Central Government Should Minimise Interference In The Running Of Urban Local Authorities

The Harare Residents’ Trust (HRT) has consistently demanded that central government’s role in the running of our local authorities should be kept at a minimal to allow our local authorities to run their affairs in terms of the law. Unfortunately, in recent months, the organisation has noted with alarm and shock government’s direct interference into the affairs of Chitungwiza Municipality and Harare City Council. Town House sources claim that the Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution in Harare Metropolitan Province, the Provincial Development Coordinator and the Minister of Local Government and Public Works have taken turns to issue written and oral directives to the Chitungwiza and Harare local authorities on the pretext of public interest and restoring sanity. Councillors and officials claim to have been summoned to one of the three central government offices at one point or the other to be intimidated and issued with directives to implement in their respective councils. They have all claimed to be fighting corruption that has taken deep roots in the systems of governance of the two local authorities.

The Minister of Local Government and Public Works, July Moyo has since his appointment in 2018 dismally failed to appoint the Local Government Board in order to expedite finalisation of recruitment and dismissal of senior local authorities’ officials. In terms of Section 116 of the Urban Councils’ Act (Chapter 29.15), there must be established a seven-member Local Government Board (LGB). The LGB is supposed to be constituted by representatives of town clerks, urban councils’ associations, municipal workers’ union and the Public Service Commission. Two others shall be appointed for their “ability and experience in public administration and who are or have been employed by a local authority or the Public Service for a period of not less than five years in a senior post,” Section 116 (2)(e), Urban Councils’ Act, Chapter 29.15). Despite this clear provision of the law, the Minister has not acted according to his ministerial mandate. Harare City Council is operating without a substantive Chamber Secretary, directors for Harare Water, finance and human resources, and several other line managers for the past two years.

The recalls of 21 councillors and the death of another councillor have worsened the capacity of the remaining Councillors and senior managers to deliver social services to the ratepayers.

Despite being fully aware of these developments, the Minister has still not appointed the LGB to expedite the processes of filling the vacancies in council. The Local Government Board institutes investigations into the affairs and procedures of the council, provide guidance for the general organisation and control of employees in the service of councils; and to ensure the general well-being and good administration of councils’ staff and the maintenance thereof in a high state of efficiency, (Section 123, Urban Councils’ Act). Other LGB functions include making model conditions of service for adoption by councils; making model regulations stipulating the qualifications and appointment procedures for senior officials of councils; approving the appointment and discharge of senior officials.

However, Minister July Moyo has been too quick to intervene on the side of the corrupt cartels at Town House, worsening the provision of social services and public social accountability. His interventions are seen as highly compromised. Reports abound that the Minister and some few of his colleagues at central government reportedly took the side of the former corrupt cartel of councillors that was recalled by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party. It is widely speculated at Town House that Minister Moyo had personal business dealings with the former Mayor of Harare Hebert Gomba and they have continued with these deals working through the offices of the Provincial Development Coordinator and the Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution. These interventions are seen as facilitating the hiding of the corrupt activities of central government officials involving the corrupt cartels reigning supreme at Town House. In view of this, the Minister has ceased to be acting in the public interest but serving his personal interests.

To illustrate the Minister’s vested interests in the affairs of Harare City Council, on 28 December 2020 suspended Mayor Jacob Mafume, Deputy Mayor Luckson Mukunguma and Ward 11 Councillor Anthony Shingadeya (Mbare) on charges of alleged gross incompetence and gross misconduct related to land owned by the City of Harare. The reliance on a provision of the Urban Councils Act (Chapter 29.15) and not Section 278 (2) and (3) which speak of the independent tribunal to preside over such hearings if there is a need. The Minister is clearly rushing to cover his tracks and is willfully violating the Constitution of Zimbabwe. While there have been cases of corruption in the City of Harare involving management, councillors, land barons and central government officials, the HRT wants the Minister to uphold the principle of the rule of law and not assume absolute powers that he does not have. Suspending the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and any other Councillors is unconstitutional and will be challenged in the Constitutional Court. Never again should a government minister abuse his powers in order to protect his personal interests. Everyone who has been arrested and arraigned before the courts are innocent until proven guilty, and do not deserve to be treated as outcasts. They deserve justice, dignity and a fair process.

The HRT urges Minister Moyo to prioritise substantive issues affecting our local government system, in particular, the tabling of respective bills tackling devolution of governmental powers. He should also be demonstrating his concern on the acute shortages of foreign currency to purchase water treatment chemicals. Immediately, he should appoint the Local Government Board and table bills in Parliament on the establishment of provincial and metropolitan councils, linking the Urban Councils Act and the Rural District Councils’ Act to the new governance system of devolution. Most importantly, the Minister should abandon his desperate attempts to impose his preferred people as the Mayor and Town Clerk of Harare City Council and the Chitungwiza Municipality. In light of all this, the HRT urges central government to forthwith minimise interference in the governance and administration of Harare and Chitungwiza local authorities. If the Councillors should fail, they must be allowed to fail on their own without central government interference.

Source: Harare Residents Trust (HRT)

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