17 August 2012

Zimbabwe: Madness in Councils

RESIDENTS in nearly all the towns and cities around the country face similar challenges: Service delivery has been going down with utilities such as water and electricity now as scarce as lawyers in heaven.

Water shortages have reached desperate levels in Harare and its satellite towns of Chitungwiza, Ruwa and Norton.

The water crisis has opened floodgates to waterborne diseases with Harare already in the throes of a typhoid fever outbreak. Not so long ago, the city fathers had been caught napping after an outbreak of cholera ravaged a number of high density suburbs.

With the rainy season less than two months away, residents could be sitting on a ticking time bomb.

Despite the economic stability brought about by the adoption of multi-currencies in February 2009, nothing much has changed as far as the residents are concerned.

Refuse continues to pile up in suburbs, posing another health hazard to residents.

Street lights are still out of order: Increasingly, high density areas are now havens for criminal activities, especially during the evening.

Not even robots at intersections in the central business districts are in working order. The traffic jungle at peak hours bears testimony to the chaotic public transport system, not only in Harare but in other cities and towns that the city fathers have failed to tame.

But despite their pathetic service delivery record, city fathers have no shame in making residents pay through the nose for non-existent services.

Residents are being made to pay for water, which they have not consumed and for rates when garbage is accumulating at almost every open space.

Power utility, ZESA Holdings seems to have borrowed a leaf from councils, hiding behind estimates to extort from residents when it is common knowledge that most households in leafy suburbs are now being powered by generators.

What is irritating residents most is that instead of investing in water and sewer infrastructure; fixing street lights and purchasing refuse compactors among other things that could help improve service delivery, city fathers are spending the bulk of their revenue on salaries.

City fathers and council employees are also helping themselves to stands and other benefits that come their way without devoting their time and energies to improving standards of living for residents. Corruption has also become the order of the day in councils.

Instead of humbling themselves as servants of the people, city fathers have become too big for their shoes. The recent incident in Harare whereby a poisonous chemical was delivered to the municipal's water treatment plant is the clearest indication that the current crop of councillors have overstayed their welcome.

Morton Jaffrey Water Works received a consignment of Sodium Cyanide for water treatment instead of Aluminium Sulphate but the error was noted before the offending consignment was off-loaded from the transporters.

Instead of apologising to the residents for such an error, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) dominated municipality is now accusing Local Government, Rural and Urban Development Minister, Ignatius Chombo of trying to settle political scores with Harare city fathers by establishing an investigative team to look into the issue.

Last week, Harare deputy mayor, Emmanuel Chiroto, who was acting mayor when the wrong delivery was made, came out guns blazing, saying the hullabaloo over the erroneous delivery of the poisonous chemical was "much ado about nothing".

He said the Harare City Council was treating the matter as a "normal human error" and had not reported the case to the police.

"The city council will not be doing anything because to us this is an error that can occur anywhere and secondly, the council never received the said consignment in the first place," he said.

Chiroto charged that the city's water supply was never under any threat, saying there were 13 steps taken when receiving chemicals at the water works. He said of these 13 steps, only two were taken before it was discovered that it was the wrong chemical.

"This matter is similar to the case of a bottle-store that orders Bollingers (beer) and instead receives Castle and returns the wrong order back to the supplier before opening or using it," he added.

"Council should be allowed to deal with council matters without the interference of outsiders," Chiroto said.

Really? One can only hope that Chiroto was speaking on his own behalf and not on behalf of council, otherwise residents have every reason to be worried by the attitude that has gotten into the heads of their city fathers.

Is Chiroto aware of the dangers posed by the consumption of anything that has cyanide in it. According to scientists, inhalation of high concentrations of cyanide causes coma with seizures, apnea and cardiac arrest, with death following in a matter of minutes.

At lower doses, loss of consciousness may be preceded by general weakness, giddiness, headaches, vertigo, confusion, and perceived difficulty in breathing. At the first stages of unconsciousness, breathing is often sufficient or even rapid, although the state of the victim progresses towards a deep coma, sometimes accompanied by pulmonary oedema, and finally cardiac arrest. Skin colour goes pink from cyanide-hemoglobin complexes.

A fatal dose for humans can be as low as 1,5 milligrammes per kilogramme body weight. Now for Chiroto to say council is treating such as serious matter as a "normal human error," is height of arrogance.

With city fathers like these who needs enemies?

Is it surprising therefore that Hatcliffe residents are up in arms with their representatives for abandoning them while they are now busy enjoying feeding on the gravy train. Instead of owning up to their errors, city fathers are quick to accuse ZANU-PF for influencing people to rise against them.

Surely, does the MDC-T councillors expect ZANU-PF to help them in sweeping their dirt under the carpet? Any serious political party would want to take advantage of the weaknesses of its rivals. ZANU-PF is duty bound to do the same.

MDC-T councillors must look at themselves critically and mend their ways otherwise the electorate would judge them harshly at the next polls.

We could not agree more with Precious Shumba of the Harare Residents Trust when he noted that "Councillor Chiroto, like most of the councillors in Harare, has failed dismally to separate politics from community development issues, and this does not endear them to residents, who care less about politics. They want a better life, a health and safe living environment, adequate water supplies, and effective representation".

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