OUTGOING Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni says he is leaving office with a heavy heart after failing to achieve most of his set goals mainly because of alleged sabotage by fellow councillors, management and central government.
By PAIDAMOYO MUZULU
Manyenyeni (BM) poured his heart out in a recent interview with NewsDay (ND) reporter Paidamoyo Muzulu. Below are the excerpts:
ND: What can you highlight as the major achievements you have made during your tenure as Harare mayor?
BM: In your question I note the general perception attaching performance and achievements to an individual mayor. This works a lot, quite rightly, in situations in which the individual mayor has effective, legal, political and administrative control of municipal service delivery.
Without ducking your question, residents will appreciate that with three crippling issues – debts write-off, a huge salary cost, adverse politics, low revenue collections, poor focus, limited capacity and questionable financial management – there is little room to manoeuvre and achieve one’s desired results.
I am happy that we energised the Morton Jaffray Water project and it has delivered about 30% increase in water supply. From under 400 megalitres, the current supply is over 520 megalitres and targeting 600 megalitres.
I am very proud of our improved financial reporting record. For the first time in nearly 20 years, we are up to date with our external audits. We cleared seven audits in three years.
Being open, accessible, frank has renewed interest in council business, but our operations remain woefully misunderstood. Very few people, and I mean very few people, even understand who should do what in council – so much of guesswork and assumptions.
ND: Harare has struggled to restructure its wage bill and it seems you are going out of office without resolving this long-running matter. What have been the hurdles to implement the restructuring exercise?
BM: The salary issue could not be resolved sooner because of a poor grasp of what we mean by human resource cost and the numbers involved, the politics of right-sizing the wage bill, the involvement of heavily-conflicted decision-makers.
ND: Harare is still struggling to provide basic services like refuse collection, road maintenance and reliable water services, what grand plans do you have in place to sort these issues once and for all?
BM: We are getting on top of the refuse collection problem with our new fleet of garbage contractors, but knowing ourselves well, these could soon be grounded due to diesel shortages!
On road maintenance, I am sure those with ears have heard my loud calls about this unfunded task. We are going to fix the roads if the Zimbabwe National Road Administration takes care of our water treatment chemicals! They are currently collecting motor car levies and sharing it with their uncles.
ND: Harare has never had a long-term strategic development plan since independence. What is the vision and plan that you are leaving behind that will define your tenure?
BM: We need to disabuse ourselves of the 2025 timeline for the world class city status. It will take about 10 years of post-political change for the economy and the city to aim for world class settings.
I wish us to leave office with a new management drive, a more compliant resident, enhanced councillor calibre for a better council and a better city. The central government’s role and capacity is sadly over-rated. Any promises given on the basis of the current settings is mere propaganda.
ND: Your administration has been involved in urban regeneration and has gone on the market to raise municipal bonds to rejuvenate the city? How have you made sure that people from the areas rejuvenated like Joburg Lines, Mbare hostels will able to pay and stay in the refurbished houses?
BM: Without threatening to evict anyone, a new Mbare should attract a new tenant – we have to provide for everyone according to their capacity to pay. A broke council cannot afford much charity work, so we have to invest more into low-cost shelter for our people. Shelter provision must be more compelling than ownership and title.
ND: As the city struggled to raise money for operations, it has resorted to selling of the family silver (houses, town buildings and open spaces) to private players. Do these acts not qualify your administration as the most capital-friendly and not concerned about the future of its residents?
BM: Guilty as charged – that was an irresponsible move – it was a delinquent model of running a city. The schemers made sure that when I was out of town for just one day they quickly got the acting mayor to sign what they knew I had refused to sign.
ND: Council has a number of properties under its portfolio, has council ever considered charging commercial rates to curb subletting and get a return from its investments?
BM: Yes, this thinking has been tabled – we have considered outsourcing the property portfolio to private sector players who have superior efficiencies to maximise our assets. It has not yet been progressed, but that is the way to go.
ND: Council still has a bloated senior administration that is paid far above market rates. What is your administration going to do to rationalise the wage structure?
BM: We are finalising a salary survey – hoping it will deliver the right pointers. I maintain that almost every job in council can be done at half the current cost by an equally competent person. If we are an inefficient employer maybe we should outsource those services which can be managed at lower costs to the residents.
ND: You have been suspended twice by the government and later reinstated. What do you think needs to happen to make council operate efficiently?
BM: The political interference is disruptive. We need to allow the mandate holders the space to perform. Even when we disagree there is no justification for some of these brutalities. They damage much more than the targeted individual – it is a blight on the city. With global access to information these things adversely pop up each time the city is being discussed for opportunities now and into the future. The office, person and style of mayor should be unifying and inclusive.
Therefore, making Town House a battle-ground for party politics is most inappropriate.
ND: What do you think should be ideal calibre of councillors elected to steer Harare to its former glory?
BM: The job to be done must prescribe the incumbent or aspirant. It should never be about who wants to be councillor.
We need a diverse range of high-level skills – Harare City Council is the biggest board of directors in the country. Those to be supervised take advantage of any deficiency in capacity.
Those seeking to be councillors must present some credentials matching the needs to run half-a-billion dollars’ worth of decision-making.
Incompetence is costly – it runs into hundreds of millions of dollars and I can prove it.
Political risks cost us the entry of competent residents to serve as councillors.