Daniel Nemukuyu The Interview
Chitungwiza Town Council has been in the news for the wrong reasons over the past three years. The municipality has seen reported cases of financial irregularities, numerous lawsuits, corruption, labour
disputes, water crisis, flowing sewer among other challenges become the norm of the day. Recently workers at the municipality downed tools over non payment of salaries paralysing the entire service delivery system until the Labour Court declared the strike illegal. Our Senior Reporter Daniel Nemukuyu (DN) spoke to the new town clerk Mr George Makunde (GM) on problems bedevilling the town and solutions that have been put in place to correct the situation.
DN: Your municipality has been in the news for the wrong reasons over the past years. You recently took over the reigns at the municipality, what are the real challenges facing Chitungwiza town council GM: Our great undoing is lack of financial resources. Apathy on the part of the ratepayers due to poor service delivery is another challenge.
We have collapsed water and sewer infrastructure, weak debt collection plan, bank overdrafts organised by previous management, institutionalised corruption especially land scandals, numerous legal cases against council, the general national liquidity crunch, overstaffing, lack of own water source, inadequate computerisation, diarrhoeal diseases, politicised organs of service delivery, volatile industrial relations and general indiscipline.
DN: You speak of the municipality owing various banks and other stakeholders, what is council’s total debt?
GM: Council’s total known debt hovers around US$23 million dollars.
This is spread in unpaid water bills, statutory obligations, salaries, bank overdrafts and borrowings and general goods and services by suppliers.
DN: Council is not collecting much from the residents yet it has such a huge bill to settle, is there any way out of the financial mess? Can you shed light on what you are doing to improve the situation?
GM: Yes, there is a way out. I am glad to say we have started paying our statutory obligations like Zimra, NSSA, and medical aid.
These had not been paid since dollarisation in 2009.
We have also started restructuring, which is meant to right size the organisation and ensure that our workers deliver the best for our residents.
The council is geared to fully computerise by January 2013 to improve billing, stop leakage and hence increase client confidence, grow revenue through leasing council beer halls.
The municipality has also introduced stakeholders’ budget consultation, re-engineering key strategic business units and putting proper administrative systems in place.
Council has also introduced debt acknowledgement process, which will see improved debt collection through summons on selected debtors and engaging partners to construct own water source for Chitungwiza.
It has also introduced performance contracts starting with Town Clerk and heads of departments.
The process will move downwards as the restructuring process heats up, disciplining those that are bent on causing industrial disharmony at the expense of service delivery.
DN: Although the Labour Court has ordered workers to go back to work following the recent strikes, you haven’t paid them. How is the council going to settle these salary arrears?
GM: We have already introduced the batch system mode of paying ourselves.
This would ensure balancing service deliverables and employee costs.
That system shall continue for a while so that we do not go to borrow from banks and further deepen the debt, which is already difficult to manage.
We are also going to invoke Section 12D of the Labour Act to reduce the wage bill in the interim while other sterner revenue growing avenues are being vigorously pursued.
This method avoids retrenchment as a solution.
DN: How are you dealing with those who participated in the “illegal strike”?
GM: The Labour laws of this country clearly stipulate measures that are applicable to such cases and we will follow them to the letter for justice, discipline and order to prevail at Chitungwiza.
DN: For how long will the workers continue working without pay?
GM: It is our desire that the non-payment of salaries be a bygone thing by latest middle of the year 2013.
If the processes so mentioned are implemented earnestly and with every player in the equation playing their roles we will achieve our goal.
DN: People have paid for Nyatsime residential stands but there is no tangible development in the project. Is there any hope for those desperate home seekers?
GM: The Council has submitted an application for the land in question to be transferred formally to council by Government.
Once the land has been transferred allocations commence, as currently there are surveyors on the ground doing preparatory work for stands allocations.
DN: When can the Nyatsime home seekers expect commencement of development on the stands?
GM: While we are hopeful that the situation can be salvaged, we are alive to the reality that this is not going to be an event but a process.
DN: Sewer has become perennial problem in Chitungwiza. What is the real problem and how are you addressing the issue?
GM: That is a result of over-stretched infrastructure. Unplanned developments arising from corrupt land scandals have seen more structures being built but without additional or upgraded sewer infrastructure. Some are on undesignated places like wetlands
The only way out is to upgrade the sewer to meet current demand but that depends on resource availability.
DN: Water shortage has become a norm in the town, what are you doing to address the problem?
GM: The long-term solution is to build own dam and water purification stations. Names like Muda and Nyatsime are coming out in discussions.
We have started negotiations with would-be partners on these developments with the first concept paper to facilitate discussion on the proposals and an expression of interest call expected to be in place by middle of January 2013.
In the interim we pray that our sister city will continue to assist us more even though we admit there is a serious problem in the water supply arrangement.
DN: Is this your first municipality job. If not before you joined Chitungwiza municipality, where have you been?
GM: I once worked at Kariba town council.