The City of Harare has come up with a 2020 budget in which it increased rates and taxes seven-fold, on average.
Our understanding is that the council wants to raise money to fix its poor service delivery. Nothing more, nothing less.
We honestly and sincerely hope that the city fathers and mothers are alive to the fact that the municipality’s service delivery has collapsed, exposing residents to general discomfort and disease.
To us, the budget is, therefore, meant to revive, re-kit and re-tool the city’s service delivery and give its residents at least something to smile about.
We shudder to think that the big budget is meant to line the pockets of the city fathers (and mothers).
Dry taps, uncollected garbage, potholes, unmarked roads, dark streets, burst sewage pipes, clogged drainage systems, open defecation in alleys, touting and street vending, among others, are all, but pointers to the city’s collapsed service delivery system.
While we are still digesting the contents of the budget, something has taken us aback.
Harare’s mayor and four top council officials are set to spend more than US$33 000 on a reciprocal five-day visit to the Chinese city of Nanjing from December 18 to 23, 2019.
Council sanctioned the trip during its 1 891th ordinary full council meeting at Town House last Thursday.
But to us the timing is clear that they are going on a pre-Christmas shopping binge.
The full meeting also gave the nod for the allocation of US$3 760 and US$227 692 for two international and two local trips.
The Ministry of Local Government and Public Works must intervene and stop the proposed visit to China by a five-member delegation from the City of Harare.
The basis for the intervention is that the trip has no direct benefit for Harare’s ratepayers.
Given the current economic circumstances, this is something that the council can ill-afford. It simply is unconscionable.
Apart from reciprocating the visit, the expected benefits to the City of Harare and its ratepayers are frankly as clear as mud.
The tragedy about this council is that it campaigned on a ticket of being pro-people and pro-service delivery and what is clear from their actions is that they are bent on serving themselves and do not care a hoot about the capital’s ratepayers.
In other jurisdictions, outraged ratepayers would besiege and picket Town House until the city council comes to its senses and starts working for the city and its people.
So this is one of the occasions when it is absolutely necessary for interventions to bring back glow to the Sunshine City. Voters went to the polls to elect councillors with the interests of residents of the capital at heart.
Ratepayers voted for councillors who they expected to provide clean water; they voted for councillors who would clean up Harare; they voted for councillors who would repair city roads that have allowed to develop into craters due to neglect or misplaced priorities; they voted for councillors who would restore street lights by populating the city with solar street lights; they voted for councillors who would superintend over the finances of the city judiciously; and they voted for councillors they believed were committed to the vision of a world class city by 2025, one where everyone — locals and foreigners — would be proud of.
But this lot is self-serving and unashamedly unrepentant.
Last September, they blew US$20 000 on a trip to the United States of America, at a time when it was telling anyone who cared to hear that it had run out of chemicals for the treatment of water because it could not access foreign currency needed to import them.
Then there are other instances where council sanctioned so-called training workshops.
Just what these trips and workshops have done to contribute to better management of the affairs of Harare remains questionable.
In the case of the trip to China, if the belief is that such a visit will contribute to solving problems that the capital faces, would it not be better to request an expert or two from China to be seconded to Harare to help in advising council on how it can better serve its residents?
Previous councils have undertaken numerous trips, ostensibly meant to improve how Harare is run. The evidence on the ground, however, suggests and confirms the opposite.
It is sad and unfortunate that council is preoccupied with scouting for foreign trips so that councillors and officials can use the trips to siphon money from the local authority through allowances.
How many refuse trucks could have been put back on the road if the amounts being squandered on trips or workshops were channelled towards vehicle repairs?
How much fuel could have been procured had the amounts been used for refuelling the trucks so they could remove mountains of rubbish from the central business district and residential areas and thus help avert the likelihood of an outbreak of cholera and typhoid, or malaria brought about by mosquitoes breeding at sites of uncollected rubbish?
There has never been tangible or visible evidence of improvement in service delivery as a result of these trips and workshops.
The Ministry of Local Government and Public Works must intervene in order to halt the misplaced priorities being exhibited by Harare City Council. Clearly, these councillors do not have the interests of the residents at heart.
While the Minister of Local Government should not intervene in the running of local authorities, there are times when such interventions are necessary.
Local authorities cannot operate as if they are not answerable to residents, the people whose rates are critical to the smooth running of their operations.
It would be a dereliction of duty, if the parent ministry condoned the visit by the Harare City Council to China.
Someone has to knock sense into the council.