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Residents raise concern over councillors' stands

by Staff reporter
31 Jan 2024 at 04:51hrs | Views
In the face of worsening basic service delivery in many local authorities, including Bulawayo, ratepayers have raised concerns about certain privileges granted to serving councillors.

Specifically, they are calling for the revocation of lifetime residential and commercial land rights that have been granted to the most powerful residents.

Government through Circular No 12 of 2019 allows councillors the privilege to buy residential land at a 40 percent discount and commercial land for full price.

Under this provision, councillors can arrange a payment plan with the local authority, which should be completed within five years of their service in the council. Despite these and other benefits, residents have bemoaned the decline in service delivery in most councils and blamed city fathers for sleeping on duty and failing to show leadership in addressing problems affecting ratepayers.

Most urban centres are facing a decline in service delivery with major cities like Bulawayo and Harare struggling to maintain clean streets and provide water while battling ballooning housing backlogs.

In Bulawayo, for instance, over 100 000 people are on the housing waiting list and most of the city roads are littered with potholes.

Chaos also continues in the city centre where vendors and pushcart operators block pavements and disrupt traffic movement with long-distance buses, pirate taxes and kombis causing traffic jams in undesignated zones.

While service delivery is on a declining trajectory, residents said it is disturbing that councillors are only concerned about grabbing stands for personal benefit.

These benefits have raised eyebrows, especially considering that from previous council terms, some councillors in Bulawayo are said to have grabbed commercial stands where they are enriching themselves by building townhouses.

Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association executive director, Mrs Permanent Ngoma, said it was worrying that councillors have easy access to land at a time when most Bulawayo residents are struggling to get land for building their homes.

"The feeling from the residents is that those packages are just too much considering that we have a long list of people on the housing waiting list to get stands," she said.

"The stands are not availed to residents but funny enough councillors seem to get priority in terms of being allocated land even at a time when the council is saying it does not have land.

"Secondly, you will discover that those councillors when they are given those stands, they immediately sell them. There might be a need to review the policy so that the councillor gets the land in the ward where they serve," said Mrs Ngoma.

She said the Government should consider striking off the commercial land benefits for councillors.

Bulawayo United Residents Association (Bura) chairman Mr Winos Dube weighed in and queried the logic behind privileges for councillors at the expense of other residents. He said only property owners should be councillors as this will lessen the burden of having "chancers".

"One thing that we ask from the Government and ministry's level is why are they offering those privileges. For instance, the privilege of a residential stand, what we have been advocating for is that there should be a qualification for one to be a councillor," he said. "You must be someone who already has property and you have an interest in providing development.

"As it stands, any person can rise from the streets to become a councillor not because they want to contribute positively to the development of the city but they would be chasing after these packages of a residential stand and a commercial stand."

Mr Dube said being a councillor should be voluntary work with little incentives.

Former Bulawayo councillor Alderman David Ndlovu, who served in council between 1991 and 2003 said during their time it was unheard of to hear that a councillor had benefitted from the local authority apart from their usual allowances.

Alderman Ndlovu shared Mr Dube's sentiments that being a councillor was community service.

"We were in council to serve the public not to benefit from resources that were meant to serve the public. We were going to the council to provide voluntary work. The only thing that we used to get were allowances. If something like that (getting land) was even suggested, it was called corruption and you will discover that most people who became councillors already had their properties," said Alderman Ndlovu.

He said what was saddening to note was that councillors have even submitted themselves to council management, yet they are supposed to be policymakers.

"At the time we were in council we were not having this thing where councillors would invite council directors to come address residents on council issues," said Ald Ndlovu.

"The council meetings were solely presided over by the councillor who understood all the issues. I don't want to seem to criticize them or to suggest that we were better than them.

"But they are doing things that we wouldn't do. They are constructing houses in places we left behind as breathers and in some cases in wetlands. This is now the trend."

Director of communication and advocacy in the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works, Mr Gabriel Masvora, said the Government through Circular No. 12 of 2019 granted councillors permission to benefit from a commercial and residential stand within their lifetime.

"The stand may be sold to the councillor at a discount of 40 percent of the normal values. The stand is to be offered to the councillor on a lease with the option to purchase with payments being made in equal monthly instalments and completed before the end of the term of office of the councillor," he said.

"Title deeds may not be issued until the development of the home is complete."

Mr Masvora said a councillor may not sell the stand or cede the lease during his/her term of office and the cost of servicing of the stand shall be paid in full.

"However, this offer of residential stand is a privilege and not an entitlement. On Commercial/Industrial stands, the minister granted permission to a councillor to be allocated a single business or industrial stand in their lifetime, within council areas on which to construct a business for him/herself," he said.

"The stand is to be offered to the councillor on a lease with the option to purchase with payments being made in equal monthly instalments and completed before the end of the term of office. Title deed may not be issued until the development of the home is complete."

Source - The Chronicle