Having previously seen how to achieve smart growth, this instalment focuses on how the city can do more with less.
Harare City Council is certainly not awash with financial resources and, in fact, has to constantly deal with financial pressures. So the first step in doing more with less is to secure all revenue due. In that regard a high performing billing department that strives to implement best practices in all its functions is an absolute necessity. Incentives, sponsorship arrangements such as naming rights and the leasing of city-owned assets such as stadia for the private use of clubs such as Dynamos and CAPS United are some of the possible ways of increasing council revenue. But how do city fathers make the most of the available resources?
1. Assess and Manage Expenses Rigorously
Cost-efficient operations are a hallmark of high-performing cities. Besides ensuring good use of ratepayers’ contributions, cost efficiency is key to prudent budgets: by staying lean in good times, Harare can put funds aside to cover operating costs when revenues fall short. This helps to avoid cuts to core services when the cycle turns and people need services most. There are numerous ways to improve Harare’s cost efficiency. A few possibilities are outsourcing to lower-cost centres, cost-efficient IT investments, organisational changes that eliminate overlapping roles, and a review of processes to eliminate waste.
2. Explore Partnerships
Many cities are still reluctant to engage in private-public partnerships (PPPs), wary of giving away to the private sector control of what they see as core functions. They think of potential job losses as a loss of control of the quality of service delivered. However, if designed and executed well, private-sector expertise harnessed within the framework of a PPP has the potential to deliver lower-cost, higher-quality infrastructure and services which are essential elements of smart growth. Private sector investment in commercial-minded projects allows the city to focus more on investment in non-commercial projects which deliver public goods or social benefits. The key to successful PPPs is the ability to define concrete, measurable goals for which private enterprise can be duly rewarded.
3. Introduce Investment
It is notoriously difficult for any organisation to manage large capital investments well, and the City of Harare is no exception. Often the result is gold-plated systems that are unnecessarily expensive. Investment accountability helps prevent such problems and so enables city authorities to do more with less.
A large component of investment accountability is knowledge of how best to prioritise spending. The first step is developing a portfolio of infrastructure projects and evaluating them to ensure they meet specific goals. There must be an analytical approach to measuring the return on investment (ROI), using quantitative metrics to reflect both the traditional ROI elements of a public capital project and the city’s economic, environmental and social goals. The analysis often reveals potential to meet some needs better by improving existing capacity rather than investing in costly new projects.
Active management is another component of investment accountability. Savings can be achieved by streamlining delivery of major projects where much of the opportunity lies in speeding up approval processes, investing heavily in the early stages of project planning and design, and structuring contracts to encourage time and cost savings. Governance systems are a third component which often need to be upgraded in order to enable the city to plan and manage infrastructure projects optimally, as many cities lack the necessary specialised skills in project development, accounting and management.
4. Embrace Technology
Technological advances potentially give Harare City leaders the tools to collect vast quantities of data, which – if the right systems, structures, and people are put in place – can be analysed and applied to help reduce capital and operating expenditures, increase revenues, and improve services. Big data and smart technologies can also help engage citizens and business in the process of improving the city and its services.
Photo: David Brazier