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Comment: Take council bosses to the cleaners

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LAST week, we carried a story with the headline Harare council workers take legal action over unpaid salaries.

NewsDay comment

“Gloves are off in Harare City Council with workers taking legal action to press for the payment of $26 million they are owed in unpaid salaries, bonuses and allowances,” the report read.

That the City of Harare is still not paying employees on time and the salary backlog now amounts to over $26 million is one of the biggest scandals among many others rocking Zimbabwe today.

The workers said net salaries for November 2014, December 2014 and January 2015 amounted to $20,1 million. They said bonuses for 2014 amounted to $4,2 million, while outstanding backpay for January to December 2013 stood at $2 million.

“Total amount due and claimable is $ 26 310 000. Your urgent action is highly welcome,” the union outlined in an ultimatum to Harare City Council.

The council is not broke as such, but is bedevilled by gross mismanagement, poor governance and cancerous corruption. We know that things cannot all be in sync, that difficulties will always be there with issues arising now and then, but most of the problems at Harare City Council are self-inflicted.

First, if the cake of revenue is shared more equitably, more fairly, all the employees would be paid on time. But no, the big bosses would rather selfishly pay themselves obscene salaries and allowances and on time and leave none — absolutely none — for the rest.

All this has been happening under the supposed watch of Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo, who has actually been shielding these council bosses from scrutiny.

Thus, Chombo has perpetuated the rot. It cannot be put in any other way because the buck stops with him. Responsibility cannot be passed beyond him.
In so far as it is his responsibility to ensure the smooth, efficient and effective running of councils, he has failed. Administrative chaos is the order of the day, not to mention crumbled service delivery and perennial labour disputes.

Substantial council revenue is being pocketed by Zanu PF officials. This is daylight grand extortion and has been going on for years. If that money was channelled into council, as the Urban Councils Act clearly stipulates, it would go a long way in paying workers.

That the municipality is overstaffed is entirely due to Chombo because his party has bloated it with ruling party functionaries to buy and maintain their loyalty and ensure they keep residents in line. The duly elected council has been effectively sidelined.

A group of individuals or entities that have suffered a common injury or injuries should come together and file lawsuits because the ruling class doesn’t seem to understand any other language short of rebellion.

If the Harare Municipal Workers’ Union goes to court with these facts and figures, something could come out of this. It could prise open justice for them and other long-suffering Zimbabweans, who are in an even worse predicament than Harare Municipality employees, as this non-payment of workers has become a spreading culture.

Defendants in a civil suit can be held jointly and severally liable if their concurrent acts brought about the harm to the plaintiff. The acts of the defendants do not have to be simultaneous: they must simply contribute to the same event.

So, it is time to sue defendants not only as institutions, but individually so that they feel the pain of their gross misdeeds to others, and not hide behind their posts.

It’s time to take council top brass and their political bosses to the cleaners — they must be made to return every ill-gotten and ill-lost cent plus interest.

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