Illegal settlements, dereliction of duty and blame games

Hamandishe Chisora Correspondent
The sprouting of illegal settlements in and around Harare has created a lot of problems for authorities at local and national levels.

A lot of controversy has stalked these developments especially so when the illegal settlements have been destroyed by authorities for the obvious reason of being a planning infraction as well as environmental and health time bombs.

The destruction of houses, perhaps beginning with the Operation Clean- up or Murambatsvina in 2005, has also increasingly taken a political hue – which it must, ordinarily.

Hence, a lot of political, economic and social as well as emotional cost has been levied in light of illegal settlements.

The one worrying aspect, though, is the blame games that ensue when it is time to take the flak relating to, say, the destruction of houses and so on.

Political and local authorities trade accusations; duck and dive responsibility – and this is especially true at Harare City Council where the water department has been made to take the fall allegedly for connecting water to illegal settlements.

Barring any acts of criminality, which cannot be ruled out, it would seem that the issue of connection of water to settlements is conveniently forgetting that the city works as a system.

Not least, there is the municipal police department that should enforce by-laws, including barring illegal settlements in their infancy.

For any settlement to be set up there are processes which are carried out by various departments.

The process starts with the City Valuations and Estates Management (CVEM) identifying land available and suitable for settlement. In some cases registered housing co-operatives approach CVEM with proposals for developments.

In this case, CVEM checks on the availability and ownership of the land. Once it is satisfied, they instruct Town Planning to produce relevant planning layouts.

These are circulated to stakeholders which include all Harare departments as well as external stakeholders such as ZESA, TelOne, Environmental Management Agency (EMA), etc, for comments. Town Planning then compiles all the comments and if all are favourable, the planning layouts are then presented to council (through the Environmental Management Committee) for approval.

Once approved by council, the layouts are taken to the city’s survey division for survey and allocation of stand numbers.

The product is then sent to housing for allocation to the registered co-operatives.

The housing co-operatives, once allocated their land, proceed to carry out engineering drawings for water and sewerage reticulation as well as roads and stormwater drainage infrastructure. The technical personnel under the water and sewerage divisions as well as the road division are merely responsible for the approval of engineering drawings to make sure they comply with the city’s engineering standards.

The mushrooming of illegal settlements cannot, therefore, be blamed on a single department.

The city has a development control division which should monitor all the developments in and around the city, and municipal police for enforcement functions. These units were allowed to sleep on duty but are today ironically probing water and sewerage personnel.

Common sense would tell that if these had investigating capacity to probe, they surely should have used that intelligence to stop the developments.

The houses that are being demolished today were not constructed last night. Somebody in the city must have been monitoring. Herein comes the building inspectorate and the district officers.

One would think that the district officer should be aware of all developments taking place in his/her district.

What is clear from the so-called probe by the city is that there are certain elements in the city that want to shirk responsibility and find sacrifice fall guys in the water unit.

Council, led by the Mayor, should carry out a thorough probe starting with the heads of departments.

The Acting Town Clerk and her executive team should be able to articulate the policy and procedures and identify any loopholes and clean up the system rather than rush to sacrifice a handful when probably it’s a ploy to appease the minister while hiding what they have done. Remember this team allocated themselves industrial stands recently so they should be able to explain the process they used to allocate themselves these stands.

It is important to note that once development control and municipal police fail in their duties, the so-called illegal settlers become exposed to diseases if they cannot get access to clean water.

The Director of Harare Water is on record as saying that over 70 000 households are accessing free water. These need to be captured for the city’s financial viability. The city sent teams into all areas to capture all illegal connections so that they could be billed.

Today the city is collecting revenue from these settlements and no one is complaining.

It would only be fair to the residents of the city that a full and transparent probe is carried out rather than one where a net is cast to catch the small fish while the large ones swim away.

This is piece has been a small attempt at clarifying issues. Hopefully, there will be more opportunities to unpack the massive rot that is bedevilling not only Harare but other cities as well, which presents rare and continuing challenges to authorities.

 Hamandishe Chisora is a Harare-based urban planning consultant and former employee of the City of Harare. He writes in his personal capacity.

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