Government interferences in the running of local authorities have cost the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) millions in potential investment. NewsDay (ND) business reporter, Mthandazo Nyoni this week met outgoing Bulawayo mayor, Martin Moyo (MM) to speak on these issues. Find below excerpts from the interview.
ND: You have been mayor of Bulawayo for the past five years. Could you kindly share with us some of your experiences and achievements?
MM: I have been councillor for Bulawayo for 10 years and mayor for five years. This has been quite an enriching experience. I’m sure that I am a different person from the time that I came to council and from the time I became mayor. I have had wide experience and interaction with all stakeholders. Sometimes I have had to give my own views about certain things modified from the experience that I have received. So, I think all in all, for me, this has been something that has developed because of the experience, because of the exposure, because of the context that I met during the course of my duty.
ND: During your tenure of office, what challenges did you encounter?
MM: There will always be challenges, but perhaps the most outstanding ones are those that you reported yourselves, like when we were investigated by the commission. That, to me, was the most distressing period of my term as mayor because there is nothing as distressful and distractive as accusations that were levelled against council. However, we were found clean on the corruption allegations. The other challenges are normal in the course of our duty as council, like lack of resources. We had, at one time, serious problems of sewer and water pipe bursts, our roads also needed a lot of attention and they were many things that were not going right.
ND: There were some serious corruption allegations against some of the councillors, your deputy and some council staff, how did you deal with these issues?
MM: I have already alluded to corruption allegations. Yes, they were corruption allegations, but as I said, the commission came here and we were absolved from those corruption allegations. You will remember that five of our councillors were suspended and then on three of them, the suspensions were lifted. That already tells a story, that there was really nothing substantive against them. The two continued on suspension and the deputy mayor ended up also being cleared by the courts. We had only one councillor who was fired and that was councillor Reuben Matengu of Sizinda-Tshabalala. Even with him, I would still defend him because we think that he was treated unfairly.
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ND: Why would you say so?
MM: I mean, there is nothing that he did wrong. Everything had been done according to the book, but perhaps they needed someone to fire and so he ended up bearing the sins for everyone. But really, there was nothing that he had done that was out of the norm. So I would still defend him up to this stage. So those corruption allegations were there. We have tried our best to be transparent, open and clean. Corruption is not something we tolerate. Staff who would have taken bribes have been fired. Well, with councillors, I do not know if any did take bribes or were engaged in corruption of any sort. The problem with corruption is that it’s usually clandestine and people would not own up even where you suspect that, perhaps, there is something not right here. But otherwise, we as leadership of council, could see there was nothing that was corrupt in the council. But, of course, there were maybe other things that I did not know about. But of those things that I did not know about, it would have been useful to come forward and say ‘there is A, B, C and D happening, here is the evidence’. Then we would have taken steps to correct what had gone wrong.
ND: You have now left the Egodini project still unimplemented. Can you shed more light on this project? Why has it taken so long to implement?
MM: The Egodini project has been implemented. If you go to Egodini now, it’s completely fenced. The people that used to occupy Egodini were moved out. We expect to see structures coming up. So as far as we are concerned, the Egodini contract is something that is on course, it’s work in progress. Yes, perhaps we have not seen the equipment rolling into Egodini and hearing the noise of work in Egodini. There could be other reasons, one of the reasons could be that we were buying time and waiting for elections to be held.
Now that the election is over, perhaps we will see something happening at Egodini. So as far as we are concerned, the Egodini project is on and the fact that we put it on course is itself an achievement on our part.
ND: But do we have some timelines here…?
MM: Yes, there were timelines and phases. It will be done in phases. I think phase one was supposed to take about a year or so and then phase two another period. Yes, there are timelines, but I can’t say what the timelines are specifically.
ND: Some few years ago, BCC granted a United Kingdom-registered firm — Pragma Leaf Consulting — permission to establish a $68 million waste-to-energy plant, with a potential to create 2 000 jobs. What happened to this project?
MM: Well, it’s one of those weaknesses. It’s just not Bulawayo weaknesses. There are national weaknesses that sometimes you dilly-dally, you stall, you delay, you give excuses for things not to happen until the investor loses interest and goes away. That is a problem. The Pragma Leaf project had been concluded. We gave them the go ahead to establish a waste-to-energy plant. We would provide waste, but the actual work was affected by a statutory Instrument on unsolicited bids and when that circular came, we already had Pragma Leaf. The (Local Government) minister was Saviour Kasukuwere then. We approached the ministry and said ‘Look, this is something that had already been concluded. It does not need to go to a government committee that looks at unsolicited bids’. Then the instruction was still ‘let them submit and then when it comes to consideration, we will factor the consideration that Pragma Leaf had already come into agreement with council’. So because of that, it delayed and right now, I would also need to know whether we still have Pragma Leaf or whether Pragma Leaf has run away because of the delays. We had already come to agreement with them, but that agreement could not be implemented. They were also required to be subjected to expressions of interest with others and we were quite opposed to that because Pragma Leaf had actually done a lot of studies, spent money on research, produced a report which they shared with council. When we are advertising that expressions of interest, what information are we using, we are using ;that information that is intellectual property and it just didn’t seem right.
