By Ray Ndlovu and Mandla Tshuma
Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere is on the prowl as he cracks down on the 91 local authorities across the country, having already suspended councillors accused of graft in the second city of Bulawayo, the Financial Gazette has learnt.
The crackdown is part of a grand plan to obliterate the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T)’s dominance in urban councils, which the ruling ZANU-PF party has failed to control ever since the formation of the opposition party in 1999.
Kasukuwere is the ZANU-PF national political commissar, a role that places him in charge of the party’s strategy to secure victory in national elections scheduled for 2018.
ZANU-PF is desperate to seek re-election, amid bickering within the liberation war party troubled by succession battles over its leader, President Robert Mugabe, who turned 92 years this year.
The abrasive Minister of Local Government confirmed in a telephone interview this week that he was going to investigate all local authorities mired in corruption but dismissed suggestions that this was targeted at MDC-T-controlled municipalities.
“We are not only going to be investigating the councils run by the MDC-T, but (all councils) where there is corruption. This is not an exercise which is targeted at any political party; we just want to clean up the local government sector,” said the combative minister.
Kasukuwere’s decision to widen his clean-up campaign comes at a time councils are preparing their budgets for the coming financial year, which will require approval by his ministry.
For many years, councils have used almost entire annual budgets on salaries and allowances, leaving nothing for services.
And ever since his appointment last year, Kasukuwere has insisted that local authorities should allocate 70 percent of their budgets to service delivery, with the balance going towards salaries and wages.
However, many local authorities’ expenditures have been skewed in favour of salaries and wages, which have accounted for in excess of 70 percent of expenditure.
Kasukuwere is now empowered by a recently promulgated law which came into effect through the Local Government Laws Amendment Bill this year.
The new law gives Kasukuwere sweeping powers to remove from office mayors, chairpersons and councillors for any alleged misdemeanour, which may include inability to perform the functions of their office due to mental or physical incapacity; gross incompetence; gross misconduct; conviction of an offence involving dishonesty, corruption or abuse of office; and wilful violation of the law, including a local authority by-law.
Using the new law, Kasukuwere last month suspended five Bulawayo councillors, who included the deputy mayor, Gift Banda, for alleged corruption. The four other councillors are Charles Moyo (Ward 9), James Sithole (Ward 7), Mzana Dube (Ward 25) and Rueben Matengu (Ward 21).
They are alleged to have illegally awarded themselves housing stands and used their positions to accumulate wealth.
The fate of the five councillors is now expected to be decided by an independent tribunal.
Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association secretary for administration, Anglistone Sibanda, welcomed the move by Kasukuwere to suspend the councillors.
“We cannot allow people to loot at the expense of the poor. These people are not leaders, but selfish individuals who are greedy,” said Sibanda.
He urged Kasukuwere to go a step further by dismissing all the suspended councillors and council staff fingered in the dirty deals.
Bulawayo United Residents Association chairperson, Winston Dube, also welcomed the suspensions, which were unprecedented in the city.
“We hope these suspensions will instil a sense of discipline going forward, because they have a likelihood of bringing about efficiency in our council and development in a better way. It is, however, really a disappointing development, but we are happy that the responsible authorities will let justice prevail,” he said.
Kudzani Ndlovu, a political analyst, said the suspensions would act as a deterrent to those who have a tendency of dipping their fingers into resources that are meant to benefit the city’s residents.
“The suspension of the deputy mayor and four other councillors has vindicated those among us who have always argued that the only difference between MDC-T and ZANU-PF is in their names,” he said.
With the suspension of the five councillors having since drawn support from a sizeable section of Bulawayo residents, this casts doubts into whether the MDC-T’s attempts to reverse the suspensions would succeed.
This would also be an indictment on the MDC-T’s popularity going into the potentially explosive 2018 general elections.
MDC-T leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, said during the 17th anniversary celebrations for his party that they would institute their own investigations against the alleged acts of corruption by the councillors.
“We have zero tolerance to corruption (and so) we will investigate openly in order to establish the truth,” Tsvangirai said.
The MDC-T’s investigating team is expected to be announced by Bulawayo mayor, Martin Moyo, next week, according to MDC-T legislator, Eddie Cross, who attributed the delayed release of the names to Moyo’s absence from office.
For many years, Bulawayo has had the record of being the country’s best run city, and its local authority has been dominated by the MDC-T since 2000.
However, due to a decision by the MDC-T to boycott all elections until government implements changes to the country’s electoral laws, parliamentary seats that have fallen vacant since the 2013 general election have been won by ZANU-PF, which now shares the same number of National Assembly seats with the MDC-T in Bulawayo.
University of Zimbabwe political science professor, Eldred Masunungure, said ZANU-PF was determined to reclaim power from the MDC-T in Bulawayo.
“The net effect of all this is ZANU-PF’s bid to undermine the hold of the MDC-T, not only at local level, but also at provincial level. The ruling party is expecting to kill two birds with one stone. Their intention is to recover all the National Assembly seats in Bulawayo,” Masunungure said.
Masunungure also noted that the collateral damage of the present exercise was very huge on the part of the MDC-T.
“This will damage the image of the MDC-T and it is meant to decimate the MDC-T, the voting public in Bulawayo will not vote for corrupt councillors…,” he said.
Affectionately known as “Tyson”, Kasukuwere’s political machinations have so far been evident in Harare, Gweru, Chitungwiza and Mutare where he has instigated investigations that have seen MDC-T councillors and managers being suspended. Financial Gazette