A huge climbdown by govt ministries

Ignatius Chombo

A LOCAL Sunday paper last month shared information on some government ministries under the theme; “Know your cabinet ministers and ministries”.

Members of the public in general and students in particular stand to benefit from such information should it continue to cover all ministries.

Of much interest to the author of this article was a portion assigned to the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, entitled, Government To Bail Out Struggling Local Authorities.

If anything, the said rescue package is long due. In fact, it is the only honest and proper thing for government to do given the man-made financial disaster that is bedevilling councils.

Alternatively, councils’ debts should be taken over by government, the same way they absorbed the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe debt.

Progressive forces have always called on the government to extend grants to local authorities, as a way of keeping them afloat.

It is an open secret that, to a greater extent, local authorities are in the current financial quagmire, as a result of the July 31 2013 eve directive to cancel debts owed local authorities by ratepayers and tenants.

It is heartening to note that cows are coming home. Inhabitants of “Mars” are coming down to planet earth and its realities.

Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo for the first time ever, chose to be progressive and constructive.

By the way, the abovementioned event was an annual Local Authorities Merit Awards coinciding with the launch of the European Union Funded Capacity Development Programme.

The minister had no option, but to acknowledge that challenges faced by Local Authorities were as a result of a free-falling economy.

The drying up of credit facilities had not assisted local authorities either. In a fatherly manner he congratulated local authorities for remaining creative and maintaining some semblance of service delivery amid a litany of challenges.

Keep up this pragmatic and supportive role minister Chombo. The minister prays that councils proceed in this upward trajectory.

This is an acknowledgement that councils are squeezed between two rocks. Only miraculous forces have seen them this far — “Ebenezer”.

Overall, Bulawayo City Council scooped the award of being the best run local authority with Goromonzi being the best administered Rural District Council.

Another plus for Bulawayo City Council, though not mentioned, is that when other local authorities’ chief executives were implicated in the salarygate, Bulawayo maintained a clean slate.

The grapevine has it that one of the ministry’s officials was overheard saying “vakomana vekuBulawayo vachavurawa nenzara” — literally meaning they don’t know how to divert money.

Bottled water companies have no business in Bulawayo, unlike some cities, where citizens have turned to borehole water or bottled water owing to the unfitness of water provided by some councils.

Coming to amenities, Bulawayo had it all, women, boys and girls clubs, sporting teams.

In fact, there was a full-fledged section of council dealing with amenities. On the housing front, there were building brigades — a team of four builders could complete a four-roomed house in one day.

To the citizen’s dismay, a directive was given to discard such programmes and concentrate on councils’ core business.

On the other hand, when it suits the powers-that-be councils are accused of not being creative. “Intandane izwela ukulaywa kwabalabazali.”

Of the former ministers of Local Government, minister Enos Chikowore is remembered for introducing the construction of flats and in particular, flats for doctors in hospitals.

On the other hand, minister Edison Zvobgo promoted the construction of matchbox housing units as a way of saving scarce space.

The current minister Chombo has broken records in suspending councillors, ordering investigations into councils’ affairs and giving a directive on cancelling all council’s debts owed by rate payers and residents.

However, as alluded to earlier on, Chombo has added to his otherwise unimpressive track record, a balanced view on the causes of local authorities’ trials and tribulations.

He has discovered the real problem affecting local authorities. Well done minister — you can count on some of us now.