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City of Harare fight its own district officers
Harare Residents' Trust (HRT)
August 17, 2011

The National Employment Council (NEC) for the Harare Municipal Undertaking has ruled that the City of Harare should fully implement a 2008 resolution to return all traditional functions to the District Officers, the key managers in the council's local communities.

In Case Number 324/04/11, the five low density district officers of Mt Pleasant, Greendale/Highlands, Mabelreign/Marlborough, Waterfalls, and Borrowdale took the City of Harare to the NEC for conciliation on 2 April 2011 "concerning alleged unfair labour practice".

In the ensuing hearing, the district officers and the City of Harare agreed that: "There should be implementation of the council resolution dated 23/12/08, together with the Town Clerk's memos dated 6 May 2009 and 8 April 2010 concerning reinstatement of traditional roles of District Officers."

The ruling was delivered and signed on 19 July 2011 by Gweshe J. as the officer presiding over the matter.

In response, the Director for Human Resources for the City of Harare Mr Cainos Chimombe wrote a departmental memorandum on 28 July 2011 addressed to the Director of the Department of Engineering Services Engineer Philip Pfukwa and the Director of Harare Water Dr Christopher Magwenzi Zvobgo urging them to immediately implement the council resolution of returning traditional functions to the district Officers.

"Reference is made to the Certificate of Settlement dated 19 July 2011 and letters from the Town Clerk and Director of Housing and Community Services respectively on the matter," Chimombe said in the memorandum.

He urged both directors to ensure that all staff in the low density district offices report to the District Officers. Chimombe said employees in the Engineering Services Department and Harare Water needed to follow the dual reporting system, where they report to both of them on technical issues and to the District Officers on day to day operational issues.

"Your compliance with the NEC order will assist us to avoid costly litigations because the District Officers are contemplating to take their matter further to the arbitration," Chimombe wrote. "Our defence in this matter is very weak on this matter hence you need to comply."

The Harare Residents' Trust (HRT) has been following with keen interest this matter as it impacts positively or negatively on service provision in the communities. Low Density District Officers were in formerly Town Management Boards (TMB) which were autonomous, allowing the officers to make firm decisions on service delivery in their localities and coming up with project priorities in consultation with the residents of the particular area.

However, with the coming in of the ill-advised Strategic Turnaround of the City of Harare in 2008 which created the ineffective business units, the functions of district officers were eroded and their responsibilities given to other new departments, leaving them with very little to do except to report for work and loiter around. Under the turnaround strategy done by then consultant and now Town Clerk Dr Tendai Mahachi, the District Officers were renamed Customer Services Officers, reducing them to mere figureheads, with most powers and authority now vested in officials housed at Rowan Martin, Town House and Old Mutual Building where the Harare Water offices are located at the intersection on Sam Nujoma Street and Speke Avenue.

The impact of this has been that thousands of residents facing acute water shortages, sewerage blockages, inflated bills, non-refuse collection and other housing challenges have been forced to travel to Rowan Martin Building for help instead of being assisted at their local District Offices. Instead of rendering assistance to residents bringing their concerns to them, the District Officers have been illegally replaced, but fearing for a costly litigation if they decide to use the Labour Act (Chapter 28:01), the authorities are just keeping them in their offices yet have stripped them of their honour to be serving the residents at community level.

Observers within the City of Harare, some councillors and in the HRT view this anomaly as a power game featuring the Town Clerk and his management against the District Officers and the residents on the other hand.

Most employees stationed at District Offices currently report to their respective department heads of supervisors and are not accountable to the District Officers, yet when residents face any problems; they rush to the District Officer who merely refers them to Town House, Cleveland House and Rowan Martin Building for simple solutions. But these same employees have taken advantage of this gap in supervision to do other private errands most of the time, while remaining on the council's payroll, of course at the expense of the ratepayer.

The HRT urges the Mayor of Harare and his council of Harare to act on this Certificate of Settlement, in line with their previous resolutions ordering the return of the traditional functions to the District Officers. It remains a mystery how the Mayor and his councillors have not intervened on behalf of residents since 2008 when the council made its first resolution on this matter. This goes to show that the Town Clerk and his management are bullying the elected representatives of the people to safeguard their small empires, which residents are determined to dismantle without any further delay.

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