including local authorities. We are not a ministry department, but a public entity established in terms of the Constitution. The constitutional provision clearly states that only the Auditor-General can do that, and we could not accept something that was illegal. Somebody wanted to assume powers they do not have and we said no.
SK: What do you mean by “we are not a ministry department”? Are you saying the Local Government Ministry does not have power over local authorities?
EP: Local authorities are a creation of the Constitution. They are constitutional bodies and do not exist or serve at the pleasure of the ministry. The ministry, yes, can superintend, but not to audit us because it is not their mandate. The Auditor-General Client Charter clearly stipulates that if any ministry has reservations about a public entity that is not performing, they have the right to request the Auditor-General to initiate an audit, not the ministry itself. Some people wanted to pursue a selfish agenda, but we refused and advised them follow the law. We stand by that.
SK: There was also the issue of CEO salaries. At some point the ministry directed that they be slashed, but you led a defiant campaign against the move citing contractual agreements. Who negotiate these perks?
EP: We had a challenge then when the Permanent Secretary dictated salary levels for RDC CEOs. We tried to engage him to reverse it since he did not have the mandate to set our salary levels because we are not employed by Government, but by councils.
He was adamant and the forum took him to court and he lost, resulting in the salaries being reinstated to 2015 levels when that illegal directive was made. The employer determines the condition of service for local authority CEOs.
SK: What is the Forum doing to tackle corruption in local authorities?
EP: It has already engaged the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission to train all local authorities on what constitutes corruption, to appreciate issues they are grappling with, which we must guard against and polices that local authorities must put in place to fight the scourge. The training will be conducted after the lockdown.
SK: For how long have you been at the helm of Makoni RDC and how have you been able to stabilise the ship when next door – Rusape Town Council has been hiring and firing town secretaries?
EP: Since 1994, it’s 26 years now. I value teamwork with councillors and employees. We work as a team and also respect each other. I give the councillors their space and they reciprocate by allowing me space to work with my team. We follow the law and are open with each other, even on very sticky issues we discuss and give dialogue a chance. Continuous engagement helps a lot.
SK: How do you relate with councillors as politicians? What are your responsibilities in terms of charting direction for the local authority?
EP: I manage the politics without necessarily being a politician. With my team, we are the think tanks that create the strategic direction for the council and then sell it to the policy makers. I manage the political and administrative pressures by continuously engaging, particularly with the council chairman. We are open with each other. I have learnt over the years that politicians respect you if you don’t hide any information from them, but if you keep certain things to yourself and then they later pick it, you create problems for yourself.
CEOs should not let councillors get information from other sources because it creates tension. I send my chairman e-mails each time I get something important so that even if he is not coming around, he is aware of what is happening. It is important to keep lines of communication open. I meet the chairman every Monday to discuss things that would have happened over the week, and what we will be intending to do that particular week. He also brings issues which he needs me to act on.
SK: What is the relationship between RDCs and urban councils, especially on the creation of urban settlements on land near established towns?
EP: It is a symbiotic relationship. We cannot exist without each other. We have lots of common issues that make us work together. We cannot wish each other away. Land issues are at the forefront of our major misunderstandings. Previously powerful land barons would encroach in our areas without consulting us. Government now has emphasised that we cease expanding into rural areas, but build vertically to avoid eating into agricultural land, and that has resolved the issues that were causing discord.