Harare City Council needs a new town clerk, but appears to have difficulty establishing just what qualities this person ought to possess.
It seems the council is looking far beyond those with experience and knowledge of local governance, of the problems the city faces and of how to generate options to solve or ameliorate those problems. Looking through reports so far, the council is simply looking for a first-class administrator and nothing more.
There is a myth that a manager can manage anything, that is if you can run an insurance company then you can run an engineering business and vice versa. Experience shows that this is not the case and that the top managers of business enterprises and almost everything else have to have, besides the many skills that a chief executive requires, a detailed knowledge of how the particular business or enterprise they now head works.
That is not to say there is no room for intelligent, hard-working experts in other fields. Businesses need such people on their boards of directors and councils need them as councillors, committee chairmen and mayors. But these perceptive and intelligent people need to work closely with someone who has an intimate knowledge of the city and the municipality to create and implement viable policies.
In just over 118 years Harare has had about a dozen mayors considered in the top rank. All were among the top businessmen of the city, or were leading professionals.
And all were able to achieve major advances in city services, able to solve many problems, because they made sure they were backed by a town clerk and other skilled staff who could share their vision, generate options and turn council resolutions into concrete and water pipes.
Throughout its history, the city has been expanding far faster than the rest of the country. The good times have been when sensible councils backed by innovative and skilled city managers have built enough houses, put in enough roads, boosted water supplies to required levels and generally ensured that businesses can work, people have homes and everyone can move themselves and their goods around the city easily. It sounds easy, but the actual formulation and implementation of detailed policies is very difficult.
Of course, the town clerk of Harare should be a good administrator, although it is possible to back the chief executive with a good team of departmental directors who should be able to take much of the administrative burden off the chief executive’s hands and to have a specialist administrator in the town clerk’s office who can handle much of the rest.
Far more important, the top post in Harare municipality needs to be someone who knows intimately the sort of major problems the city faces, who knows the expert staff and their skills, who can readily identify and have quantified, the problems the city faces now and in the future and who can then, with other experts, put together options from which the mayor and council can select the final programmes.
We think that this person must come from local government, or at least an urban planning background. Outsiders need not be rejected, but as Bulawayo found out decades ago, having the post of deputy town clerk was an excellent way of testing both insiders and outsiders for the top job without wrecking the city while you did so.
Harare City councillors are wise to think carefully over what sort of person they want, but they also need, when drafting criteria, to remember that the person they choose will, from the first day in office, have to know how to solve the problems the city faces.
A good administrator and nothing else will not serve that purpose.