MUTARE – The Mutare City Council is alleged to have spent about US$40 000 on allowances and other miscellaneous at a three-day workshop held in Masvingo this week, at a time service delivery in the city is at its worst.
The local authority ‘s extravagance irked ratepayers and reached a boiling point this week when councilors, management, workers’ union representatives and support staff went to Masvingo for a Strategic Workshop, held at Chevron Hotel, which reliable sources said guzzled about US$40 000 as per official rate of ratepayers’ money.
Mutare City Council is currently reeling under massive pressure and misgivings from financially strained residents after it dropped a bombshell on ratepayers with outrageous bills hiked by about 500 percent last month.
Through various residents groups, the ratepayers have heavily resisted paying the shock rates, claiming that they are ‘unaffordable’ and ‘callous.’
Our investigations and highly impeccable sources this week revealed that those who attended the workshop received a windfall on allowances, among other benefits.
The sources said the city councilors were the biggest beneficiaries after pocketing about ZW$100 500.00 each in allowances. A total of twelve councilors attended the workshop.
Directors and managers numbering 12, received about ZW$70 000.00 each.
Workers Union representatives and supporting staff were awarded about ZW$50 000.00 each.
Contacted for a comment, acting Mutare Town Clerk Anthony Mutara, defended council’s lavishness that has been described as ‘An epitome of recklessness and greediness.’
“The workshop had ministerial approval from the parent ministry (Ministry of Local Government), as it is a requirement from any local authority, government ministry, parastatals to formulate a strategic plan document in line with the NDS1 (National Development Strategy 1),” said Mutara.
There were questions over the choice of the venue, where council has facilities ideal to host such workshops like the Council Chambers, Committee Room and Queens Hall.
Mutare has four hotels that had the capacity to host a conference of that magnitude.
There are also three hotels just outside Mutare that had the competence to host the workshop.
Hoteliers in Mutare expressed grave concern over Mutare City Council’s decision and described it as ‘selfish, arrogant and mischievous.’
“We give business to their hiked rates every month. We are paying a lot of money to council, but we are disturbed that they are now giving business to other hotels, in this case Masvingo that has got nothing to provide for the people of Mutare,” said a hotel manager in the city.
In his response Mutara said: “There is nothing amiss about convening a workshop in Masvingo that is approved by government, which is aimed at formulating and dovetailing a strategic plan document drawing from national blue print (NDS1).”
Commenting about the figures that were spent at the Masvingo debacle, the Acting Town Clerk did not divulge how much the council spend on the meeting.
“Obviously for any plan to be executed there are costs associated with the same, but, the figure which has been expensed is highly fictitious, highly exaggerated, baseless and totally unfounded,” said Mutara.
Mutare City Council is also heavily criticized for defying the COVID-19 restrictions, as there were more than 50 attendants.
“The government has put a ceiling of 50 people for such gathering and City of Mutare being a major player in enforcing the Covid-19 statutory instrument cannot be seen to violate the same. The number is below 50 and is actually 49 including our stakeholders,” he explained.
Investigations revealed that a total number of 56 delegates attended the workshop.
Twelve MDC Alliance councilors recently defected to MDC-T led by Douglas Mwonzora and it largely viewed that the main reason was to continue enjoying the fat allowances that come their way through such workshops that have been described as ‘talk shops.’
Residents groups have been angered by Mutare City Council’s ‘misuse’ of ratepayers’ money on redundant workshops, in exclusive hotels outside Mutare, instead of using council facilities in the city.
Conscious for Development Trust (CODET) Director Vimbai Berete said: “We condemn with contempt the extravagant expenditure of ratepayers’ money by the Mutare City Council authorities who are enjoying resources at the full expense of service delivery.”
“Their unlimited profligacy and greed is the major reason why the rates have been hiked and the city is in such a deplorable state,” explained Berete.
The chairperson of Mutare Residents and Ratepayers Trust (MRRT) David Mutambirwa described the council’s squandering as an insult to the ratepayers.
“We are very disappointed by the decision by the Mutare City Council to take a delegation of 56 people to Masvingo 297 kilometers away. The delegation is too large and expensive for a city, which is financially incapacitated,” said Mutambirwa.
“The decision is not only unfortunate but an insult to the residents and ratepayers of Mutare who are struggling to pay rates after the aftermaths of economic crisis bedeviling the country acerbated by Covid-19 lockdown. It was prudent for council to hold the meeting in Mutare and ultimately and significantly reduce the expenditure of the meeting,” he said.
“The city council has failed to show empathy on the struggling residents for their own selfish gains,” Mutambirwa said.
Concerned residents have said, council is arguing that it will fail to provide adequate service delivery if ratepayers do not pay their bills, but ir doonically, it is splurging millions of dollars on sham workshops.