LOCAL Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister Dr Ignatius Chombo has come under fire from Harare residents for pushing for the re-instatement of the city's Town Clerk, Dr Tendai Mahachi, who was last week suspended for three months for failing to provide the salary schedule for all senior council employees.
The suspension was effected to pave way for investigations into the city council's financial management amid reports the city's 18 directors were gobbling over half a million dollars in salaries every month at a time service delivery has plummeted to levels where council fails to replace street light bulbs.
Minister Chombo on Saturday convened a Press conference where he ordered the immediate reinstatement of Dr Mahachi even as Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni dug in before being told the reinstatement was a ministerial directive.
Dr Mahachi's suspension had been welcomed by residents keen to know how much the city was committing to salaries and service delivery in light of shocking revelations that heads of some quasi-government institutions and State enterprises were taking home monthly salaries as high as US$500 000 per month.
Harare Residents Trust director Mr Precious Shumba yesterday took a swipe at Minister Chombo for seeking to interfere with ongoing investigations.
"Minister Chombo must not play spoiler by interfering with lawful investigations being carried out by Harare residents through their elected representatives," he said.
"HRT strongly suspects the minister has a lot to hide by trying to stop the residents from getting a full account of how their money is being spent.
"He should treat this matter as a purely labour issue between an underperforming employee and an aggrieved employer.
"For that reason Minister Chombo must not undermine the Urban Councils Act. Neither, should he interfere with Zimbabwe's Constitution which specifically states that running of local authorities is the responsibility of elected councils who are directly accountable to the residents of the city.
"The minister should be held accountable when the residents riot against the Harare City Council by resolving to stop or boycott payment of bills."
Mr Shumba said Dr Mahachi's suspension was consistent with the Urban Councils Act Section 139 which gives the local
authority the mandate to suspend the town clerk.
The said provision on Subsection (3) says: "If it appears to the mayor or chairman, as the case may be, that the town clerk of the council has been guilty of such conduct that it is desirable that the town clerk should not be permitted to carry on his work, he--
(a) may suspend the town clerk from office and require him forthwith to leave his place of work; and
(b) shall forthwith notify the council or, in the case of a municipality, executive committee, in writing, of such suspension and cause the suspension to be reported to the council at the first opportunity."
Combined Harare Residents Association programs manager, Mr Tendai Muchada said Minister Chombo was out of order by trying to suppress information that residents wanted to know.
"There is a standing Cabinet directive that instructs that local authorities must allocate 30 percent only toward administration and personnel while 70 percent goes to service delivery.
"However, the current budget allocates 48 percent to admin and personnel which is what councilors want to address then we have the Minister trying to interfere with that process.
"We cannot have US$500 000 being allocated to salaries of 18 people. We are going to do everything legal to make sure the suspension stands so that investigations can be done. We have to nip corruption in the bud, so for that reason we expect the minister to play ball," said Mr Muchada.
Mrs Mary Tizora of Budiriro said Dr Chombo was swimming against the tide as the nation wanted to see monster-salary earning bosses brought to account.
"It is unfortunate that Minister Chombo took this decision which to me is akin to thumbing his nose at residents. He is a Government minister yes but on leaving his government office he is just a ratepayer like all of us, and must learn to respect the views of residents. I was very disappointed on hearing what he had done," she said.
Tofirei Zvarevashe of Mabvuku dared Minister Chombo to spend just a day in Mabvuku without water, without electricity to appreciate why residents want answers from Town House.
" I wish Minister Chombo would spend a day in Chizhanje, ferry water in a wheelbarrow from the communal borehole, cook on firewood before bathing in a bucket while ensuring that enough water is left in the bucket to flush the toilet, pamwe vangaoneranewo nesu panyaya yeCouncil," he said.
Among the readers who responded to the story on our sister paper, The Sunday Mail's website were one Toverengwa and Joe Muda.
Said Toverengwa: "Surely Minister Chombo cannot ignore the current mood of public outrage? Why is he now trying to protect one of his self appointed puppets imposed on councillors elected by the people? Is he afraid that with Mr (sic) Mahachi's absence, too many corrupt undertakings will be discovered that might provide links to his personal self?"
Joemuda weighed in with: "Chombo has stayed for too long in the ministry of local gvt (government), public works and national housing, he needs to be changed or moved back to the ministry of education. .. The big question is why Does Chombo not want Mahachi investigated?"
President Mugabe has called for zero tolerance to all forms of corruption, and he underscored this in his address to legislators during a luncheon that was hosted by the Local Government, Public Work's and National Housing Ministry on the occasion of the official opening of the First Session of the Eighth Parliament last year.
And on several occasions thereafter, the President has urged the law to take its course on corrupt elements.
In its winning Election Manifesto Zanu-PF identifies corruption as one of the threats to achieving the goals of the people, namely putting the economy in the hands of indigenous Zimbabweans and getting it to work for the people.
To that end, the revolutionary has put its wheels in motion by nipping corruption in the bud starting with public sectors.
"Of particular concern is the rampant corruption in local authorities which interface directly with the people on a daily basis in terms of the delivery of key public services.
"The victims of corruption when in the public or private sector; the professional, NGO or religious
sectors are always the people. This is why zero-tolerance of corruption has become a national priority," reads the party manifesto in Chapter Five under the topic; "Threats to winning the goals of the people"