Provision of basic services is the primary function of local authorities, but tragically, most local authorities have failed to deliver on their mandate for a multiplicity of reasons which I will explore in this instalment.
By Dumisani O Nkomo
Local authorities have not been alone in failing to deliver services as other statutory bodies tasked with service delivery have been complicit in their failure to ensure that citizens enjoy sound service delivery. The service delivery basket includes provision of water, electricity, sewer reticulation, health services, education and increasingly internet service provision.
To this extent, the ambit of service delivery then includes entities such as the Zimbabwe National Water Authority, the Zesa Holdings companies and the Zimbabwe National Road Administration, to name a few.
One can actually argue that the Zimbabwe Republic Police, as enshrined in the Constitution, is a major service provider in terms of providing security for the citizens of the country. However, for this specific article, I will focus on local authorities and in subsequent instalments, I will major on other statutory service providers.
It is important to understand, interrogate and fully grasp the underlying reasons why there has been such a significant failure to provide services. In order for one to have their ailment treated, it is essential to understand the causes of the sickness through a diagnosis and thereafter, it becomes easy to provide a prognosis or forecast on what should be done to remedy the illness.
The same applies to service delivery, as failure to understand the undergirding reasons will result in wrong prescriptions being given. Service delivery includes a broad spectrum of supply side processes, which respond to demand side imperatives driven by consumers who in this case are residents and ratepayers. The following are reasons for poor service delivery.
Narrow/inadequate revenue base
Most local authorities in both urban and rural areas in Zimbabwe are affected by very narrow revenue bases, which largely, if not wholly, rely on rates, fees, levies , taxes charged to residents.
This is unsustainable in an economy such as ours, where unemployment is at over 80%. Since most residents are unable to pay such rates and levies, which are due, this adversely affects the capacity of local authorities to deliver vital services.
Since the revenue base of local authorities is disproportionately based on already stressed ratepayers, inevitably, councils then suffer from low incomes and low expenditure on capital projects. Capital projects, including construction of infrastructure, is essential in driving local economies as there are numerous downstream effects such as creation of jobs as well as growth of related feeder industries such as steelmaking, glassmaking etc.
It is, thus, imperative for both rural and urban local authorities to explore the opening up of alternative revenue streams so as to tap resources for service delivery from a broader economic base. Currently, residents are largely unable to solely provide a ready and reliable revenue base for councils.
There must be concerted efforts by local authorities to engage residents on the importance of paying their bills, including this writer by the way, so that residents understand the relationship between service delivery and payment of bills. Local authorities must also explore broadening of revenue streams beyond already stressed residents .
A lot of local authorities spend precious resources on luxury items at the expense of service delivery. Mayoral mansions and luxury vehicles are an example of how local authorities fail to prioritise service delivery. Some councillors are known to be more seized with the size of their allowances than with provision of services for citizens. This is a direct result of councillors who have no business being in council chambers, but are rather accidentally elected from the ranks of the unemployed. Instead of these councillors pursuing the interests of the people, they end up selfishly vigorously pursuing self-interest in a desire for economic survival.
The scourge of corruption has continued to erode the ability and capacity of some local authorities, in particular in issues relating to tender processes. Corruption increases the cost of services and some municipalities procure service delivery equipment which is below standard, thus affecting long term service delivery. In rural district councils, some local authorities have been fingered in failure to channel proceeds from the Communal Areas Management Programme For Indigenous Resources (Campfire) to communities .
The culture of customers as kings/queens is rapidly vanishing, as, in this respect, residents are consumers of services and should be treated as kings and queens. However, in many instances, employees of municipalities treat residents with contempt, as if these services are privileges bestowed by benevolent municipalities and not rights. Service delivery at times is not about provision of hard services, but access to information, responsiveness and simple courtesy. The past 15 years have been epitomised by a general negative work ethic as a result of the economic crisis. This has affected the quality of service delivery.
Local authorities must explore the creation of alternative revenue streams beyond burdening financially-stressed residents and ratepayers.
Residents and corporate citizens must pay their rates, levies and taxes.
Residents must elect quality councillors who know the role of the local authority. Quality does not just refer to academic qualifications but includes leadership track record, capacity.
Elected councillors must declare their assets before taking office and account for the property they have acquired at the end of their tenure.
Strenthening of policies that deal with corruption and fraud at municipal level.
Use of technology to enhance service delivery. Municipalities can track and enhance service delivery needs through the use of geographical information systems and other technological innovations, packages and systems. It is no longer necessary to physically travel to Canada to learn about service delivery when the information gap has been closed by technology.
Promotion of local economic development through frameworks for public private partnerships
Devolving power to local authorities to ensure that municipalities are responsive to the service delivery needs of citizens
Creating space for demand side engagement by promoting the role of residents’ associations and other interest-based organisations and movements.
Continuous training of municipal staff in customer care, public relations and citizen engagement
Having said this, I have come across many municipal workers and managers who have exhibited professionalism and a progressive work ethic and I urge these to continue with this attitude.
Dumisani O Nkomo is the chief executive officer of Habakkuk Trust. He writes here in his personal capacity.