Chombo heading for a showdown with Bulawayo City Council

Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo, whose interference into the operations of the Harare City Council has almost crippled the capital, seems to be heading for a showdown with the Bulawayo City Council.

The minister, who was in Bulawayo last week ostensibly to commission Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) minibuses and to introduce the governor and resident minister of Bulawayo Cain Mathema, told residents that the man in charge of the city was the governor and resident minister Cain Mathema and not the mayor, Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube.

He also told the residents that the government was freezing rates and levy increases that were to be effected from July 1 until next year. The mayor did not attend this meeting. Local media reports said this was an indication that he did not care about the welfare of the residents.

Ndabeni-Ncube, who was elected executive mayor in 2001 on a Movement for Democratic Change ticket after beating ZANU-PF candidate George Mlilo by 60 988 against 12 783 votes, said he was not disturbed by the minister's sentiments that Mathema was in charge of Bulawayo because that was inconsequential.

"I didn't even think about it," he said.

He, however, said the council was going ahead with the rate increases because it had not received any directive from the government to freeze them.

"As far as I am concerned, this is just a rumour. Those rate increases were gazetted by the government. We stand by that law. The minister has not told us anything to the contrary," Ndabeni-Ncube said.

The council's $180 billion budget was approved by the government in April after a four-month delay. City treasurer Middleton Nyoni said the delay had cost the council $3.6 billion in lost revenue. The government also owed the council $4 billion in unpaid rates at the end of March.

Asked whether the council's refusal to freeze the rate increases would not be construed as defying the minister, the mayor said: "I am operating within the provisions of the Urban Councils Act. I work for the government, but there is a framework in which we operate. The minister is an overseer. He is my minister and if he issues a directive I will comply, but I don't act on hearsay."

Town Clerk Moffat Ndlovu also said the council was not going to take any action because the minister had not officially communicated with the council.

"We read about the so-called freeze in the paper. We cannot act on press reports," he said.

Ndabeni-Ncube denied reports that he had boycotted the residents' meeting at which Chombo announced the freeze. He said he had not even been invited to the meeting as it was a ZANU-PF meeting. All 29 councillors in Bulawayo belong to the MDC.

"I did not attend because this was a ZANU-PF meeting. On Thursday, we had a small meeting to commission Zupco buses. I attended that meeting because it was an official local government meeting," he said.

"On Friday, the minister attended a meeting with residents organised by Bura ( Bulawayo United Residents Association). I did not attend this meeting because it was a ZANU-PF gathering," he said.

Ironically, Harare provincial governor Witness Mangwende, who accompanied Chombo, told the residents that he was in the city to learn: "from the best practices in management that have been synonymous with the city of Bulawayo".

Observers also questioned why Chombo was in the city because the Zupco buses had already been commissioned in Harare while Mathema was appointed governor in February.

"He probably just wants a travel and subsistence allowance," quipped an observer at a function which Mathema was supposed to officially open but had to cancel because he was taking Chombo around.

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