Blessings Chidakwa Municipal Correspondent
Harare Mayor Councillor Herbert Gomba and four senior council officials are set to spend US$32 500 on a reciprocal five-day visit to the Chinese city of Nanjing later this month.
He will be accompanied by the acting business development manager; city planner; waste water manager; and public and international affairs officer.
The trip to China was sanctioned by the city’s 1 891st ordinary full council meeting held at Town House last Thursday.
The meeting also approved the allocation of US$3 760 and $227 692 for two international and two local trips, respectively.
Council officials have already gone on one local and one foreign trip.
Human resources and general purposes minutes confirmed the approval of the trips, which come at a time when council is not collecting garbage citing fuel challenges.
Council has also encouraged residents to honour their obligations to enable it to perform its functions.
Harare City Council’s budget proposals delivered recently will result in the average bill for a high-density household rising to $225 a month, while water charges will be quadrupled, with rentals for council property also set to be doubled.
Government officials, depending on rank, usually get US$1 000 per day for food and accommodation when on international trips.
An online search yesterday showed that an average return ticket to China from Harare during the period December 15 to 31, costs about US$2 500 (business class) and US$1 250 (economy).
A number of hotels, ranging from three-star to five-star in Nanjing, are charging between US$57 and US$300.
The mayor’s trip has outraged Harare residents as it comes a few months after another one to the United States, which gobbled US$40 000 in ratepayers’ money.
Harare Residents Trust (HRT) director Mr Precious Shumba said no direct value had accumulated from council officials’ trips despite the fortunes spent.
“We do not have anything to celebrate from these trips. They are money-making ventures where councillors and senior management take turns to spend ratepayers’ money.
“If we are talking about exposure, we should see a change in the conduct of those that have gone on the trips,” he said.
Residents who spoke to The Herald said council should live within its means.
“If council is failing to pay its workers or collect refuse because it has no money, then where is it getting the money to send officials on these useless trips?” said Mr Lovemore Mazodze of Kuwadzana.
“If council has money for trips, then it should have money for essential services. We are tired of getting excuses.”
Harare’s acting corporate communications manager, Mr Innocent Ruwende, defended council’s position on trips saying: “Networking between cities is one of the most effective ways to strengthen capacity to solve major problems bedevilling the city.”
Council recently organised two training workshops at Kadoma Hotel and Conference Centre where each of the 60 attendees pocketed between $5 100 and $25 000 in allowances over three days.
On another trip, council splashed $198 450 on allowances, accommodation, dinner and breakfast for two councillors and 10 officials during the annual conference of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants Zimbabwe held in Bulawayo from November 13 to 16.
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Meanwhile, Harare City Council has proposed a 17-fold increase in charges for hiring its properties including public halls, stadiums and open grounds.
Hiring Mbare Netball complex for a musical show will cost $5 000 up from $300, City Sports Centre $10 000 from $3 600, training for two hours at Rufaro Stadium will cost $1 000 from $300, use of a public hall in high-density areas will now be $500 up from $50.
Users expressed outrage over the proposed hikes, with music promoters saying the new charges will push them out of business.
According to the council’s finance and development committee minutes, council resolved to approve the increase of user charges applicable to council facilities which fall under the Department of Housing and Community Services.
“The charges that were being levied for user fees were now insignificant as they had been eroded by the prevailing hyperinflationary environment, hence the need to revise the charges and user fees upwards,” read the minutes.
Mr Partson Chimbodza of Chipaz Promotions said the increase will have a negative impact on the music industry. “The arts industry will likely suffer as a hike in venue charges translates to an increase in gate charges.
“Attendances may decline as revellers are likely struggle to cope with the new gate charges,” he said.
PSL spokesperson Mr Kudzai Bare declined to comment on the proposed hikes saying she would only do so after receiving official communication from council.
“I cannot comment on behalf of PSL based on speculations from the media. I will only speak after council has communicated formally,” she said.
Political gatherings at open grounds, Rufaro Stadium, Mbare Netball Complex, etc, will be $1 800 from $150, $6 000 from $2 000 and $4 000 from $300 respectively.
Proposed charges for the hire of open grounds by churches for a period of four hours will be $500, up from $50.