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Our councils are dead asleep

At independence in 1980, we inherited vibrant councils which ran lucrative business ventures and hardly depended on ratepayers for their income.

MUTARE City Council says it is planning to establish a service station and a water bottling entity to boost its revenue.

Welcoming the development Mutare Residents and Ratepayers Association programmes director, David Mutambirwa said: “The issue of council venturing into income (generating projects) has been long overdue, but, we want to applaud council for this move. This is a positive initiative and we appreciate council for this alternative source of revenue instead of relying on increasing tariffs and service charges.”

Mutambirwa has hit the nail on the head on one of the critical issues that is seriously lacking in all the country’s local authorities which are comfortably sitting on their laurels and waiting for every opportunity to milk dry hard-pressed residents who are barely making ends meet.

At independence in 1980, we inherited vibrant councils which ran lucrative business ventures and hardly depended on ratepayers for their income.

Albeit mainly running beerhalls and opaque beer manufacturing factories such as Pungwe Breweries in Mutare, Rufaro Marketing in Harare, Ingwebu Breweries (Bulawayo), Simba Breweries (Kwekwe) and Go Beer (Gweru), the country’s municipalities were primed to think outside the box and look beyond raising income from residents.

Unfortunately, over the past 44 years our councils have gone into deep slumber and have left their income-generating projects to shipwreck due to poor management, neglect and corruption. The councils, as Mutare has shown, are now slowly waking up probably after realising that their main source of revenue, the residents are letting them down with the councils being owed millions of dollars by defaulting ratepayers.

A perusal of the budgets of our council tells us a sad story of local authorities which are as good as dead.

For example, the local authority running our capital city Harare invested zero on new income-generating projects in 2023. The Harare City Council (HCC) ran on a ZWL$41,8 billion budget whose major income streams were property taxes (ZWL$14 billion) and services charges (ZWL$12 billion), while income-generating projects were anticipated to bring in a paltry ZWL$144 million, representing 0,3% of total expected income.

Sad indeed!

The bulk (ZWL$41,8 billion) of HCC’s budget was gobbled by goods and services (ZWL$17,6 billion), wages (ZWL$12,9 billion) and acquisition of fixed assets (ZWL$10,3 billion), typically highlighting our point that our councils are not making any serious effort to invest in income-generating projects.

Most, if not all the country’s councils are currently dead asleep in terms of generating income from own projects. They are engrossed in parcelling out mainly residential stands in their areas of jurisdiction hoping to shore up their coffers.

This is, however, seriously proving to be unsustainable and a recipe for disaster and a sure way to run aground the councils which are all struggling to deliver meaningful services to residents, anyway. The councils are even dismally failing to service the land where they are settling homeseekers which is sinking them deeper into serious problems.

Nothing stops our councils from going into business in a big way, they are simply being so very lazy that they are failing to pick the low-hanging fruit at their disposal. Being an extension of government, they are the most strategically placed to start a business, but they have been miserably failing to exploit this advantage.

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