WATCH: We are looking at a private sector led economic revival — Byo Mayor

21 Nov, 2021 - 00:11 0 Views
WATCH: We are looking at a private sector led economic revival — Byo Mayor Bulawayo Mayor Councillor Solomon Mguni

The Sunday News

Vusumuzi Dube, Online News Editor
“YES, residents are paying but looking at last year’s figures, only 13 percent of the residents had fully paid their bills by December,” said Bulawayo Mayor, Councillor Solomon Mguni during a wide-ranging interview in a podcast hosted by Sunday News (SN), on the city’s financial status.

Despite being new in local governance, the Bulawayo-based legal practitioner was elected councillor for Ward 23 and landed the top position of the country’s second largest city. The past few years have presented a number of challenges for the mayor and his council.

The Covid-19 pandemic that has affected world economies for the past two years did not spare the city, making it the more difficult for residents to pay rates but Clr Mguni insists that he is up to the task and is prepared to improve things with the little available resources.

In a podcast with Sunday News (SN), Clr Mguni (SM) touches on various issues ranging from the city’s financial well-being, the Covid-19 pandemic, the contentious mayoral mansion and prospects for the coming year.

Below are excerpts of the interview.

SN: Good day Mayor and welcome to the Sunday News podcast, to start off, may you give us an overview of the city’s performance in 2021?

SM: We have done generally well in terms of service delivery, of course there have been challenges here and there in terms of financial aspects. The general macro-economic position is characterised by inflation and the shortage of foreign currency to procure critical raw materials for service delivery but otherwise we are almost there.

SN: On the issue of water Your Worship, residents were expecting that water cuts will be a thing of the past but here we are, barely a week goes by without a notice from the local authority on water cuts, what is going on?

SM: In terms of raw water, we are sitting at around 56 percent, that is the combined figure of all our supply dams but as you may know there are a lot of critical components that go into water production, for instance, of late we have been experiencing power outages and we have had to introduce water shedding so that we can balance our reservoirs. Consumption has also been high of late because of the high temperatures, the heat that we are facing.

Where we are supposed to consume an average of 140 mega litres per day, the consumption has shot to between 160 and 180 mega litres a day, which is quite difficult to contain and manage.

Further the Tuli catchment area, whose reservoir supplies most of Eastern suburbs, is giving us a lot of problems in terms of balancing the rate of consumption. We suspect that individuals are doing a lot of agriculture activities at their homes. In terms of dams that will likely be decommissioned, Umzingwane is always giving us problems because of its centrality as the anchor dam, so from the reports that we are getting, we are looking at around February next year to decommission that dam, that is if we don’t get rains.

However, all things being equal we expect to have received some significant inflows into that catchment area and we won’t have the need to decommission that dam.

SN: You mention the power outages affecting water pumping. What measures are there in place considering that there are alternative power sources like solar?

SM: When we came into office, if you recall, we advertised for those with free funds to take up solar generating projects in and around the city. We were earmarking some of those to be within our water treatment sites.

The expressions of interest showed that we got an overwhelming response. We forwarded those investments to the Zimbabwe Investment Development Agency for approval as per norm in terms of investments for projects of that magnitude, so we are still waiting for confirmation whether those projects meet the test in terms of requirements for such kind of investments.

If we are to have a few of those projects approved we will then be able to generate electricity within Bulawayo for local use and also feed into the national grid.
SN: Turning to the Bulawayo City Council’s financial status, are the residents paying their bills?

SM: We are owed a significant chunk of money, obviously you will then look at the environment that the residents have to contend with, most of them are in the informal sector, yes residents are paying but looking at the figure of last year where by December only 13 percent of the residents had fully paid their bills.

We also still have legacy debts that as a city we have and there are those debts that residents continue to owe but we have recently introduced the credit policy to try and recover some of those debts that are recoverable and write off those debts that are unrecoverable.

This is something we think, going forward will assist us because previously there has been reluctance to implement the credit policy because maybe some felt that it will have political consequences but now we thought that if we are to be serious we must recover what is owed to us so that we continue to provide

SN: This year one of the most topical issues that came out was that of the mayoral mansion, what was council’s thinking behind this?

