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‘Kasukuwere obstructing council at every turn’

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HARARE mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni (pictured) is captain of a ship in turbulent waters, a waterborne disease outbreak, an overbearing boss in the form of Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere and a party at odds with his idea of public management.

NewsDay Weekender reporter Paidamoyo Muzulu (ND) caught up with Manyenyeni (BM) to discuss about issues in the city and to rate the council performance during his tenure. Below are excerpts.

ND: 2017 is the last full year before polls in 2018, looking back what have been your council’s main achievements during your tenure at the helm?

BM: We aimed to have a better council by the end of our term. It was always going to be a battle given that our start was the worst anyone would have ever wished for — the debt write-off for over $300 million was crippling. The struggle was to run a council minus two years’ worth of revenue. Our performance can only be measured by what we had or created to deliver services to Harare.

You need to evaluate all the pillars for performance: resources, legal framework, leadership — that is the ministry, the elected and management — the ratepayers, the residents etc the macro-economic environment, as we operate inside an entity called Zimbabwe. We battled and continue to battle, but we will not stop trying and we will pick up definite wins. We have downsized our headcount significantly, but we have more work to do in managing our employee costs. The solar street lights rollout is ongoing. We have energised the water project at Morton Jaffray. We have brought our financial reporting to a new level — for the first time in 20 years or so, we are up to date in our external audits having finalised six sets of audits in two years. We can now face and explore funding options from a higher plane. Our biggest victory will be effective overall management and resource deployment — we are not convincingly far from it.

ND: Your council received a $144 million loan for refurbishing the waterworks and ancillary sewer and water reticulation refurbishment. How much has this improved the city’s water situation considering the new typhoid threat in the city (Mbare)?

BM: We have so far only used half of the loan and look forward to a complete solution to upgrade Morton Jaffray by end of March and looking forward to over 600 megalitres per day, which will change a lot of areas, including some which have not had water for over 10 years. The typhoid crisis is a sore development and is very closely linked to water and sanitation

ND: The city still does not have a substantive town clerk despite the council appointing banker, James Mushore. How much is this delay costing the city? Do you see this matter being resolved before you leave office?

BM: The delay in appointing Mushore is an expensive one, not just in terms of whatever salaries he is claiming from us, but in terms of the very effective decisions awaiting that calibre of leadership. In dollars you will not believe that it is costing Harare between $1m to $6m per month.

ND: So how will this impasse be resolved looking at how much it is bleeding the city?

BM: The issue is now beyond the mayor or council. We made a decision and the minister (Kasukuwere) vetoed it. We await the High Court’s decision after Mushore filed a challenge. We will go by what the court rules.

ND: The council, since your assumption of office, has been talking about restructuring its wage bill through salary cuts and streamlining of its labour force, how far has this project gone?

BM: The right-sizing of the wage packets across the board is an imperative we have struggled to initiate, let alone finalise. There are political and legal obstacles. Also this is not an exercise you can depend on your management to fast-track!

ND: What are the legal and political obstacles?

BM: The salaries of senior staff were fixed by the minister in March 2013 and four months later, he wrote off ratepayers’ debts. The minister has to show political will around downsizing. The retrenchment process means we have to agree with the unions and, unfortunately, they are highly politicised.

Senior managers have also objected to salary cuts and now we have to navigate within the labour legal framework. As non-executive mayor, I don’t have powers to order the managers to reduce it. They (managers) have taken two years to do anything. The senior managers have to tell ratepayers why they are earning three to four times above market rates.

ND: How is your relationship with the Local Government minister after your two suspensions and his decision to veto your town clerk appointment?

BM: The relationship is strained and personalised — I am comforted that I don’t initiate the animosity, I just deal with it when it is put in my in-tray. My minister is the Local Government minister, but the word devolution is a dirty word in his lingo, hence, the crisis and the impasse. The level of political involvement at play simply denies us the space to execute our already difficult mandate. To be frank, the ministry should be an enabler, but it is sadly not. Politics has robbed us of over two years of our mandate so far.

ND: Do you think the minister’s decision to veto council’s plan to sell you a commercial stand is vindictive?

BM: The whole world knows what is taking place around that stand. In future, you ask, this should be handled as in the past that is as prescribed by the ministerial circular that as council has done in my case and in the case of all the councillors countrywide.

ND: The city used to have an expansive real estate portfolio in Milton Park and other affluent suburbs; how many houses did it inherit in 1980? How many are still available today?

BM: I do not have an answer for that historical side, but we are exploring opportunities to maximise through outsourcing parts of our property management and disposal of some of our housing stock to sitting tenants. There are definite prospects worth exploring.

ND: How will the proceeds of the sales be used?

BM: Proceeds from disposal of the properties would be ploughed back into capital expenditure projects and ideally (low-income) housing projects.

ND: Do you think your party (MDC-T) has given you the necessary support during your tenure? What of the recent remarks by party leader Morgan Tsvangirai that councillors are corrupt during his end-of-year statement to party members?

BM: The party has been amazing, absolutely. My leaders have allowed me to be mayor of the city, not mayor of the party, which I enjoy. Do you notice that they only come in when my office is being politicised? Otherwise, it’s really been up to me to knock on my masters’ doors when we need guidance. I can’t deny that the corruption story is real, but it is overplayed. So blanket blame is sore for the majority of councillors. My president was only doing his job – I am afraid he has to deal with it as he did.

ND: After all the turbulence, highs and lows, if you are given an option, would you run again for the office of mayor?

BM: Under current conditions, I need to have a top psychiatrist to run for Harare mayor again – there’s your answer. On January 18, 2013, I told my party I would stand for election to serve a single term only.

I repeated that last year in July and in November. I have started the countdown, although I still have a long way to go. I would love to be an ambassador or find an opportunity back in the corporate world when I finish this experiment.

ND: Do you think an executive mayor would do a better job?

BM: We should go back to the executive mayorship without doubt. Residents’ expectations are currently misplaced, as they want a mayor who does things and produces results. They don’t want a mayor, who has to beg somebody to implement things.

The executive mayor would be able to plan long term for the city, unlike the current scenario, where we are firefighting. It would give us the opportunity to plan long term in relation to housing, roads, water and social amenities. We should be planning for the next 20 to 50 years.

ND: What do you think of the quality of the councillors?

BM: We need to improve the calibre of councillors for the city. We need to have people with professional qualifications or a certain level of education so that they can challenge and supervise senior council managers, but as of today, the legal framework is silent on qualifications. This in most instances allows senior managers to control council and disrespect councillors.

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