ND: There are already some issues surrounding the selection of the incoming Bulawayo mayor, with some activists saying the proposed candidates were alien to Ndebele culture. What is your opinion about this issue? What qualifications should the Bulawayo mayor possess?
MM: That’s a very difficult one for me to answer. I don’t want to be seen as a tribalist, but what I would ask those that have influence is respect for the people of Bulawayo. There are some things that we can do. You are doing them and there is nothing wrong, it’s legally correct. The qualifications are right, but still there is something that you are missing and that is a show of respect for the region and to the people of Bulawayo. Anyone can be a mayor but we still ask: Are you showing respect to the people of Matabeleland region? because these could degenerate into serious grievances and then we end up with things that we don’t even want to contemplate over. It’s not good to trample on other people’s feelings. We must always be sensitive to what other people feel and I am sure that the party is dealing with the issue adequately.
ND: How do you view the current crop of councillors? Do you think they can deliver?
MM: I expect them to deliver. They have been elected to deliver, but would recommend that going forward, there be qualifications for one to be a councillor. The traditional and standard qualification is that one must be a property owner because the people that you are going to be leading are property owners. You are ruling households. You must be seen to be taking decisions in the interest of the residents of Bulawayo. Now if you have not developed enough, then there maybe doubts about whether you understand the concerns of the people outside there. I think when it comes to being councillor, that traditional qualification should still be applied. If there is need to groom the youth, there is nothing wrong with probably creating a quota to say, in a council of 29 wards, let’s have 10% for the youth. That is these 10% are not subjected to the other requirements, where there is need to prove that you are a resident and a ratepayer.
ND: What would be your advice to the incoming mayor?
MM: My advice to the incoming mayor is that Bulawayo is a great city. Let it not crumble and collapse in your hands and to make the city progress, we need to work together, that is councillors and council management. There are roles. Councillors are policymakers, they are legislators. They are not engineers, civil engineers who do the roads; they are not plumbers to do pipes or doctors. There are people that are employed to do those roles. Many times when you do not respect your own territory, you trample on other people’s toes and then you create conflict and acrimony. The roles must be understood. Because you are a governor, you must do that fairly without fear or favour. The councillor is a legislator, however, in his representative role, he can go and say ‘there is a road that is not right there’. But what he cannot do is to interfere with the director of engineering’s programmes. The second advice it that council is made up of staff and policymakers. You need rapport between councillors and staff. Because whatever planning is done at managerial level, then those reports come to council for ratification as policy. Once ratified as policy, those programmes must now be implemented by the directorate of council through council employees.
ND: What is your view with regards government’s involvement in the day-to-day running of local authorities?
MM: Local authorities have a modicum of independence, even before we favour in devolution of power. Councils have the mandate to govern the affairs of their localities. But, of course, there is a minister above councils and when the minister interferes too much, then there could be acrimony between local authorities and the ministry and things do not go well. So I would rather councils be left to make decisions on their own. In any case, we collect our revenue as council, we craft our own budget as council and we implement our own programmes as council. Of course, we have been submitting our budget for approval to the parent ministry. In the past, the programme began in January and the budget would be approved say, in September. Now you have already lost nine months and that is not a good thing. I think government’s interferences must be minimal and we hope that the devolution of power that is coming will actually amplify that independence of local authorities so that they are able to carry out their mandate as they should. If anything, the government should support local authorities. This time the government should offer financial help from the 5% of the local authority allocation that sits in the Constitution, then our councils would become much more efficient. Councils are not irresponsible and this big brother mentality of thinking that councils maybe irresponsible or wayward and you are always watching over them, that does not engender confidence in the running of the affairs of councils, but if people are left to do things the best way they see how, then they will usually do things properly.
ND: Since now you have lost your position as mayor and councillor, what next?
MM: Next is going home and looking after my cattle until I figure what else to do.
ND: Will you still be active in politics?
MM: Well, I will still go to party (MDC Alliance) meetings. I will still participate and if my opinion is required. I will always contribute.