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Devolution Funds in Bulawayo: Water or Roads?

BCC caught in-between channeling devolution funds to road networks or water augmentation projects. Graphic by The Citizen Bulletin

BY LIZWE SEBATHA | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | JAN 28, 2021

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and major water challenges, devolution funds were meant to address deteriorating roads in the city—a raging water crisis amid a global health pandemic may require a shift in priorities.

BULAWAYO (The Citizen Bulletin) — The city’s road network is becoming a death trap, as most sections are strewn with potholes and deteriorating with every passing day.

Incessant rains are not helping matters as they are leaving gaping holes on most of the city’s roads.

The heavy rains recently experienced are a relief for most residents who believe this could solve the city's water crisis. However, the rains have made a dire situation of terrible roads even worse.

The Citizen Bulletin has established that a discord is brewing among city fathers on whether to channel devolution funds to road works or urgently use them for water augmentation projects in the face of COVID-19.

“We did road rehabilitations, but perhaps we should have channelled the funds for water augmentation projects.”
Mlandu Ncube, Bulawayo deputy mayor

“However, the grant (devolution fund) that we are talking about was availed well before the water crisis became worse. At the time the one thing that was out of line was roads and we went for road maintenance but we hope in future we will use this devolution fund for water augmentation.”

In 2019, the central government set aside ZWL$2.9billion for local authorities under the Intergovernmental Fiscal Transfers (devolution funding) with Bulawayo receiving half of the ZWL$41 million of its allocation, leaving a balance of ZWL$20.7million.

Government allocates devolution funds to provinces based on several factors such as poverty levels, quality of infrastructure and size of the population.

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The latest council report from the health, housing and education committee shows that Bulawayo City Council (BCC) has earmarked ZWL$20.7 million of its devolution allocation to the rehabilitation of roads, much to the chagrin of some councillors.

“It was planned that the reconstruction works suspended last year would be funded by Intergovernmental Fiscal Transfers (devolution funds) this calendar year.”

“Twenty million, seven hundred thousand dollars (ZWL$20,700,000) was expected to be disbursed under this funding for completing reconstruction works that were carried out to gravel standard,” the council report reads in part.

Some roads targeted for rehabilitation include Maduna between Intemba Road and Ngwenya shops, Murchison between Scone and Adair, Luveve Roads, and Nkulumane roads.

State of roads in Pumula North Bulawayo. Image by Lizwe Sebatha | The Citizen Bulletin

A 2018 BCC Road Construction survey shows that nearly 80 percent of the city’s road network requires heavy rehabilitation and reconstruction.

In 2019, some residents resorted to ‘planting flowers and filling potholes with grass on potholes in tarmac roads to protest the poor state of roads. The protest ran under the banner of Operation Gxumeka.

“Doing this (Gxumeka) also jolts the authorities concerned to act… if we don’t, they relax to execute their mandate.”
Khumbulani Maphosa, a Bulawayo activist who championed Operation Gxumeka

While Bulawayo’s road network continues to deteriorate due to lack of timely maintenance owing to resource constraints, some city fathers argue this is not an emergency in the wake of water shortages and in the middle of the raging pandemic.

Councillor Arnold Batirai supports the use of devolution funds on water augmentation projects.

“Currently, the city needs more water augmentation sources to improve water availability. Sewer and water reticulation needs rehabilitation,” Batirai says.

In 2020, 13 residents succumbed to diarrhoea, which infected thousands more, a result of water shortages in the city.

Drought occurrences in the past have resulted in BCC implementing water shedding to its residents. Graphic by BCC

Ageing water and sewer reticulation infrastructure is piling more woes as seen in constant pipe bursts, resulting in contamination of water while sickening residents.

A week-long water shedding regime remains in place.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) emphasizes the constant washing of hands as some of the COVID-19 preventive measures.

Bulawayo’s deputy mayor says council is caught in-between the need to urgently attend to the poor roads or augmentation projects.

“Yes, we did have some dissenting voices from some councillors. For instance, I personally was against it, but then the majority rules. Roads in western areas are in deplorable condition,” Ncube says.

However, Bulawayo residents feel they should be consulted on the utilisation of devolution funds.

“They (residents) should be consulted, as they have a better understanding of what should be prioritised. Right now one of the top priorities for Bulawayo residents is access to clean and potable water,” Kelebone Khabo, the Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA) spokesperson says.

“At the moment it is difficult for people to social distance/ stay at home during the lockdown as they have to queue up for water at communal boreholes where social distancing barely exists.”

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