Gweru grapples with revenue shortfall

HARARE – Our reporter Jeffrey Muvundusi chats with new Gweru mayor Charles Chikozho. Below are excerpts of the interview.

Q:  It’s about four months now since you took over the mayoral post, how has it been so far?

A: It is not business as usual since I took over because of various challenges ranging from political and council issues.

Q: You took over a city that was temporarily in the hands of a commission, how did you find it in terms of the state of service delivery, among other things?

A: When we took over from the commission, the service delivery was not in a good state and we had to make plans on how to improve the service delivery system of the city. I am happy to say that there has been a lot of co-operation from policy makers and management.

Q: What can you say has been the most difficult challenge so far?

A: The most difficult challenge so far is revenue collection. Our collections per month are very low compared to what we are supposed to spend on service delivery, salaries and other expenses.

We currently have a huge backlog on salaries for both junior and senior employees. The commission was not paying statutory obligations,  leaving us at the mercy of various institutions who have either garnished our accounts or taken us to court.

Q: Your council is always up in arms with vendors because they don’t want to take up the vending places they were allocated, what’s the major cause of this?

A: The major cause of this problem is high unemployment in the city and nation which has thrown everyone on the streets. The government promised two million jobs in 2013 but that was not achieved, hence this response by people who opted to vending.

Also, vendors feel they must be allocated market stalls in the central business area where they can get customers. Even those who are formally employed are into vending because salaries are not easily accessed because of shortage of cash in the country.

Q: How do you think council can best address illegal vending in the city?

A: Council can address illegal vending through engagement and allocation of market stalls. If vendors agree to take up their current stalls allocated by council, the remainder will be given alternative places around the city or we may close one street depending on the number. What is needed is co-operation between the parties in order to resolve the problem.

Q:  Council had resolved to buy curtains worth $38 000 in order to refurbish the mayoral mansion so that the town clerk could move in. Council later reversed the decision following a public outcry that this was a waste of money, what happens now?

A: It is important to inform the nation that council never resolved to buy curtains at all but it was through speculation that the issue found itself in the hands of the public. The council cannot be affected by an act which it never committed, that was mere allegation which was forwarded by those who want this council to fail.

Council decisions are made through resolutions and if you want correct information, the town clerk and the mayor are the spokespersons. If a committee properly constituted meet to discuss issues at council, it does not necessarily mean that is the decision of council, no.  The decisions of council are made at a full council and special council meetings in the chamber.

Q: How is the city’s housing backlog and what measures are being put in place to try and address the housing issue?

A: The housing backlog currently stands at 25 000 as per our current record. The city intends to address the backlog through providing stands at Mkoba 21 where we have over

6 000 stands for sale. We also have other projects which we intend to complete.

These are Randolph and Northlea. We are also identifying suitable places for constructing flats through the assistance of the local government.

Q: What are you doing to improve the road situation as well as street lights in the city?

A: We are currently patching our roads, starting with public roads those mainly used by commuters. We have also acquired equipment which we want to use to service our roads. We intend to involve residents through adoption of street lights which are adjacent to their homes as an alternative.

Q: Motorists passing through Gweru have complained about the city’s heavy-handedness in dealing with illegal parking, vehicle clamping, what’s your take?

A: When entering the city, we have bill boards informing motorists that they are encroaching clamping zones thus, we expect them to comply. However, we expect our clamping team to exercise some restraint during their duties, they must be available at the right time to issue tickets to motorists. The duty of the clamping team is to enforce the by-laws in an acceptable manner, which is our expectation as a council.

Q: You are running a council that has 10 MDC councillors and six from Zanu PF, how is it like in terms of decision-making and resolutions?

A: This is an interesting question but may I say from the day I assumed office to date, we have not had problems in decision-making and resolutions. While we may differ here and there, we are able to decide without dividing the house.

Q: How is the current water situation in Gweru?

A: Our major dams Gwenhoro, Amapongokwe and Whitewaters have sufficient supply of water. Most of our wards receive normal water supply, except wards 14, 17 and Regimond experience erratic supply. We are rehabilitating our major pump station in order to increase our pumping capacity.

Q: Currently, how much are the residents owing council and what are the measures put in place to recover the money?

A: The city is owed $52 million as at May 2017 and has introduced payment plans to residents and industry. The expectation is that the owner pays the current bill plus an agreed amount on the outstanding figure. We will monitor this strategy every month and if it brings results, then will maintain that but if it doesn't, we will change.

Q: There has been talk about installation of prepaid water meters in many local authorities, what’s the city’s position in that regard?

A: We have not decided as a council to install prepaid water meters but we are still consulting residents. Of the few wards we have addressed, they said it’s better to have prepaid meters. Prepaid meters might be the correct solution to revenue collection.

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