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Position on Mayor and Town Clerk differences on employees
Harare Residents' Trust (HRT)
May 16, 2011

The ongoing public disharmony or misunderstanding between the Mayor of Harare and Town Clerk Dr Tendai Mahachi over what to do with the bloated workforce of the City Council has once again vindicated the position of the Harare Residents' Trust (HRT) that the real problem affecting the running of local authorities lies in the reform or repeal of the Urban Councils' Act (Chapter 29:15) to enable elected officials and policymakers with authority to progressively intervene.

In terms of Section 136 (1) of the Urban Councils' Act, the Town Clerk is responsible for -(a) the proper administration of the council; and (b) managing the operations and property of the council; and (c) supervising and controlling the activities of the employees of the council in the course of their employment. On further reading of his mandate, one is left wondering what else he cannot do on behalf of council, even if councillors exist to come up with the necessary policies to run local authorities, which he must implement. The Town Clerk is empowered to do almost everything in his 'power' to run Harare, irrespective of whether or not there is an elected council.

Media reports in the last few days have gone to show how the bureaucrats in local authorities have abused the Urban Councils' Act by denying citizens of their rights to be heard in the administration of local authorities. Instead of the voice of the citizens in the communities finding expression through responsive policies, by-laws and regulations governing recruitment of council staff, provision of services to residents and enhancing transparency and governance, the powers of councillors and the Mayor are merely figurative, lacking the necessary authority to enforce their decisions.

Given this skewed scenario which is backed by a bad law, the architects of the Urban Councils' Act in Central Government have created a weak system of local governance in Zimbabwe that lacks accountability. This has exposed local authorities to the greedy individuals in high offices. The demand of the citizenry in the past decade has been that local authorities should be decentralised, allowing the districts to make firm decisions on financial management, resource allocation and providing services to residents. In the absence of this, untrained people and non-deserving people, whose only qualification is a party card or association/link to someone holding an influential position, have become key decision-makers in the council's hierarchy, impacting negatively in the provision of services to communities.

Instead of being the chief implementing officer of the council, Town Clerk Mahachi has chosen instead to play the role of policymaker, relegating elected and appointed councillors to be merely rubberstamping his wishes.

This scenario has further weakened the capacity of the City of Harare to deal effectively with errant workers, incompetence among senior management and poor governance at Town House. The ability of the local authority to deliver services to the satisfaction of citizens has become compromised. The Town Clerk insists there is no need to retrench workers, instead 3 500 more would need to be recruited, expanding the workforce from the current 9 850 people. On the other hand the Mayor is arguing that the 'dead' wood at Town House should be 'chopped off'. He believes that a leaner, multi-skilled and highly motivated staff would enhance service provision. The HRT totally agree. Focus must now be on how to achieve the rationalisation and make Harare competitive.

The HRT has since last year been advocating for the rationalisation of the city's workforce, starting at the top. There are now 13 departments in council. These are; Human Resources, Waste Management, Urban Planning Services, Health Services- Administration, Health Services- Medical, City Treasury, Housing and Community Services, Public Safety, Chamber Secretary, Harare Water, Engineering Services, Town Clerk and Public Relations.

Previously, the departments of waste management, engineering, Harare Water,, housing and community services was combined forming the Department of Works, Housing and Community Services, previously led by Dr Christopher Magwenzi Zvobgo. Now four other departments have been created, meaning more people now in the employ of the council, but still doing the same things, some of them even to this day still trying to create space for themselves.

Human resources experts interviewed by the HRT said while it would be the best way to go for the City of Harare to reduce its workforce, directly retrenching people would cost the council millions in exit packages. The only viable option in pursuit of the same goal of reducing the council's workforce would be to replace dead, dismissed and retired employees. The pensionable age is 65 years, meaning that employees left with for example, 20 years to reach that age limit would have to be paid off to compensate for the retrenchment.

However the HRT views the sentiments expressed by the Mayor in the media on the justification for retrenchment and rationalisation of the city's workforce, as sound and warranting serious consideration.

The existing workforce, especially in the engineering, housing and community services, urban planning services and waste management lack the necessary skills to effectively deal with the multiple challenges facing a local authority like Harare. Sewer and water bursts have gone unchecked for a long time due to incapacity of the existing workers to understand the structure of Harare as laid out by the original city planners.

The continued misunderstanding between the Mayor and the Town Clerk, if statements attributed to them in the media are true, then there is a very big problem here to be addressed. If top officials continue to disagree on the way forward,

To deal effectively with the raised issues in this paper, the HRT makes the following recommendations;

  • Rationalise the structure of the City of Harare to the period before the turn around led by strategist Chester Mhende which created several departments. These are an additional expense on the residents yet the means of raising revenue have not changed.
  • Salaries of top management are made public as they gobble over 70 percent of the incomes in Harare.
  • Repeal or amend the Urban Councils Act (Chapter 29:15) - it is archaic, repressive and marginalises citizens. This requires a concerted effort by all concerned stakeholders- residents bodies, local authorities and other civil society partners. A campaign of intense proportions has to be undertaken now before our councils collapse at the hands of greedy officials.
  • The Councillors should defend the city from manipulative bureaucrats at Town House. The councillors have to put an end to Town Clerk Mahachi's abuse of the Urban Councils' Act by playing their roles of policymaking, than allow them to be bribed by being included in foreign and local trips where they earn huge allowances.
    The City of Harare should devise new ways of raising revenue in order to pay the huge workforce, on time every month than continue to expect residents of Harare to fund their huge salaries and administration bill, yet service delivery remains depressed.

Visit the Harare Residents' Trust fact sheet

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