EDITORIAL COMMENT: Town House must pursue new money

town house22There are reports that Harare plans to sell council properties to raise over $20 million in the next 30 days to go towards servicing some of its arrears.

As we have reported before in this paper, Harare is struggling to pay workers salaries and provide basic services owing to low revenue and recently it announced that it would set aside $275 000 daily towards the payment of salaries to reduce arrears of six months.

Today, we report that the city has resolved to sell industrial and church stands, three properties and open spaces for residential development in prime areas of Mt Pleasant along Harare Drive, Marlborough, Greendale, Helensvale, Prospect and Quinnington.

While it is commendable that the city is working to clear its debts and in particular salary arrears, there is something curious in this latest endeavour. That council is selling these properties and wants to raise the said amount — $20 million — which is not a small figure especially if it has to be raised in a month, suggests hurry on the part of council.

It is the same council that we hear owes debtors close to a half a billion dollars.

So, things are not going to be easy in the short to medium term for the council.

Nor could this frantic search for money to clear salary arrears help much, unless sustainable measures are put in place based on sound corporate governance and business acumen.

Granted, the decision to sell properties is not such a bad idea as the council is falling back on its assets. It is better than borrowing money to pay various debtors which inevitably would leave the council in a bigger, spiralling mess, what with the high cost of money in Zimbabwe.

But the council is not expected to sell the family silverware each time it encounters a challenge like this. It just is not sustainable. Rather, Harare must now consider serious measures to collect and retain money.

Its pricing regimes and revenue collection systems must be up to date. That council has been selling and leasing a lot of properties at sub-economic rates is a matter of record. There are many people who have been paying peanuts to council yet making a killing out of sub-letting properties and spaces to third parties.

These barons have become filthy rich while the council has accrued massive debts.

This has rubbed off onto the worker and service delivery has suffered. It is suggested that the council takes stock of its properties to ensure they are fully utilised for the benefit of the city.

The revenue collection system is in shambles. This has led to some residents using water for free, moreso those outside council books in newly-established or emerging settlements.

Such are the leaks at that level — and the leaks could be as figurative as they are literal: how many times have we witnessed burst water pipes gushing out treated water, sometimes days on end? Council must put an end to this.

And one leak that must also be plugged is that of profligacy.

We all have heard stories of hefty salaries, perks and allowances that the city pays to its management and this beats reason not only in a country that has enormous economic challenges, but also in a city that is saddled with debt and home to a hungry and unpaid workforce which goes for months without pay.

Accountability should be as financial and technical as it is moral.

These facets of accountability seem anathema to a city where shady deals and obscene salaries are rampant.

We were going to suggest that council, as part of its revenue or income generation, venture into portfolios that are commercial.

But was it not only a few weeks back that council rejected an audit of its companies?

Now, where does that take us to? That means council will remain milled down because of opaque dealings. Good corporate governance is a prerequisite if council is to thrive as an entity and serve better the needs of ratepayers and its workers.

A new way of doing things is overdue at Town House.

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