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BCC: What went wrong?

by Vusumuzi Dube
31 Jan 2021 at 06:56hrs | Views
"BULAWAYO'S success story is not something from outer space but a result of the constructive approach taken by councillors and the existence of a harmonious relationship between them and their electorate."

These words were said by the city's first black mayor, the late national hero, Naison Khutshwekhaya Ndlovu, on 4 August 1983, as quoted by The Chronicle.

He was speaking on the occasion of winding up his two terms in office where he noted his major achievements, where he had managed to maintain efficiency and effective service delivery. The above citation by the national hero sums up the state of service delivery in the city, which saw Bulawayo being regarded as one of the cleanliest cities in Africa.

However, close to 38 years after the statement was said and four years after Ndlovu joined other heroes in the life yonder, the late national hero and others who shouldered the burden of giving Bulawayo dignity should be turning in their graves considering the state of service delivery in the city.

Not only is the city failing to provide a continuous supply of water, with residents for the past months operating with what the local authority termed, a "provisional water supply restoration schedule" they are now also now failing to reliably collect refuse as they have also come up with a "temporary domestic refuse removal schedule".

The city's road network is such that over 70 percent of it requires urgent rehabilitation, let alone the overgrowing grass and shrubs along the potholed roads that further pose a risk to motorists and pedestrians who can be easily mugged.

The local authority however, is quick to hide behind the finger claiming lack of resources, the city's perennial water challenges, failure by ratepayers to honour their debts to mention but a few of the "excuses" that are on the fingertips of council officials when put to task regarding this anomaly.

Further, over the past years there is now a huge element of mistrust between councillors and council officials and residents. Instead of the creation of a two-way communication, there is largely the archaic hypodermic needle type of relationship.

Just recently, while residents were still enduring the stiff water shedding schedule the local authority purchased and installed new water pumps with "significant design and manufacturing" defects at the local authority's main pumping stations to ease Bulawayo water problems.

According to a council report, prior to commissioning of the new Flowserve pumps it was discovered that four of the total six non-return valves (NRVs) failed due to design and manufacturing defects.

NRVs have an important function to protect the pumps; when a pump is switched off or when there is a power outage, the NRV prevents backflow of the water in the rising main. If unchecked, backflow causes the pump to spin in reverse which is a potentially damaging action for the pump.

However, instead of engaging residents on an open platform, a senior council official was quick to attempt to dismiss their own report claiming it was incorrect only for the local authority to emerge a few days later confirming this development.

In a bid to unravel the problems that have bedevilled BCC bringing service delivery to a halt, Sunday News this week spoke to a number of experts, former councillors and residents' associations to find out what was wrong.

Posting on his Facebook wall, city's mayor, Councillor Solomon Mguni last week suggested that the major cause for the substandard service delivery was the failure by residents to pay their rates on time. He said the fact that only 16 percent of residents were paying their rates meant the local authority could only offer 16 percent worth of service delivery.

"Service delivery is a collective responsibility for all of us. There are ingredients that cannot be substituted for any recipe to give us a tasty meal. Finance is such an ingredient that every service delivery recipe requires. Give the chef all the ingredients and you will enjoy the soup. For 2020 only; residents owe council $6,5 million. Then, where is the misuse of the rates paid? 16 percent of paid up residents can only give our city 16 percent of service delivery in the literal sense," said Clr Mguni.

Local governance expert, Mr Rodrick Fayayo accused councillors of not playing their required oversight role hence a number of leakages which were now grossly affecting service delivery in the city. He said councillors had to be on the lookout and ensure that residents' resources were not put to waste.

"Remember we paid US$70 000 for a dead bulldozer. That was just a tip of the iceberg. There are many more payments that we are doing that are going to waste. And it is our councillors who should be on the lookout for that.

"Residents are also a problem. They are supposed to be demanding answers from their representatives and they are not. They are supposed to be paying for services and they are not. Residents must also do their duty. Demand accountability and also pay rates. Ensure that their representatives that they elected also provide oversight and ensure that they are no leakages in council," said Mr Fayayo.

He said with the ongoing Covid-19 necessitated lockdown and its subsequent challenges, local authorities should now be innovate and think of how best they could engage residents without compromising residents' health.

"Unfortunately, council has taken advantage of the situation and ensured that there is no engagement. It must not be about organised residents only. Council should find a way of locating and communicating with an old lady in Pumula who is not affiliated to any association. Further, the Government must now implement the provisions of devolution.

Ensure that power is devolved and also make sure that necessary mechanisms are put in place to ensure transparency and accountability," said Mr Fayayo.

Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association coordinator, Mr Emmanuel Ndlovu said it was sad that Bulawayo, once the best run local authority in the country was at the state it was now.

"Council used to gloat that it was the best, I remember when we presented the findings of our study years back and we were ridiculed for being too young to correct the council officials who started working in council way before we were born and have a proven track record of expertise. Now it is imbued with ingredients for self-destruction. The challenges are real but so are the opportunities. Council can still turn that around. There is a lot of goodwill and people who want the best out of this city," said Mr Ndlovu.

He said the major challenge within the local authority was the creation of cartels that were now capturing major council services.

"Instances of collusion between private and public interest are undermining council efforts. Inside trading with shelf companies and corruption are the major issues. Transparency and accountability are now alien to council and once you raise those issues you are labelled. The caliber of councillors is the worst," said the BPRA co-ordinator.

Former Bulawayo deputy mayor, Alderman Amen Mpofu said the problems in the city began after the 2013 election with the coming in of a crop of councillors who prioritised self-enrichment rather than their key mandate of service delivery.

"This problem has been brewing for years but now that it is now in the open, we are beginning to realise it. For years we have been hiding behind the notion that BCC is the best run council in the country while all this decay is taking place unabated. Since 2013 we have had councillors coming in who were just focused on self-enrichment. There are councillors we all know who were very poor but when they came into office, they have used their influence in council and are now filthy rich owning huge tracts of land within the city," said Ald Mpofu.

He said councillors should play the role of monitoring council officials and consulting residents but there was now a huge divide between the residents and councillors.

"It is high time that we stop hiding behind political influence and accept that the problem is much closer to home," said the former deputy mayor.

Bulawayo United Residents Association (Bura) chairperson, Mr Winos Dube said it was high time councillors and council officials remembered their call of duty and not allow the once revered city collapse under their watch.

"It is a sad turn of events honestly, something needs to be done as a matter of urgency, people need these services.

Yes, as residents we also have a role to play in terms of paying our rates but council should also remember what their role is. Residents have gone for too long without water yet it has been raining on a daily basis, refuse is not being collected, actually there is a lot that needs to be done if we are to go around boasting that we are the best run local authority in the country," said Mr Dube.

A former city father, the late Alderman Nick Mabhodoko, said in January 1988 during his tenure as Bulawayo mayor; "A new year is always unique in that it evokes emotions and sentiments throughout the community about a happy and prosperous new year devoid of hardships."

So, as the year 2021 is still in its infancy, the onus is with the local authority to ensure that the beautiful city of Bulawayo does not die at their watch when all they need is to put all hands on the deck and prove their worth.

Source - sundaynews