Harare City Council launched a decentralization program yesterday in an effort to improve sustainable service delivery, according to Ivan Zhakata writing for the Herald. The initiative aims to give more autonomy and responsibility to district officers to ensure residents pay for services rendered in their neighbourhoods.
Town clerk Engineer Hosea Chisango explained at the launch that decentralization is meant to be self-driven by district officers who are motivated to meet council goals and uphold values like commitment, integrity and transparency. This is especially important now as decentralization is implemented to enhance service delivery which has been lacking.
Chisango urged district officers to be customer-responsive, dedicated, and self-driven in ensuring residents pay for local services. Complaints must also be addressed quickly at the local level. He noted that revenue collection is at an all-time low because collective efforts to collect fees have been inadequate.
The town clerk also acknowledged that silo mentalities have hindered operations, with revenue officers and technical teams unwilling to collaborate with district officers. But this compartmentalization threatens the viability of the city and will no longer be tolerated. Measures are being introduced to address the fragmentation.
Cooperation between district and revenue officers is essential to optimize revenue gathering in districts. Internal conflicts cannot be afforded and all employees must work towards sustainable development and service delivery for the city, Chisango emphasized.
The decentralization strategy arrives at a challenging time for Harare City Council. Like many local governments across Zimbabwe, it has struggled to offer consistent public services and meet infrastructure needs in the face of economic turmoil, political tensions, and alleged corruption.
Zimbabwe has experienced periods of extreme hyperinflation over the past couple of decades. This has made it difficult for councils to budget and plan long-term when the value of the national currency fluctuates wildly from week to week. Even when funds are available, rising costs of goods and materials outpace budgets.
The national economic crisis has reduced councils' tax bases and revenue streams. Zimbabwe has high unemployment rates and much economic activity happens in the informal sector, difficult for councils to tax. Nonpayment of service fees by residents is also common during tough financial times.
With major challenges like these, Harare City Council has struggled to pick up waste, maintain roads, provide clean water, and offer other basic municipal services residents expect. Many residents refuse or are unable to pay fees in protest of poor services. This has led to a vicious cycle which is difficult to escape with each passing year.
Decentralization provides one possible solution to improve service delivery in Harare and councils facing similar difficulties. By empowering district officers and making administration more local, response times can improve and officers can be more accountable to fix specific neighborhood problems. Streamlining operations into districts may also reduce corruption with fewer layers of bureaucracy.
District officers who know their communities well can better set budgets and priorities. And residents may be more willing to pay fees if they go directly towards visible improvements in their neighbourhoods rather than a distant central government. Efforts to boost revenue collection also give councils more resources to work with.
Of course, decentralization alone will not solve all of the struggling councils' woes. The nationwide economic and political situations must improve to provide a more supportive environment. Anti-corruption and transparency initiatives are still essential. Audits and oversight help keep local officers and councils accountable.
However, decentralization represents an important step forward. Localizing operations arms district officers with more responsibility over service delivery in their jurisdictions. If implemented properly with ongoing reforms, decentralization can refocus councils' priorities to better serve Zimbabwean communities amidst national challenges.