What is a provincial or metropolitan council, who is in them and what do they do?
As part of an ongoing move towards devolution of power, each of the 10 provinces (including the two metropolitan provinces of Harare and Bulawayo) are supposed to be governed locally by a Provincial council which has oversight over all local and rural authorities in the province.
According to section 268 of the Constitution, these provincial councils are composed of an elected chairperson; any senators from the province concerned; the president and deputy of the National Council of Chiefs from the province; all MPs whose constituencies fall within the province; any women from the 60 quota seats in the National Assembly from the province; any mayors or chairpersons of the local authorities in the province; and 10 members elected by proportional representation. Metropolitan councils are supposed to work in the same way except that the City Mayor is also the provincial Chairperson.
A contradiction in the 2013 Constitution both allows and prohibits Members of Parliament from membership in Provincial councils (see 268.1.e and 129.1.g & h).
What will change if the amendment is approved?
The amendment would separate national and provincial governance by:
- Dealing with the contradiction mentioned above by removing Members of Parliament from the membership of provincial councils.
- Removing the office of Mayor in Metropolitan councils in favour of the electing a Chair as per section 272, thus aligning metropolitan and provincial councils.
- Providing for the election of 10 of the members of Metropolitan councils by a system of party-list proportional representation.
The changes, therefore, mostly affect Metropolitan councils, essentially creating two parallel bodies: the City Council composed of elected councillors and a City Mayor, operating alongside a Metropolitan Council that aligns with other Provincial Councils.
Does it matter? If so, why?
Devolution is constitutionally mandated (see Chapter 14) and is important for de-centralising political control. It is also necessary to enable local government to respond to the needs of their communities with greater efficiency and relevance.
Removing MPs from provincial councils helps to separate the legislative and national branch of governance (National Assembly) from council work which should be more concerned with local, non-legislative concerns – especially concerning resource allocation and spending.
There is some concern, however, that for Bulawayo and Harare (the two metropolitan provinces), creating a separate Provincial Chair and council body, alongside the existing city council and mayor, could result in unnecessary duplication of duty and jurisdiction. The addition of a separate council would also be yet another administrative body paid for by the public purse.
As with other clauses involving party-list proportional representation, there is also concern that such provisions pave the way for political manipulation in the composition of councils.
In addition, it is important that any plans for transition to a devolved structure are carefully planned for, so that local government is adequately trained and capacitated in its responsibilities. There is also need for continuous monitoring to ensure that the devolution of power to local authorities is not tokenistic, but is actually realised.
Critics have called out the “piecemeal” approach to devolution represented in the amendment and have suggested that the whole of Chapter 14 needs careful revision, undertaken with public consultation and debate.