Zimbabwe continues to witness poor delivery of services in urban areas. The roads are littered with potholes, water is still rationed, garbage is not collected every day, sewage bursts without repair, amongst other challenges. But, nobody wants to take responsibility for this. It’s a blame game, where everyone is pointing fingers at someone for the disaster that the towns and cities find themselves in and this does not solve a problem and nothing has been achieved by this. So this article tries to answer the question of who is responsible for the poor delivery of services in urban areas.
The government, links with local councils through the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and Urban Development. The Ministry’s mandate is to promote sound local governance, undertake and coordinate rural and urban development to enhance socio-economic development in Zimbabwe. Its functions are to promote sound local governance; to provide co-ordinated and orderly spatial development; to provide professional, technical, construction and maintenance services in property development; to facilitate the provision of affordable and functional residential accommodation; to promote mitigation and preparedness planning for emergencies and disasters; to co-ordinate central and local government programmes and development initiatives; to promote an efficient urban public transport. But, how much should the government be blamed for poor services?
The government approves budgets by local authorities. This means that any project by council, within the budget has to be approved by the Ministry of Local Governance. Rates paid to councils are included in the budget, hence the government approves all this. But, sometimes the government fails to approve the budgets in time and this results in local authorities delaying in resuming projects in the pipeline. It also means that Local councils cannot implement changes or projects without an approved budget. The Harare City Council had to use the 2018 template when the government failed to approve the 2019 budget. This implies that projects pipelined for 2019 were not implemented. Any additional service delivery implements would have been suspended in 2019. So the government has to approve budgets in time.
The devolution programme, which gives more power to local authorities should also be quickened to ensure that urban councils function with minimum government control. The case with Zimbabwe has been that the ruling party runs the government whilst urban councils are run by the opposition party. Working together in such a scenario has proven to be difficult, with the main opposition council already proven difficult with none of the two accepting responsibility to demolitions taking place in urban areas. The government accuses councils of deserving urban areas. Urban councils, in counter, accuse the government of sabotaging their projects. Mayors and councillors running urban locations have been complaining that they do not have powers of even hiring and firing staff employed to run the daily activities of council businesses. It is alleged that town clerks whose appointments are directly influenced by the government have the power to run urban councils, hence the need for devolution.
The role of councils is to offer services to communities. Roads, water, schools, hospitals in urban areas fall under the jurisdiction of these urban councils. Urban councils are facing challenges in offering these. One of the local authorities that have been facing challenges is the Harare City Council. Harare has a daily water consumption of around 800-1200 megalitres but it’s offering around 404-440 megalitre per day. The city has been witnessing a shrinking revenue base and to make matters worse high costs of water treatment chemicals. Necessary equipment for service delivery have broken down and never repaired leaving only 16 out of 50 refuse trucks, 6 out of 25 fire engines and 2 out of 32 ambulances in use to service a population of approximately 1.5 million people.
Corruption is one of the reasons blamed for poor delivery services by urban councils. Zimbabwe has recently witnessed mayors and councillors being arrested for corruption. Allegations of malpractices on urban local authorities include the allocation of stands, scams in the overpayment of council workers, fake quotations and land scams among other issues. In 2018, billionaire Strive Masiyiwa accused officials from the local authorities of trying to defraud a US$10 million cholera fund to help address the cholera epidemic which has claimed 30 lives with suspected cases rising to more than 5,000. It is very sad that someone was concerned with pocketing more money as Harare residents were dying of cholera.
Poor Urban Planning
One of the disasters that have affected the living conditions in towns and cities areas is poor urban planning. This year houses on wetlands in urban locations were flooded with water after the excessive rainfalls. Such has been attributed to poor urban planning. Congestion and chaos in the transport sector have also been blamed on urban planning. There are houses with no addresses in some of the locations in towns and cities of Zimbabwe. Constructions on wetlands, heavy industries in residential areas, congestion and chaos on Zimbabwean roads are just but a sign of poor urban planning. An expert in urban planning once said that almost all towns in Zimbabwe are using old expired master plans and local plans which can no longer solve today’s complex problems. It is the role of urban authorities to ensure that there are modern urban planning that solves current challenges in towns and cities.
Residents are the ones who elect those that lead urban councils. If services are not provided for residents are the ones who suffer. If there are poor services in towns and cities, residents are likely to dice from diseases. Urban areas have faced cholera and other water-borne diseases. An official in the urban council once said domestic violence will heighten when they are poor services. In patriarchal societies such as Zimbabwe domestic violence may result if housewives fail to cook for husbands in time as they spend time in queues waiting to get water. There are already reports of young girls taking advantage of water challenges to get involved in misguided activities without their partner knowledge. But, these residents are not innocent sheep on the slaughter when it comes to poor service delivery in urban areas. They also aid in the challenges they face.
An article from a local newspaper once alleged that vandalism and theft of public infrastructure resulted in government departments and municipalities losing property and equipment worth more than US$100 million every year. This is hard to deny. Taking a walk in the suburbs you discover that many street lights are not working. They are broken, mostly that someone has been throwing stones on the lights for leisure. Residents are vandalising property and the municipality then uses resources to repair it. Damaged pipes and sewage bursts are sometimes caused by people digging holes and of course denying ever damaging the property. Property is also damaged as residents override systems to avoid paying up council bills.
Non Payment of Bills
Residents in urban locations are not paying up their bills and yet they demand good services from local authorities. This probably explains why revenue in some urban councils continues dwindling against the rising population. There is already a clash between councils and local authorities on who should deliver first. Residents are saying councils should first offer better services for them to pay whilst local authorities say residents should pay first so that we get money to provide better services Director Local Governance in the Office of the Provincial Development Coordinator; Major (RTD) Kampila once explained the situation;
“It is a hen and an egg situation here… Give me services first so I will pay. No, you should pay first so I will give you services.”
If all residents were paying their bills on time, authorities would not have witnessed the revenue base shrinking.
Urban dwellers are also accused of making illegal connections to dodge paying bills. Littering and disposing of waste at undesignated places by residents has resulted in pollution. Due to pollution, councils are now using more chemicals to treat water increasing expenses on local authorities.