Failure of Local Authorities

Harare Mayor Herbert Gomba
Harare Mayor Herbert Gomba

Local authorities, explicitly councils exist in order to accomplish specific objectives. The achievement of their objectives and their efforts to increase stakeholders’ value should be the goal of every organisation, regardless of the sector in which they operate.

By Witness Dlamini

Thus, those within the three spheres of Zimbabwean government – national, provincial and local – ought to likewise be putting forth a concentrated effort to accomplishing this objective. In the context Zimbabwean local government, the key objectives are to render efficient and effective delivery of basic services to the public.

Local government’s political and administrative leadership is therefore required to ensure that public funds are appropriately utilised to achieve service delivery objectives and targets. However, the claimed achievement of service delivery objectives by the council’s leadership is being questioned, as evidenced by the increasingly frequent and violent demands expressed by the public

The local authorities subsequently appear to battle to accomplish service delivery objectives. In this article I will draw out the main drivers of failure in councils to deliver the required services. I will dwell more on the Rural District councils, where I have had the opportunity to work in and be able to understand how these organisations operate and where exactly they get it wrong.

Lack of effective performance management systems plays the utmost role in the failure of local authorities. I concur with Deloitte (2012:3) who found that the failure to achieve objectives by the local government can be attributed to ineffective or absent performance management and monitoring processes. The local authorities of Zimbabwe are generally in a crisis of lack of diligent, prudent, innovative and most important honest. Zimbabwean councils are sinking in corruption, this being catalysed by the poor management structures.

The local authorities are run by the democratically elected councillors who are headed by the Council chair. In essence the council chair is the boss of the council. But is this so on the4 ground?  Do the council chairpersons smart enough to run the councils? Isn’t it they are just elected from the elections? This is a cause for concern. The council chair, elected by the people, regardless of educational qualifications to run a District organisation. Does it make sense?

One may argue and say it makes sense because they are elected by the people hence, they stand for the people. I believe management of such organisations as local authorities require technocrats rather than politicians. How can really a standard seven graduate smoothly run an organisation and make sound decisions for the organisation.

To make things even worse, below the council chair person is the chief executive officer. The CEOs are the technocrats rather than the politicians. Leadership gap. The technocrat is reporting to the politician who is not by any means a professional. Really? I have a thought that this management structure is bizarre. I believe that the reason why the Zimbabwean councils have recorded high number of corruptions by the CEOs. This is because they are smart enough to do any malpractices and abuse their powers, knowing that they are reporting to the dysfunctional and unknowledgeable body.

The councillors are also subdivided to various committees that run the councils. These committees include Environment committee, Finance committee and so on. So, each of the committees will be having the chairperson who leads it. The disheartening part is that you may find for example the finance committee, that it is made of about five councillors but if you peruse their CVs  in case they have them, you will find that none of the members of the committee have any financial background , yet that’s the committee that’s supposed to have the final say on the finances of the company.

Inefficient utilisation of available resources has also been identified as one of the challenges facing the public sector. For example, the way positions are created in local authorities does not seem to contribute to the efficient utilisation of the resources needed to enhance the rate of achievement of objectives.

The positions are reportedly created based on “logical sequence”, and not necessarily on the job’s demands or complexity For instance, it is the norm within the local government employment hierarchy that the position below that of a Council chair is the CEO , there comes the treasurer, engineer  and so forth. No assessment is performed to determine the need of each posts being there. This suggests that public funds are being used to maintain a bureaucratic hierarchy, rather than being utilised for funding personnel who are appropriately skilled for the achievement of project-specific service delivery objectives.

One of the reasons identified as a contributing factor to the skills shortages is the fact that senior local government appointments seem to be based on whether the appointees support the political direction of the government or ruling party, and not necessarily on their qualifications, skills and experience There seem to be politically motivated interferences in the recruitment processes of the local government sphere, manifesting as a disregard for the candidate’s technical competence .

Various studies acknowledge that the local authorities have enough guidelines, legislation and regulations in place to operate ethically, efficiently and effectively, if motivated to do so, and that the unethical behaviour is mainly attributed to non-compliance with such laws and regulations.

For example, the councils have acts that clearly spells out the procedure for recruiting employees. However, I believe the issue of employing the locals in local authorities rather than putting emphasis on the qualifications and competence have led to the failure of local authorities.

The emphasis on recruiting locals rather than the real technocrats puts the councils at heightened risk of appointing potentially unethical applicants who may be involved in fraudulent and corrupt activities. The absence of adequate internal controls within the financial management systems of the local government functions certainly contributes to increasing this rate of fraud and corruption.

Witness Dlamini, is a third year student at the National university of science and technology (NUST), currently working at NKAYI RDC, passionate about social justice, environmental management & community development issues

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