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Bulawayo mayor speaks on his two days of horror

18 Aug 2019 at 09:52hrs | Views
Bulawayo City Council was recently rocked by unrest after a coterie of councillors led by deputy mayor Tinashe Kambarami tried to oust town clerk Christopher Dube.

Kambarami last month took advantage of the mayor Solomon Mguni's absence to try and suspend Dube.

The youthful councillor accused the town clerk of corruption.

The local authority's top manager claimed Kambarami and his colleagues were frustrated by his refusal to let them interfere in the award of tenders.

However, Mguni immediately reversed the suspension, but the dispute is now playing out in the courts with Kambarami facing charges of assaulting the town clerk.

Mguni told our reporter Sibonginkosi Maphosa in a wide- ranging exclusive interview that the debacle was his worst experience as mayor.

The mayor spoke about the dispute between the town clerk and councillors, challenges facing the local authority and projects meant to transform the city.

Q: How would you describe your experience in handling the fallout between the deputy mayor and town clerk, which sparked protests?

A: To be honest with you, the 11th and 12th July 2019 was the most stressful period of my leadership of council.

I am grateful to council for ratifying intervention measures that we took on the 22nd of July 2019 in order to bring the city back to stability. The protests by the residents were a reminder to all of us that we are servants of the people and we must serve honourably.

Q: In your view, what caused the conflict and how can it be avoided in future?

A: I wouldn't say it was a conflict. I think the deputy mayor has raised allegations against the town clerk.

We must all respect his judgement on the subject.

But then, if allegations are raised against an employee in any organisation, those allegations must be investigated so that we all get to the bottom of the matter.

This is what we must do, and, of course, in so doing we consult each other on the next course of action.

We should not allow a situation where the left hand does what the right hand does not know.

Q: Why did you decide to apologise to residents over the public spat between the deputy mayor and town clerk? Were you forced to apologise by MDC leader Nelson Chamisa?

A: I am the head of council. Whatever happens in council is attributed to the head of council.

If someone acts on my behalf, he will be exercising my powers on my behalf.

So, we apologised to the residents and stakeholders of the city for our embarrasing conduct.

Our conflict also embarrassed the party that deployed us as councillors.

Remember whatever we do as deployees of the party is construed as having been done at the instruction of the party.

We have to dissociate and indemnify the party from our own personal conduct.

President (Nelson) Chamisa did not force any one to apologise.

This was our decision as council, which decision found traction with the party leadership and, hence, we executed it.

Q: What is your reaction to views by some that the only way to solve problems facing Bulawayo is to dissolve council and install a government-appointed commission?

A: These views are unfortunate.

The people of Bulawayo elected an MDC-led council on the 30th of July 2018.

There is no legal or factual basis to dissolve a democratically and constitutionally elected council and replace it with a commission.

If that were to happen, it would be a sad day for democracy.

Section 287 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe outlines the circumstances under which a councillor may lose his/her seat and there is due process attached to it.

Q: What do you consider to be the main challenges facing Bulawayo and how do you intend to solve them?

A: The City of Bulawayo is facing liquidity challanges that are threatening our core business of service delivery.

The prevailing economic challenges have not spared the council.

The residents are not employed and have no disposable incomes to support the city's budgetary needs.

We had to suspend capital budgets in order to close the deficit gap.

The Bulawayo we used to know as the industrial hub of Zimbabwe now resembles a scrap yard.

As a local authority, we can only perform to the extent that the economy thrives. There are no miracles.

This hyperinflation pegged against the interbank market exchange rate is an albatross on our neck.

It shoots prices of all service delivery commodities up.

For instance, there is no longer a price for fuel.

We have, however, said to our executive management group, let's be innovative and open up new revenue streams like e-parking so that we cushion our residents from the economic hardships.

Q: The town clerk recently said some members of council's management team are corrupt and will be disciplined. What sort of cases is council handling in relation to that?

A: We do not want to intrude into the town clerk's jurisdiction. If the town clerk has reason to believe that his subordinates are corrupt and must be disciplined, he must put the employment code of conduct into motion.

He knows what to do.

It's not our turf to discipline heads of departments and middle managers.

Our competency as councillors is to deal with the conditions of service, discipline and conduct of the town clerk.

This must be clear to everyone.

Q: An investigation by the Local Government ministry in 2017 also singled out some senior council officials for alleged incompetence and engaging in corruption, but no one has been disciplined. Why is council not taking action?

A: I am not sure about the individual managers who were singled out in the 2017 government report.

We only came in on the 7th of September 2018. I want to believe that whoever was implicated at that time was dealt with by the previous council.

Q: What is the nature of complaints that you have received about the town clerk and how will you handle them?

A:The allegations are the same allegations that we all saw in the suspension letter of 11th July 2019.

That letter is in the public domain. Those are the same allegations that we will be investigating once all pending court processes are over.

You will recall that government commissioned its own investigations and the probe report is yet to be released as well.

So, we will stand guided by council in this regard.

Q: Can you update residents on the progress being made on the Egodini project?

A:The Egodini Mall project is progressing well.

According to the reports that I am receiving, excavation and levelling of the area was finished sometime in June 2019.

The structures are now being fabricated at a factory in South Africa.

Once fabrication is complete, the structures will be brought on site for mounting sometime in September 2019.

We are hopeful that the contractor will observe the deadline for opening phase one of the project in November 2019.

This is a major project that will transform the shape of Bulawayo.

Q: Council and Zesa are embroiled in a dispute over the Bulawayo power station. Has there been any movement on the matter since the botched meeting with Energy minister Fortune Chasi recently?

A: The issue between City of Bulawayo and Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC), is sub judice.

In fact, we have four court cases between BCC and Zesa and its subsidiaries.

These cases relate to payments of way leave for power lines to local authorities, royalties for the power station, power consumption tariffs and debts.

Our lawyers are handling these matters.

We have, however, been talking with a view to break the deadlock.

Our respective ministries of Local Government and Energy, are seized with this dispute.

It is not the intention of the City of Bulawayo to frustrate the generation of electricity.

We must be able to find consensus in this dispute.

Q: What is the latest position on the proposed demolition of some towers at the Bulawayo power station?

A: Like I said, the matter is receiving adequate attention of the lawyers of both BCC and ZPC, and from the line ministers.

The residents and stakeholders of the city will be advised on the outcome of the negotiations.

Q: Do you have any plans that you can share with residents on how your council intends to transform Bulawayo into a modern city?

A: Well, there are a lot of plans. Our Master Plan is being reviewed to bring it in tandem with global best practices.

We will be demystifying the eastern areas as well as renewal of our old western suburbs like Makokoba.

The concept plan for Makokoba re-development is now there.

This will see the city, in partnership with the Ministry of Local Government, constructing high- rise modern residential flats.

We also have set aside land for a modern industrial park called Umvumila Park between Richmond and Entumbane.

This will be developed under the Special Economic Zones concept.

A study is being done for an area plan for the former Ascot Race Course so that we see how best the area can be redeveloped into a modern facility and restore the recreational designation of the area.

All these plans that we have will require massive investments.

We just hope that the economy will be attractive to such kind of investment opportunities.

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