Gaborone Mayor hits the ground running

New Mayor Thata Father Maphongo has hit the ground running with his ambitious vision to transform Gaborone into a “real” diamond city that is safe, clean and green with a great ambience for residents and visitors. Under his stewardship, the key words that he will apply for the council are a ‘leading service delivery, efficiency, accountability, good governance, team work and private partnership’.

In an exclusive interview with Botswana Guardian Maphongo said his quest is to lead and drive Gaborone city towards attaining its status as a diamond city. “We have no intention to change from that pronouncement,” he said, adding there are a number of things they have identified that will eventually take them to that destination. Among the first things which is already noticeable is cleaning the city. “We want a clean city that is very important to us,” since Gaborone is the capital city and the first point of contact for visitors. Hence it is important to ensure that Gaborone resembles the city that “we want it to be, it has to be a role model in the country it has to please the eye and be the city that everyone wants to visit”.

The Council has started clearing bushes around Gaborone and cutting grass. They will also mobilise the community towards cleaning the city. “We will come out with a deliberate programme where we will be asking every resident of Gaborone to join us in cleaning the city. We will agree on a day or few hours on a monthly basis which will be solely dedicated for cleaning the city,” said the Mayor.  He said the bush clearing for visibility on the main roads leading into the city is expected to be completed by the end of February and will be followed by other roads.

Maphongo will look for funds to install receptacle bins around town especially at bus stops in order for travellers to deposit litter so that when “We embark on cleaning campaigns there will be facilities where litter can be deposited”.

Council wants to look at erecting pay toilets in strategic areas and outsource these to disadvantaged groups like the youth to run and manage and generate income for themselves.

Council has also targetted open spaces, parks, Segoditshane River for creating greenery. The plans are to clean the river and make it habitable, by clearing the bushes, creating greenery and walk paths along the river banks so that the community of Gaborone could  have a place to go and  relax as well as have places where they can actually take their kids during weekends and enjoy the environment.

Street lights
Maphongo says Council is aware that Gaborone is dark. “We are working tirelessly to ensure the streets lights are operating. “We are going to be installing tower lights in some areas to ensure that there is adequate lighting around the city in order to create a safe city. “Similarly around  Segoditshane we will create greenery in that area, we will be inviting the private sector  either to take up space  along the river and we would have set minimum standard of the development that we want along the river bank, this is purely to make Gaborone habitable and attractive  to our visitors and residents”. These strategic and deliberate projects will help Gaborone to attract investors at the end of the day.

“We are looking at creating more or less a semi autonomous council where financially we are more or less self-sufficient and sustaining”. But who will finance the projects since government is always complaining of having no money? “My view is that we should not wait for the government to have money because there is no way that the government is going to have money in any forseeable  future.  “You will appreciate that the diamond sales have gone down and there is no main source of income. So if we are going to wait for government to have money, we are going to wait for a very long time”.

In that case Maphongo envisages an innovative Council that will come up with various ways of raising revenue. These include asking government to avail them part of the plastic levy and the fuel levies since Council is the responsible organ for ensuring that the city is clean. “It is those plastics that are being thrown around that we will be picking, therefore it is only reasonable that the plastic levy be channelled to the council”. Council also wants to benefit from the fuel levy to mitigate the costs they incur in repairing roads that are being ruined by vehicles. “One can only hope that the government will be amenable to these suggestions”.

They will also explore newspapers. “We buy them everyday and throw them away after reading and somebody has to pick those newspapers. I know the newspapers are biodegradable, but they are bio degradable after sometimes but before they get mixed with the soil somebody has to pick that litter. “My thinking is to ask for, say, 25 thebe from the newspapers to be channelled to the Council. What we will raise from those channels that I have mentioned may not necessarily be enough looking at our ambition”.

Maphongo wonders why councils should not be allowed to raise bonds to finance projects. Why the council should not be allowed to engage the private sector and partner with them on PPP models such as Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT).

Council needs to start looking at creating efficiencies for purposes of quickening the delivery of services and projects to the community. Maphongo has been talking to his executive team to ensure that council is customer-centric.
“We need to make it easy for the customer to be able to approach us and make transactions with the council easy,” he said. They will also be using technology as the driver of business at council.

In response to complaints by the community on lack of delivery of services, slowness in terms of delivery projects, Council will divide the city into segments and come up with teams responsible for different sectors of the town. “Those teams will be accountable for what happens in those areas in terms of all the service provision, the cleaning, lighting, storm water drainage and roads maintenance”.

There will be a leader responsible for each section that will be performance monitored on regular basis, to ensure that what is expected to happen on the ground, actually happens.  “I have asked the management team to make a tour on a three months basis around the city to check on those teams whether they have delivered to expectations.  “We are going to be holding the people accountable to the areas that they have been assigned to, issues of accountability to me are important”.

With respect to partnering with the private sector, Council will be sensitive to issues of governance to guarantee that the funds and the processes are protected in the partnership.