There are reports indicating the Government recently approved an increase of local government allowances of more than 200 percent. It is an issue that needs to be interrogated in light of general under-performance by local authorities.
What exactly are they basing this increment on? We believe that anyone holding public office should be remunerated on a results-based appraisal. At least that is what the 10-Point-Plan enunciated by President Mugabe last year says.
There is a public perception that the local authorities are shortchanging the ratepayers through shoddy or non-existent service. We cannot find an immediate justification to warrant an increase in allowances.
All urban areas in the country need to do a lot of serious work. Refuse is uncollected, most roads are in a deplorable state and sewerage bursts are a daily reality in high density suburbs. Harare is currently battling a typhoid outbreak as the city authorities deliver water of questionable quality where residents are lucky enough to have running taps.
The housing backlog is huge and cities have been failing to deliver on serviced stands leading to the proliferation of land barons under the guise of housing cooperatives.
Health service delivery centres are poorly resourced and no longer adequate for the populations of most cities and towns. Government is severely constrained to provide subsidies. It is largely ratepayers who meet the costs of running urban local authorities, and they are not happy with the level of service delivery. So what should the mayors and councillors be rewarded for?
Zimbabwe should stop paying lip service to national austerity measures. Why should urban local authorities be allowed to increase allowances without first improving service delivery? Most municipalities are already constrained by poor payment compliance because many ratepayers feel that they are not getting their money’s worth. The latest increment of allowances will likely result in increased apathy on the part of residents.
The money was not budgeted for and will have to come out of the service delivery kitty. That means the minister responsible has become complicit in subverting approved, pro-people budgets.
In the budgets presented, the ministry insisted that councils could not spend more than 30 percent of total revenue on remuneration. How much will these new allowances skewer the ratios?
Let us not forget that these people have other benefits. They get to buy real estate at cut prices. They also draw allowances for sitting on the various committees.
A comparison of the allowances of council officials to those of members of Parliament does not make the situation any more palatable. It only highlights that Parliament must be looking at a downward variation to sustainable levels, instead of acting as a standard for everyone else to bargain for a return to the mega-salary era.
We thought the ministry was finally prepared to push local authorities to channel resources where they are most needed when it banned out of town meetings. But now it looks like a case of just shifting figures from one column to another as mayors and councillors will continue to have their cake and eat it.
In addition, we have an economy where most people are having to make do with less as organisations cut salaries and allowances to remain viable. The prices of goods and services are falling as businesses seek to find a realistic value for the US dollar. So by what economics can local authorities justify an increment in remuneration at this point?
The mayors and councillors are setting a bad precedent. What is to stop municipal employees from demanding an increment as well? There are many other workers who are struggling to make ends meet on earnings below the poverty datum line.
Mayors and councillors are not full time employees. They should be citizens of means who wish to give their time to civic duty not opportunists who believe this is an avenue to make a living.