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Kariba Sparkles But Economic Malaise Dulls The Shine

by Laiton Kandawire: Patsaka-Nyaminyami Community Radio Environment and Tourism Correspondent
27 Jul 2020 at 20:01hrs | Views
The Municipality of Kariba is on a charm offensive, softening and winning hearts, grinding impressive results and winning accolades. If this lasts, then the happy days will return to the resort town.

The icing on the cake, the defining moment, was the commissioning on Thursday, 23 July 2020, of a refuse compactor which should improve refuse collection in the resort town, thereby improving hygiene. For this acquisition, Kariba Municipality was showered with praise from a wide spectrum of observers and stakeholders. Ministry of Information Permanent Secretary, Ndavaningi Nick Mangwana tweeted that "Kariba Municipality is investing in refuse collection and keeping the resort town clean". Not to be outdone, the MDC Alliance saw this as a partial fulfilment of its electoral promise on the Smart Cities Initiative and tweeted about the commissioning, with hashtags #CreatingSmartCities and #ChangeThatDelivers being highlighted. Local residents' associations have added their voices to the praise choir.

Players in the largely suspended tourism sector are impressed with the acquisition as experts in the industry have said that hygiene will be a non-negotiable expectation (and requirement) of travellers post COVID-19. Kariba is on the right track in that regard.

Earlier in the week, residents who had been threatened with the demolition of their gardens, received the good news that  they had received a reprieve from the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), allowing them to harvest their crops up to 30th September 2020 before being required to abandon their offending farming practices. Initially the Municipality of Kariba, or rather some top officials within it, which included the Mayor, had adopted an unpopular "our hands are tied on this matter" attitude. After representations fronted a community radio, Acting Town Clerk, Saratiere Chitenhe, turned into the residents' darling by writing to the EMA Director-General. In his convincing letter, Chitenhe was in sync with the residents, rightly observing that "the gardens were a source of livelihood for the affected families". EMA was touched and softened it's stance and granted a reprieve. Sections of the affected residents were heard praising Chitenhe, saying "ndokugona basa ka uku" (rising to the occasion and beating the odds). Others, however, observed that the Mayor is an elected voice of the people that should not shirk away from his responsibility of championing Kariba's cause.

Another heartwarming response to stakeholder issues has been the accommodation of residents' associations when they requested a meeting. This should see the improvement of the lukewarm relationship that currently exists between residents and their municipal council. At the meeting, municipal top management explained hazy issues, most of which had been covered in our PNCR stable. These surround the procurement of water pumps to service suburbs with erratic water supplies, resumption of the servicing of Kasese stands and half-hearted refuse collection. The residents' associations went back to the community and gave feedback, shedding the suspicions they had on the topical issues. The Kariba Urban Residents Association (KURA) dispatched Samson Coffee, its Information and Publicity supremo, who went on several social media platforms to explain the progress being made or lack thereof. The fact that Coffee concluded his message with a positive assurance that the "meeting was successful" gave the residents the measure of hope they so much sought and improved their trust for their council.

What could prove to be the dampener in the warming relations is the state of the economy and the suggestion at the 2020 Budget Review and 2021 Budget Formulation meetings to adopt dual pricing. City fathers claim that their 2020 budget has been seriously eroded by hyper-inflation, hampering their service delivery and leaving a supplementary budget, coupled with dual pricing in US$ and RTGS$ as their only viable option for survival. Residents, on the other hand, view this as devious dollarisation, veiled as dual pricing.

Whilst outgoing Kariba Incorporated Area Residents and Ratepayers Association (KIARRA) Executive Chairman, Samu Mawawo, is supportive of dual pricing, he has received flak for even trying to explain its rationale to residents. He is being accused of being a paid assassin, out to pressure residents into further misery. According to residents, the proposed adoption of the 2015 budget for current usage is unimaginative "copy and paste" as the rate of currency exchange then was a stable 1:1. A Mr Takawira from Nyamhunga told Mawawo that "maUS$ tinomabhadhara kana taakuhorawo maUS$." It was reasoned that in 2015 residents earned US$ or Z$ Bond notes which enjoyed parity with the US$. There has been a stupendous drop in the value of earnings for stakeholders whilst the cost of living has relentlessly marched on, driving inflation. Nelson Mucherwa observed, forlornly, that residents are between a rock and a hard place. "Pakaipa hama, kutsva musana nedumbu", he opined, suggesting that  ratepayers have nowhere to run. Mr Madyira of Ward 4 cryptically suggested that "this is like expecting a cow to lay an egg."

Another section of the residents is ready to consider the 2015 budget if the US$ charges are lowered, claiming the circumstances have changed, including the exchange rate.

Kariba relies heavily on tourism which has been closed since March 2020. Houseboats, lodges, hotels and other operations in the tourism value chain are redundant, with heavy job losses. The majority of ratepayers are, therefore, going to default, worsening revenue collection for the council. This will further entrench residents' indebtedness and worsen poverty.

Stakeholders were expecting relief from their city fathers as Local Government and Public Works Minister, July Moyo, was recently quoted by the public media as having said "government has taken a policy position to assist local authorities to upgrade sewer and water infrastructure as it is dilapidated after outliving its lifespan." Whilst it is the mandate of local authorities to do this, government "has observed that most of them are struggling to do so", claimed the minister.

Will both sides compromise to attain mutual ground? Will the warming relations be enhanced by further meaningful engagement?

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Source - Laiton Kandawire: Patsaka-Nyaminyami Community Radio Environment and Tourism Correspondent