New Zimbabwe (London)

2 February 2014

Zimbabwe: What Is Chombo Trying to Hide in Harare?

GROUPS representing Harare residents have demanding that Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo explain his decision to intervene and block the suspension of town clerk Tendai Mahachi.

Said Harare Residents Trust (HRT) director Precious Shumba: "Minister Chombo must not play spoiler by interfering with lawful investigations being carried out by Harare residents through their elected representatives.

"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."

Critics say Chombo - whose vast wealth, including urban land holdings, was revealed in a messy divorce from ex-wife Marian - has benefited from his control of local authorities since being named Local Government Minister back in 2000.

Mahachi was last week suspended by Harare city council to facilitate investigations into reports top management at the local authority had awarded themselves massive salaries while ordinary workers went without pay and service delivery is near complete collapse.

The town clerk was said to be earning close to $38,000 a month while top subordinates were equally well rewarded at about $37,000 each.

However, Chombo called a press conference Saturday where he said Mahachi would return to work and claimed reports he was earning $38,000 were incorrect.

Still, the minister announced the official's salary had been reduced to just over $14,800 per month without revealing how much he had been earning before.

Harare mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni, said he did not agree with the decision to allow Mahachi to return to work.

But Chombo told the hapless mayor that he could not refuse a ministerial directive.

Shumba questioned the Zanu PF minister's rushed involvement in a "labour dispute" between the local authority and its employee.

"He (Chombo) should treat this matter as a purely labour issue between an underperforming employee and an aggrieved employer," said Shumba.

"(He) 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."

Combined Harare Residents Association programs manager, Tendai Muchada, also accused Chombo of trying to suppress information about alleged corruption.

"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," he said.

"However, the current budget allocates 48 percent to admin and personnel which is what councillors 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."

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