Local authority must fall on its sword

Hamandishe Chisora Correspondent
On February 5, in an article published by The Herald, this writer noted that regarding the demolition of illegal houses, there was a lot of dereliction of duty at local authority level, with special reference to Harare City Council. And when it came to the crunch, there were a lot of blame games and politicking.

It was pointed out, for example, that currently the Department of Water in Harare City Council was being made to take the fall for connecting water to illegal settlements, effectively saying the existence of illegal settlements is soley down to a single department.

Which is illogical, of course, and the six engineers who are facing sanctions for having “authorised” connections are mere fall guys.

Since the article in question, two important developments have taken place which puts beyond question that Harare City Council, and let it be a warning to other reckless local authorities, must now lie on the bed it has made.

The two incidents relate to the court actions regarding the Arlington Farm/ Airport settlement, and a Budiriro housing cooperative.

Last week, the High Court castigated the Harare City Council for demolishing houses along the Airport Road without first securing a court order.

This week, the same court nullified notices by Harare City Council to evict and demolish houses belonging to hundreds of families in Budiriro and issued a directive for the local authority to regularise the stay of the affected co-operative members.

There are very interesting points that are raised in The Herald’s report of the court’s judgment.

It says: “Council had also approved the servicing of the land and watched the co-operative members occupying the land without any objections. Approval fees for water, sewer and other works were paid to council, which accepted the money over the years.”

This raises the questions about the morality of council’s actions, especially when it leaves people to build structures then seek to raze them down.

What makes this iniquitous is that the same council accepts these people’s money for water, sewer and other works over years.

To add to the mix it punishes people who execute departmental duties such as connecting water, for which it collects revenue!

The first thing to be proposed here is that council be prepared for legal suits from residents and affected parties that have failed the people with respect to negligence of duty, inhuman treatment and dishonesty.

A strong case can be made, quite simply, by affected parties chronicling the double standards of the city council in approving developments, or parts thereof, and going on to collect revenue for water and sewer yet the next morning take down people’s houses without any shame at all.

Council cannot have its cake and eat it!

It is the suggestion that a proper inquiry be made into what has been going on at the local authority with a commission comprising key stakeholders such as Government, local authority, planning and legal experts as well as residents.

This will unravel what has gone on in the local authority over the years where irregular activities have taken place on the land and people have lost money and newly constructed properties which has had a lot of ramifications on the standing and morality of the local authority as well as even dragging the name of the country in the mud.

What is also important is that the city council must stop its patently irregular and illegal “disciplinary action” against officials such as the aforementioned six engineers who are seemingly being sacrificed by authorities to cover up for the gross mismanagement and rot that has taken place at council.

It is now clear that the council is in a desperate firefighting mode and wants to be seen to be doing something yet in the process trips over itself and flouts its own regulations and procedures.

It has to be submitted that the solution lies in a holistic inquiry and redesigning and reapplying of direction of the local authority. The patchwork and knee-jerk reaction as well as blame games we see these days will not work.

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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