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Councils should grow up

WE COMMEND the central government for finally intervening in the plight of the unionised employees of Kabwe Municipal Council by releasing money to clear their salary arrears.

It is good news indeed to the council’s workers that it has received K13.5 million to pay them what is legally due to them.

Mayor Prince Chileshe informed President Edgar Lungu last weekend that his council had received the money and would pay the employees what it had been owing them.

It is unfortunate that most local governments across the country have become synonymous with failure to pay workers.

It is not a secret that employees of many councils in all the 10 provinces have been working for months on end without receiving their salaries.

Most of these people are adults with families, including school- going children.

The dependence on the central government for grants to meet recurrent expenditure obligations such as the cost of labour has been the bane of the decentralisation programme.

These local authorities are expected to be innovative and industrious.

They are expected to generate their own revenue through various ventures, including investments in business such as the running of transport services, hotels, lodges and tourist attractions within their jurisdictions.

Unfortunately, few of them are engaged in meaningful income generation ventures such as agriculture, hospitality and public transport.

Part of the reason is the employees who are more interested in pilfering than doing their work.

Instead of helping the councils to generate enough money to pay their salaries and other emoluments besides other obligations the employees will pocket the little they collect in the course of their duty.

When the local authorities fail to pay them the same thieving employees begin protesting, even staging work stoppages.

Some resort to using politicians to pile pressure on the central government to intervene.

We therefore call for a serious change of mindset among council workers countrywide.

They are expected to generate their own salaries instead of always crying to the Ministry of Local Government and Ministry of Finance to release money for their emoluments.

We commend the few councils that are doing quite well and are self-sustaining without depending on the grants from the treasury.

Some of them are running successful farms, lodges, shops and housing schemes, for which they should be commended.

But the bulk of councils have become parasites milking their host, the central government, even for money for fuel.

This is defeating the purpose of the decentralisation policy and programme the government has been implementing since 2012.

We are encouraged by the assurance by Mr Chileshe, the mayor of Kabwe, that never again will the local authority subject its employees to misery by failing to pay them salaries and allowances.

The central government has played the role of parent by bailing out the council so that it could pay the six months’ salary arrears it owed its employees.

Mr Chileshe said the money would motivate the workers to provide public services.

We also urge the workers to go beyond the call of duty and help stabilise their council financially.

One of the ways in which the local authority could generate its own income is going into joint ventures as an equity partner with the private sector.

The council can even convert its land and fixed assets into equity.

There is plenty of manganese in Central Province as well as indigenous species of timber which fetch good money locally and abroad.

In his interaction with President Lungu Mr Chileshe assured him that the council would work hard to launder its tattered image.

But we believe the local authorities should focus on making money and becoming self-sustaining as the best public relations strategy.

When will councils stop depending on the central government?

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