Editorial Comment: Harare City Council—Fundamental problems of accountability

There has been unanimous disgust at revelations that Harare City Council clandestinely bought 50 cars worth US$2 million using the US$144,4 million loan facility secured from China to rehabilitate the capital city’s water and sewerage infrastructure.It remains unclear what utility comfy SUVs would provide in a project of this nature. These are not the first allegations.
An engineering consultant has said the size of the loan could have been premised on overstating project costs by as much as US$100 million. The vehicles are believed to have been purchased without going to tender to conceal the transaction from councillors and Government. The vehicles are already in the possession of senior officials.

While focus has been on the brazenness of the apparent fraud, what has been unclear is whose head should roll. A point of curiosity is that none of the council officials has come out with a clear position on the matter. No attempt has been made to justify the unsanctioned spending. Who was involved? Who signed for the payments? Was this a legitimate purchase?

The hapless mayor, Mr Bernard Manyenyeni, was reported as setting up a team to investigate the matter. The first point of order is the gross contempt that council has for the mayor and, worse still, residents. It is telling that no senior official felt compelled to defend actions taken by council. It betrays the confidence and impunity of the offenders.

Town Clerk Dr Tendai Mahachi and company could not care less what the mayor, residents or newspapers think.
At one point the authority’s rowdy spokesman, Leslie Gwindi, is reported to have retorted, in response to a question on the affordability of water, that residents unable to cope would be best advised to move to the rural areas.

This impudent behaviour suggests that something has gone terribly wrong insofar as accountability is concerned. It is clear that the fate of senior council officials does not lie with Harare residents nor does it lie with councillors.

For this reason, those in charge of the local authority feel confident enough to completely ignore reports of gross impropriety or, in Gwindi’s case, have developed the chutzpah to actually insult residents who happen to pay his salary.

While Manyenyeni can talk tough about investigating this latest episode, his pronouncements are unlikely to be taken seriously by resigned residents. The scale of the first fraud (the overstating of project costs) is far more egregious than the apparent looting of funds through fraudulent procurement of vehicles.

Unless Manyenyeni can bring the first case to a satisfactory conclusion, he has very little in the way of credibility. Despite his pretensions to the contrary, this paper believes Manyenyeni is not in charge. In the event that he has lost control (if he ever had it) of the local authority he should be honest enough to admit as much.

The sooner we acknowledge we have a rogue council on our hands, the sooner we can tame its excesses.

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