Senior Sports Reporter
THE call has been made to investigate Harare City Football Club to bring closure to allegations of financial impropriety that were first brought up by former club patron and ex-Harare Mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni, five years ago.
The Council is believed to have lost thousands of dollars of rate-payers' money through inflated budgets and unrestrained spending.
Harare City have splashed in the regions of US$10 million on the football team in the last five years amid suspicion that some councillors and executives have personally benefited from hefty allowances they received when the team is involved in football matches.
Sources have also said the football project has been used as one of the conduits to siphon money from the Council coffers over the years.
To make matters worse, members of the club's leadership have been tainted in the corruption scandals that have rocked the city council. Three of Harare City Football Club executive members -- Matthew Marara (Secretary-general), Tendai Kwenda (Committee member) and Stanley Ndemera (Vice-chairman) -- were caught in corruption scandal that are being investigated by the authorities.
The same people were given the reins to run the football club, further fuelling the fears that the football project was in the wrong hands.
Despite the noise surrounding the financial profligacy at the club, no one has been brought to account for the allegations.
New Harare mayor Jacob Mafume was not available for comment yesterday as he is currently in custody, facing corruption charges.
However, the Combined Harare Residents Association said responsible authorities should step in to stop the rot being perpetrated in the name of football.
The association's director, Loreen Mupasiri-Sani, yesterday said the Council should improve its transparency and accountability systems. She said residents become worried when huge sums of rate-payers' money is splashed around without traces of accountability.
"What has been happening at Harare City Council, with regards the issues of corruption, is a demonstration of institutional weaknesses embedded not only in Harare but across the country.
"It's a cycle and it seems the responsible authorities are blind to such vile activities.
"The question is why do we keep seeing this happening? Why is it that everyone who comes into office takes advantage of the system?
"Corruption has been a big challenge in the local councils. There has been chaos of late in the Harare City Council in terms of corruption and many people have been arrested.
"Our position as residents has been that we need to see the council strengthening their transparency and accountability systems.
"The challenge is, there have been different people who have taken office over the years and all ended up being caught up in corrupt activities, we need to ask what are the systems like? In other countries they have social accountability policies where the councils are held accountable by the citizenry for every action they take," said Mupasiri-Sani.
Former Mayor Manyenyeni first raised the red flag on the club's expenditure as early as 2015 when he questioned the huge amounts that were being pumped out in the recruitment of players.
The former mayor then lifted the lid off the spending spree at Harare City Football Club, saying the team's officials blew a staggering $6 million in ratepayers' money by the end of 2017 to finance their doomed campaign in the domestic Premiership, which ended in the humiliation of relegation.
Earlier this year, he said he regretted the council's decision to fund the side in a move that has compromised service delivery. He said the money poured into the football adventure would have bought more than 100 refuse trucks.
However, it appears, most of the money did not directly benefit the club as it was blown away by the officials with the former Mayor saying a number of voices, who were critical of the way the football club has become a vehicle to abuse public funds at Town House, having been silenced by being lured onto the gravy train.
The football club initially had an annual budget of around $2 million while the sports budget for all council sporting teams is believed to be around $5,5 million per year.
The club's budget however was reduced to US$1.5 million this year before another ex-mayor, Hebert Gomba, announced the Council was considering weaning off the football team from 2021.
With no one being held to account, the club's secretary-general Marara is the latest to tender his resignation from the Council.
The former Harare housing director and acting human resources director, who is facing corruption allegations involving the illegal sale of 150 stands in Kuwadzana prejudicing council of about US$1,1 million, last week announced his resignation from the council.
Harare City have a football team for both men and women, a netball team as well as a basketball team.
But while there is nothing wrong with having such sporting teams under its stable, there have been concerns these teams are being used as vehicles to fleece the council.
Huge budgets set aside for these teams which are sponsored by public money at the expense of the council's core business of service delivery.
"Obviously as the residents we get concerned with a situation whereby sport takes precedence over their core responsibilities like effective service delivery.
"Yes it's good to be involved in corporate social services like supporting sport and arts in communities. But don't expect any resident to understand the existence of a Council-sponsored football club when there is no reliable provision of service of any kind, no refuse collection, with residents being exposed to various diseases due to non-supply of clean water.
"The best social corporate social service that a council can offer to the communities is the provision of primary services. So balancing is very important.
"We also want to see reform of expenditure. For instance, we cannot have a council that allots 80 percent of its revenue to salaries and expenditure and 20 percent to service delivery," said Mupasiri-Sani.