SM: When we came into office in 2018 there are a lot of things which we found. When you talk of the mayoral mansion it has been in the pipeline since 1991 that is when the stand for the mayoral accommodation was identified.

It was the wisdom of the council which was in place then and our view now is that we operationalise that dream. We cannot be a city council as big as Bulawayo without that institutional home, an official residency for the city’s mayor.

The thinking out there is that people want to build a property for the incumbent mayor, which we believe that interpretation would be a bit narrow as far as we are concerned. It is actually something which is adding onto the balance sheet of council as it remains council property.

It’s an official residency where important ceremonies for the city are held, it will also serve as a guest house for various important people who might be visiting the city. In fact, it is international trend that there is such a residency, it is up to the sitting mayor to choose whether to utilise it or not for residency purposes.

Its main purpose will be mainly for official ceremonies like banquets, hosting dignitaries. We believe this property is something which is important to the city of Bulawayo if it is trying to benchmark with progressive cities across the world and in the region. We therefore, urge our residents to understand the idea behind the concept of a mayoral residency.

SN: Still on that issue Your Worship, why have you chosen to embark on this mansion seeing that we are facing a number of economic challenges as a country and as a city?

SM: We have had challenges even before; challenges will be with us for quite some time but there is always a time when you have a certain leadership then taking up and saying they will implement this. We deal with service delivery issues every day and we have to be up to the challenge to deal with those issues but for us to then say why this time at some stage someone has to take up the challenge and complete what fore bearers had committed to achieve.

SN: On a personal level, it was your first term in council and you were elected mayor, how has been the experience so far?

SM: Well, it’s been challenging and hectic but obviously when you take up the position, one must expect all these challenges because they are a lot of expectations from the people, the residents of the city, and obviously Bulawayo being Bulawayo the people are hard to please hence you must be up to the challenge and see to it that work is done.

There are a lot of things that we also thought we could do well which we still think we can do well except for the economic fundamentals that are not proper for us to implement those things. However, it has been a long road with some exciting challenges with some challenges that are quite hard to solve.

SN: We are now one-and-a-half months from the New Year, what are the immediate challenges for the year 2022 as a council and what is your message to residents in the city?

SM: The challenges ahead, we have been talking about water, which we thought that having received good rains last year and if we receive a good rainfall season this year the challenge will be on the road infrastructure. In terms of water and sewerage we have tried our best to renew our infrastructure, if you recall the last time our pumps were renewed was in the 1970s and during our term, we have managed to renew our infrastructure.

We are now saying let us move to the road infrastructure, we have a roads condition survey that was done back in 2016 that we are trying to follow up on and thanks to the government which then came in with the Emergency Roads Rehabilitation Programme to complement the effort that we were doing with our internal resources.

We believe that this programme is going to then be extended to next year and we will also channel out resources towards that, we will then be able to say that by 2023, when our term ends, we would have done a significant number of roads so that they are passable because roads to us, they are very key in terms of economic renewal that we envisage for this city.

What is important in the year going forward is we want to see the public sector coming on board to play a role in terms of renewal of Bulawayo, we have this year passed a policy, the local empowerment policy to tray and galvanise the local support from our local business. In terms of 2022 going forward we are looking at a private sector led economic revival of Bulawayo that is if the economic fundamentals are in place.

SN: As a parting short, we are getting into the festive season, the season of giving, over the years we have had the Mayor’s Cheer Fund, we are not seeing much excitement. What is going on this year?

SM: That is your duty as media to popularise this Bulawayo Mayor’s Christmas Cheer Fund, we have made appeals in various media platforms, social media and so forth. We have written letters to corporates and have made the call to say let’s help bring cheers on the faces to the underprivileged in society, let’s not forget them. We always have in our register over 14 000 people that we give to annually both individuals and in various charity homes, so we will be distributing what we are going to get.

This time around we will do it earlier. Last year we could not do the distribution because of Covid-19.

We are targeting to raise over $1 million in cash and kind.

SN: Thank you Your Worship for your time.

SM: Thank you for having me.

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