Recall of Elected Councillors Exposes Shortcomings in Selection of Councillors

The Harare Residents’ Trust (HRT) has noted the recall of 11 elected councillors by the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) party in the Capital City. The latest recall of the councillors highlights the greater need for a more inclusive law making to enhance citizen participation in playing their oversight role in local authorities. This press statement highlights these and other issues concerning the recall of councillors in respect of promoting good democratic local governance in Zimbabwe.

On 30 July 2018, the majority of the 1,958 local authorities ward councillors were elected along partisan tickets. The Constitution has no provision that empowers the citizens as ratepayers to recall any elected councillors on allegations of incompetence, abuse of office, incompetence and corruption. This responsibility is left to the political parties’ leadership to write to the respective accounting officers indicating that this or that Councillor has been expelled or no longer represents their political party interests in the local authority. They do this without consulting the electorate who voted for the candidates, which limits the practice of good democratic and accountable governance. It is argued that the recalls expose the inadequacies of existing laws to safeguard the interests of ratepayers and counter the overbearing influence of political parties in the choice and oversight over Councillors.

The HRT recognises the importance of elected Councillors. Their recall from council further disrupts the flow of policymaking and governance, especially now at a time the City of Harare has been conducting virtual budget consultative meetings ahead of the unveiling of the 2021 City Budget. It is critical that the Mayor of Harare and his fellow Councillors who remain should focus their energies on attending to the immediate needs of ratepayers and unite council management in order to deliver social services in a more efficient and effective manner. Service delivery continues to suffer as a direct result of the partisan bickering among the councillors from the same political party. This limits the ability of the City of Harare to make progressive policies that responds to the challenges facing residents and ratepayers.

The Movement for Democratic Change- Tsvangirai (MDC-T) on Monday 14 September 2020 recalled 11 Harare City Councillors. These are Lovemore Makuwerere (Ward 24, Highfield), Gilbert Hadebe (Ward 39, Dzivarasekwa), Munyaradzi Kufahakutizwi (Ward 19, Mabvuku), Simon Mapanzure (Ward 34, Mufakose), Charles Chidhagu (Ward 30, Glen View), Keith Charumbira (Ward 8, Highlands) and Steven Dhliwayo (Ward 40, Dzivarasekwa Extension). Others are Barnabas Ndira (Ward 21, Mabvuku), Chihoma Runyowa (Ward 29, Glen Norah A), Charles Joshua Nyatsuro (Ward 6, Avenues), and Deputy Mayor Enock Mupamawonde (Ward 35, Mufakose). In a letter dated 11 September 2020 addressed to the Town Clerk of Harare, July Moyo, the Minister of Local Government and Public Works said: “In terms of Section 278 (1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, as read with Section 129 (1)(k), wards 6, 8, 19, 21, 24, 29, 30, 34, 35, 39, 40 are now vacant.”

This brings to 21 the number of recalled councillors in Harare. The MDC-T recalled four Councillors in July 2020 namely Girisoti Mandere (Ward 45, Tynwald South and Kuwadzana Phase 3), Denford Ngadziore (Ward 16, Mabelreign), Jason Zivai Kautsa (Ward 37, Crowborough) and Tonderai Chakaredza (Ward 31, Glen View). Six other Councillors were recalled in a letter dated 19 August 2020 from the Minister of Local Government and Public Works to the Town Clerk of the City of Harare. These are Hebert Gomba (Ward 27, Glen Norah B), Hammy Madzingira (Ward 10, Sunningdale), Kudzai Kadzombe (Ward 41, Marlborough), Gaudencia Marere (Ward 32, Glen View), Costa Mande (Ward 24, Highfield), and Happymore Gotora (Ward 7, Avondale). In addition, one councillor Fungai Nyapokoto died on 7 August 2020 after a short illness (MHSRIP). Therefore, the total number of vacancies in the City of Harare is 22 wards.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is set to announce dates for the by-elections to fill the vacancies. The MDC-T is the holding party that deployed its electoral representatives through the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance, a coalition of seven opposition political parties. These developments in the City of Harare revives the advocacy and lobby for the full implementation of devolution according to the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (Number 20) Act of 2013. Devolution promises wider decision-making powers for local authorities in partnership with citizens, thus limiting the role of central government in the governance and administration of local authorities.

In terms of Section 129 (1) (k) and Section 278 (1) an elected Councillor or Member of Parliament is only recalled at the instigation of their political party, and never by ratepayers. As it stands, the ratepayers have no constitutional powers to recall an underperforming or corrupt councillor. The laws of the country have not accommodated the full expression of citizens when it comes to oversight over elected officials. The political parties reign supreme over elected officials. Therefore, as long as the elected official is in good books with their respective political party, even when underperforming, the ratepayers have no power to recall their elected councillors.

Even if their elected official disgruntles the residents, they can only hope and pray that the party on whose ticket the councillor was elected would nudge its councillors to start proceedings to cause the removal of incompetent councillors. Section 278 (2) of the Constitution states that: “An Act of Parliament must provide for the establishment of an independent tribunal to exercise the function of removing from office mayors, chairpersons and councillors.”

However, any such removal must only be on the grounds of— (a) inability to perform the functions of their office due to mental or physical incapacity; (b) gross incompetence; (c) gross misconduct; (d) conviction of an offence involving dishonesty, corruption or abuse of office; or (e) wilful violation of the law, including a local authority by-law. In practice however, this provision only works when maybe one of the Council committees recommends to the Full Council to adopt such a resolution to commence proceedings to have a councillor, mayor or chairperson removed from office. The Minister then establishes the Independent Tribunal to adjudicate the matters. However, the current practice does not follow this process. The HRT expects that when a party recalls a councillor or councillors this should be justified by the reasons stated above. An appropriate hearing must be done instead of recalling someone because one has not towed the party line. The current practice may result in competent councillors being recalled.

Residents of Harare remain powerless, whether or not councillors are in office, because at the end of the day, elections in Zimbabwe are largely partisan. The political parties have overbearing power over who becomes the next ward councillor within a local authority. Councillors are not elected because of their competence or effectiveness, but on the name of the political party on whose ticket they contest an election. In the local government elections survey report titled “The Uncertainty of 2018”, the We Pay You Deliver Consortium, a grouping of some residents associations, a women’s organisation and a local government think tank established that voters and political parties place very low priority to local government elections, thus the quality of candidates who contest is very poor. Given that local government is the one closest to the citizens, prioritisation of local government elections becomes indispensable, the WPYD concluded.

In that vein, the HRT urges central government to fast track the implementation of devolution in order to give more decision-making, resources allocation and fiscal powers to local authorities in order to improve service provision.

Source: Harare Residents Trust (HRT)