Friday, 19 March 2021

MUTARE CITY FATHERS BLOW $3M ON MASVINGO RETREAT

MUTARE City Council’s management and councillors this week gobbled more than $3 million in allowances, conference fees and fuel for a three-day strategic workshop in Masvingo, it has been established.

The 49-member delegation comprised of the opposition MDC councillors, head of departments, union leaders, support staff and development partners. The team travelled to the ancient city of Masvingo on Sunday and came back Thursday.

The Masvingo junket comes at a time when the local authority which is struggling to provide basic services to residents has applied for borrowing powers to fund capital projects valued at $158 115 000.

In its special meeting held on January 22, the local authority resolved to apply borrowing powers to fund various projects, among them water supply augmentation ($16, 6m), water bowser ($8.3m), 3.5 tonne truck ($11.6m), fire tender ($8.3m), refuse truck ($16.6m), dump trailer ($1.2m), periodic road maintenance ($41.5m), excavator ($16.6m), new flea market ($8.3m), procurement of water bowser for roads ($8.3m) and $20.7m for the Dangamvura water project.

The choice of the venue of the workshop also riled residents who are struggling to pay their monthly bills after the council effected an average 400 percent increase across the board in January.

Although the city fathers promised to review downwards some of the rates, bills sent to residents this month showed that there were no reviews.

Residents in high-density areas are now paying monthly bills averaging between $2 000 and $6 000, depending on their locations. This week, social media was abuzz with the news of the workshop, with some residents questioning the decision to have it in Masvingo considering that Manicaland is home to some of the country’s best conference and accommodation facilities.

Investigations conducted by The Manica Post revealed that union members and supporting staff members received $50 000 each for the three-day workshop, while 12 councillors got $70 000 each. Twelve management staff (both head of departments and their deputies) got $100 000 each.

Enquiries at the venue of the workshop (name withheld) showed that the hotel charges $400 for conference facilities, $300 for tea and sandwiches or scones, $1 500 for a buffet lunch and $200 for refreshments per person per day.

Calculations based on the availed rates show that the 49-member delegation chewed about $400 000 during the three days they spent at the venue.

Investigations also revealed that the delegation also used plus or minus 15 vehicles to travel to Masvingo, yet refuse is not being collected, with the council complaining of fuel challenges. In one of the social media groups, a Mutare resident who identified himself as George asked: “Why in Masvingo instead of conducting the meeting locally to save ratepayers’ money?”

Former councillor, Ms Cecilia Gambe, said the city fathers want to cash in on the out of station allowances, hence the decision to conduct the workshop in Masvingo.

Acting Town Clerk, Dr Anthony Mutara, said the workshop was meant to formulate the 2021-2025 National Development Strategic Plan Document in line with the national blueprint.

 

“Despite the financial challenges, the strategic plan is a key process which has to be done and crafted and it is a legislative requirement. Deadlines for the formulation and crafting has been set by the Central Government, and whether with or without good financial standing, the strategic plan documents has to be produced.

“Council has been operating without a strategic plan after the expiry of the two years strategic plan document which was hinged on the Transitional Stabilisation Programme. A big organisation like Mutare cannot continue to operate without a plan.

“The five-year strategic plan which has been formulated is critical as it is the guiding campus which will define the city in the next five years. It will lay the foundation for service delivery and a development trajectory which should be implemented for the betterment of the residents and all stakeholders,” said Dr Mutara.

On the issue of the venue, Dr Mutara said there was nothing amiss with conducting the strategy session in Masvingo.

“The venue was approved by the parent ministry. The local authority first sought ministerial approval, which was granted. Any local authority, Government ministry or parastatal is required to realign its strategic plan document in accordance to the national blueprint,” said Dr Mutara.

Speaking on City of Mutare’s financial position, Dr Mutara said council applied for borrowing powers as the local authority had cleared the outstanding audits which were stretching back to 2014 and was now eligible to apply.

“The money which has been applied for is meant to drive the recapitalisation programme. The money which we used for the workshop is ring fenced for such expenditure and is budgeted for. A budget which again was approved.

“Looking at the importance of the strategic plan document, the aspect of compliance to the NDS1, the resources used for the workshop were well spent for the correct reasons which will not only drive City of Mutare’s service delivery and development agenda, but will also be crucial in ensuring that the Government meets the set targets and timeline nationally,” he said.

“Council has been faced with constant breakdowns of its refuse compactors and that is the reason why certain suburbs have recorded backlogs in terms of refuse collection. However, our collection ratio is more than 90 percent and the backlogs are cleared every weekend.

“The backlogs were not a result of fuel challenges but purely the breakdown of the fleet and no wonder why on our borrowing powers we need to procure two more refuse compactors among a host of other key service delivery plant and equipment,” added Dr Mutara. Manica Post

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