|Misplacement of personnel in councils derailing development|
|Thursday, 31 January 2013 18:12|
Martin StobartIt is an open secret that local governments in Zimbabwe are poorly managed to an extent of being endemic.
Yes, we can blame the economy by employing the now time-worn phrase, “It is the economy, stupid!” but this can’t rub off anymore.
This, however, is not to suggest that the lacklustre performance of the national economy does not have a negative impact on local governments’ budgets as in fact the two are intrinsically inseparable. And yet in the final analysis challenges, especially those that constitute impediments to development will always be there to be encountered. It is always challenges which separate boys from men and girls from women, if you like.
Rural district councils (RDCs) are the worst affected local authorities in terms of poor management. There are a myriad reasons for this state of affairs, one of which is the rarely talked about; their distant locations from the centres of power and authority unlike towns and cities that enjoy relative proximity to these institutions, and where economic and social intercourse are the order of the day (and we are talking of a 24-hour day).
Development in RDCs is further hampered by the fact that they are shunned by the professionally qualified and experienced administrators, for reasons which do not require elaboration, suffice to mention only one and that is that the rural settings lack in social amenities that are attractive to the urbanised and skilled professionals.
Further to that, there has to be a paradigm shift in respect of the required qualifications for the posts of chief executive officer board secretary (where applicable).
Quite frankly, I personally do not see the need for a degree in politics, social sciences, law, full CIS, and so on. We are living in a post-modernity era where economic development has become too revolutionary rather than evolutionary, hence some of these degrees become overwhelmed by the sheer pace of this development.
And economic development is not an option but a must. Not only must the CEOs of RDCs have development-oriented qualifications, but the district administrators and the provincial administrators as well.
In the local authorities, be they town councils or RDCs or local boards, there should be no room at executive management levels at least, for persons with papal degrees or theologians. These persons ideally have their place in welfare departments where their specialty (counselling and moral preservation) is required.
The glaring mismatching and misplacement of top management personnel in RDCs can easily be identified in the relevant committees. Invariably, the committees comprise councillors who are not only ill-qualified or ill-suited, but also who lack the requisite skill and experience to interview applicants and to determine suitability as a barometer especially where qualifications are too close to call. With all due respect to all concerned, how on earth can a villager who has suddenly been catapulted into council on a party ticket be expected to chair, say, the finance committee, the general purpose committee or any committee for that matter.
The problem here does not lie with the councillor as such but with the system. Councillors are elected; period, and once they are in council they elect each other into various committees making up the council as a whole. In this scenario all caution is thrown to the wind. Ideally, it is expected that council heads of department will constantly apprise, update and advise their respective committee chairpersons on administrative and other issues, yet this may not necessarily be the case on the ground especially when politics is allowed sway. Some heads of departments may actually work against, or undermine the authority of the chairperson.
In the RDCs it may be that some district administrators are weak and ineffective as overarching overseers of the affairs of their districts. They regard themselves first and foremost as civil servants and everything else as secondary especially when politics rears its ugly head.
This scenario paints an unsavoury picture of local government management. It also underscores the pertinent observation made above in this article, namely that the RDCs as the initials explain, are just too remote from the centres of authority so they are not always under the scrutiny of the line ministry.
Budget formulation in the RDCs is at best, a dour unproductive business. For a very long time now this writer has not seen an RDC budget which has been based on the state of the domestic economy. In fact the same can be said even about urban local authorities. The incremental figures imposed by the local authorities on the hapless ratepayers and stakeholders are frightening even to the most consistent payers to the extent that they end up defaulting as well.
This is rightly so because the annual budgetary hikes which are arbitrarily imposed, punish them for being responsible and reliable. The situation, therefore, presents us with gargantuan figures of increases but which do not translate into cash at the end of the day.
Rather what we see year in and year out are ever-mounting budgetary deficits. The ministry in my view has a duty to educate local authorities on the negative impact of bad budget formulation.
If the national economy fails to perform to expectations the first casualty is the consumer who happens to be the ratepayer and stakeholder at the same time and therefore any proposed increase in rates which does not take cognisance of the above is doomed to fail.
The Urban Councils Act talks about “writing off” bad debts, which is fair and fine. However, this should not be the first option.
A prudent option is to declare a budgetary moratorium for one year, and then present a “static” budget (no hikes) as a means of persuading debtors to settle their arrears. This system has worked well elsewhere in the world. Writing off debts prejudices local authorities financially while a moratorium enables a local authority to continue to receive a steady inflow of income.
l Martin Stobart is a development enthusiast and social commentator. He is a commissioner of the Lupane Local Board. The views he expresses here are his own, neither representing nor reflecting those of the board.