HARARE – Civic organisations have called upon Parliament to exercise its legislative and oversight powers derived from the Constitution to reject the Local Government Laws Amendment Bill which they say leaves intact the powers of central government to issue directives to local authorities, to suspend mayors and councillors and to appoint caretakers to assume the running of councils.
Ministry of Local Government developed the Local Government Laws Amendment Bill, which it has cynically claimed is part of the process of aligning local government legislation with the Constitution.
But Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe (CCDZ), Combined Harare Residents Association (Chra) and Chitungwiza Residents Trust (Chitrest) want Parliament to direct the Local Government ministry so it ensures a comprehensive alignment of local government laws and not the piecemeal approach as proposed by the Bill, 2016.
The organisations believe the proposed Bill should not be passed into law as it is ultra vires the Constitution as they allege government has developed the Local Government Laws Amendment Bill with the intention, not to align the laws with the Constitution, but, on the contrary, to restore ministerial powers which the Constitution has abolished.
CCDZ executive director Phillip Pasirayi said: “The sole stated purpose of the Bill is to establish the so-called ‘Independent Tribunal’ for the removal of elected mayors, chairpersons and councillors from office, but in so doing, it makes no attempt to ensure that its provisions in this regard are in accord with constitutional imperatives.
“The Bill violates constitutional provisions relating to the devolution of local governance, the right to a fair trial and the right to administrative justice. Furthermore, the tribunal to be established is not independent as section 278(2) of the Constitution requires.”
Pasirayi said the manner in which the tribunal is to be composed and function, makes it clear that the purpose of the Bill is to create a tribunal which will merely be an instrument by which the Local Government minister continues to ensure the removal, from office — of mayors, chairpersons and councillors.
“The Local Government Laws Amendment Bill which proposes to establish an Independent Tribunal has been as a result of High Court judgments which were passed on the suspensions of Gweru and Harare mayors.
“Both judgments cited that there is need for an Act of Parliament which allows an independent tribunal to dismiss the mayors and councillors.”
Chra chairperson Simbarashe Moyo said the Local Government Laws Amendment Bill proposed by the ministry seeks to entrench Executive control over local government.
“The Bill retains ‘imperial’ powers vested in the minister of Local Government to dismiss democratically elected councillors and mayors.
“There is micromanagement of the affairs of councils by the Local Government minister, for instance the suspension of the mayor of Gweru and the Gweru City Council as well as the mayor of Harare.
“However, government has identified and anticipated a difficulty in continuing this modus operandi in section 278 of the Constitution.
“The new Constitution, precisely to prevent the dismissal of democratically elected mayors and councillors by central government, provides that the removal of such persons from office can only take place on specified grounds, adjudicated upon by an Independent Tribunal —thus limiting the powers of the minister.”
Moyo said to attend to this problem; the government has developed a Local Authorities Bill, which it has cynically claimed is part of the process of aligning local government legislation with the new Constitution.
“The Bill makes no attempt to align the Urban Councils Act and Rural District Councils Act with the Constitution.
“It leaves intact the powers of central government (particularly the minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing) to issue directives to local authorities; to suspend mayors and councillors; to appoint caretakers to assume the running of Councils; and to veto Council resolutions.”
Marvelous Kumalo, director of Chitrest said while the Local Government Laws Amendment Bill seeks to amend the Urban Councils Act and the Rural District Councils Act, in actual fact the minister’s intention is to entrench his powers to control local authorities.
“The existing local government laws are ultra vires the Constitution. The continued use of old legislation is unconstitutional.
“Chitrest thereby calls upon Parliament, as people’s representatives, to ensure that any proposed local government legislation fulfils the following principles that are spelled out in Chapter 14 (Provincial and Local Government) of the Constitution: devolution of power to local authorities, provincial and metropolitan councils; enhancing citizen participation in local governance; promoting democratic, effective, transparent, accountable and coherent local government in Zimbabwe; and recognising the right of communities to manage their own affairs and to promote peace, national unity and development.”