By Eddie Cross
The decision this week by the High Court of Zimbabwe to nullify the suspension of the Mayor and one other MDC Councilor in Gweru is a welcome development for local government in Zimbabwe.
Initially the Minister of Local Government, Hon Saviour Kasukuwere, had suspended the entire Council, including several other Councilors from Zanu PF. He replaced them with a partisan Commission of three persons who then administered Council affairs for nearly two years.
During this time the cost to the Council of the Commissions activities exceeded the cost of maintaining the elected Council and included accommodation and transport allowances, a substantial daily fee for their services and other related costs.
As an appointed and totally partisan Commission these individuals reported to the Minister and had no elected mandate for doing what they did on behalf of the City and its residents.
The MDC is aware of at least one allocation by the Commission of a contract to a Company linked to a senior staff member from the Ministry. There are probably others of a similar nature.
The totally false basis of the Ministers decision in suspending the Council and disrupting the normal administration of the City was first demonstrated by the decision of his own appointed Tribunal to reinstate the majority of the Council in early 2017. However the suspension of two other Councilors, including the Mayor, was confirmed.
Now the High Court of Zimbabwe has ruled that there was no basis for either the decision of the Minister or the Tribunal and has restored both men to their posts and ordered that their benefits be paid out to them in full and that the Minister meet the full costs of the action. The cost to the Ministry will be considerable.
Since the MDC took control of the majority of Urban Councils in Zimbabwe in 2000, Zanu PF has abused its control of the Ministry of Local Government in seeking to recover control of the Urban Councils. It has persistently used its now unconstitutional powers under the Urban Councils Act, to suspend and frustrate elected Councils decisions and resolutions.
It has stripped Councils of essential revenue sources and cancelled debts owed to Councils without consultation or compensation. As a consequence, the failure of Councils to maintain essential services and to improve the administration of Councils can very largely be attributed to the Ministry of Local Government.
Another clear example of destructive Ministerial interference with Council activity in the past two years has been the hiatus over the appointment of a new Town Clerk in Harare. After the Harare Council found the previous incumbent incompetent and was forced to replace him, the Council identified and recruited a candidate for the position, who was, if anything over qualified.
However he indicated that he wanted to serve as Town Clerk to make a contribution to the Country. Despite this and solely because the applicant was not a Zanu PF activist, the Minister over ruled the Council and it was forced to settle with the applicant and ask him to resign his post.
Now the same process has been followed in full compliance with Council policy and the requirements of the Urban Councils Act and because the best candidate by a long way is an active MDC leader, the Minister is again refusing the appointment and the MDC has instructed lawyers to take the Minister to Court over the issue.
It was the intention of the authors of the new Constitution of Zimbabwe that elected, democratic Councils should be able to control and manage the affairs of all local authorities without undue interference from Central Government.
It was also the clear intention of the Constitution to create autonomous local authorities with considerable powers to raise their own funds and administer the affairs of local authorities in the best interests of the ratepayers and to be accountable to the ratepayers for their activities and performance.
The Ministers actions in the past four years have been unconstitutional in character and damaging to the interests of all Zimbabweans. It is time to put a stop to this nonsense and in 2018, elect a responsible Government that will implement the Constitution and devolution to the Provinces and all local authorities.
Eddie Cross, Secretary for Local Government, MDC-T