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Mayors face hard task ahead of them

Judith Konayuma
It is not late to congratulate the elected mayors and their counterparts in the rural areas, the executive council chairpersons. Congratulations ladies and gentlemen for scooping the first mayoral elections.
The mayors are now in the driving seat and they face a hard task ahead of them. This is so because a number of councils in Zambia are no longer in a sound financial position. Their coffers are depleted.
For a long time now local authorities depended on funding from central government. The money spinning services which kept the councils financially afloat were taken away. For example, the motor licensing services and water and sewerage services.
It can be said that most councils in the country are struggling as can be seen from their failure to pay retirees or meet other financial obligations.
At the most, they have tried to maintain lean staff structures in an effort to cut down on spending.  It is agreed that the councils of yesteryear are not the same as those of today.
One does not need to be close to them to know that they face a number of challenges. The appearance of most cities and towns in Zambia is enough evidence.
Councils have been dogged by a number of issues concerning land. Land, as we know it today, has become a precious commodity. Everyone wants to own a piece of land because of its ever appreciating value. It is even better when that piece of land is in a bigger town.
Incidences of councillors and some mayors being involved in illegal land allocations have made headlines on newspaper pages. Councillors have found themselves embroiled in squabbles over illegal land allocations.
Transparency is cardinal in land allocation when a local authority opens up an area for residential use. Local authorities should also be bold enough to keep politics out of land allocation to ensure fair distribution of land to residents.
To some extent, some local authorities have found themselves  in a fix where cadres have taken possession of land and conferred upon themselves the powers to allocate it.
Land is an important asset to any local authority. It determines the grown of a locality and promotes future developments. It is therefore important to put in measures that ensure sustainable land use to benefit the current and future generations.
For example, there are some towns where land is said to run out. They face difficulties in finding land for cemetery use or for general expansion of the town. The growing populations demand that land usage is hinged on a sustainable basis.
There is a lot of litter around which lies uncollected. Some of this litter would remain uncollected in one place for a long time.  Public buildings as well as private ones and shops can be a sorry sight. For example, the appearance of most shops is pathetic. They are allowed to continue trading despite their dilapidated condition.
Kamwala shopping area in Lusaka is better avoided in the rainy season. Lusaka residents have seen some of the rain water flooding the shops while the owners look on helplessly.
The drainage is poor. Water collects up to ankle level on good rainy days in both town area and on some roads.
The occupation of vendors in the shop corridors has further contributed to the unsanitary conditions in the shopping areas in both Kamwala and town centre in Lusaka.
It is safe to say that most cities in Zambia no longer have playparks for children within residential areas. Some of the land which was used for this purpose was demarcated and taken up to build houses. Where play parks exist, they are in private hands and are far out of reach for many residents.
Street lights have been installed on most roads in Lusaka and maybe other towns. This is where the councils should pick it up from. The street lights are installations that are bound to be damaged or vandalised by some careless people.
It is the duty of a local authority to come up with means of replacing the lights before a city is plunged into darkness again. The presence of the street lights gives the city a beautiful sight in the night.
To overcome some of these challenges, mayors, through their councillors need to forge formidable linkages with residents. It is not an exaggeration that despite voting, most residents do not know their councillors.
Some councillors are not within reach of residents. Yet they stand between residents and mayors. Residents are waiting to see the new mayors at work. They are ready to be part of the development process but they need the new drivers in the seat, the mayors, to direct them.

The author is Sunday Mail editor