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Provincial councils in limbo

PROVINCIAL councils established under the new constitution remain in limbo more than six weeks after other elected public representatives voted for in the July 31 general elections assumed office, amid speculation President Robert Mugabe is not interested in operationalising the councils that usher in a modicum of devolution.

Paidamoyo Muzulu

Mugabe, who is strongly opposed to devolution, in his official speech at the opening of parliament did not mention the Provincial Councils Bill.

In a move widely seen as showing disdain for devolution, Mugabe appointed 10 state ministers responsible for provincial affairs whose roles may usurp the powers of provincial chairpersons when elected.

Permanent secretary in the ministry of local government Killian Mpingo confirmed provincial councils will remain on ice until parliament passes the Provincial Councils Bill, which is still being drafted.

“We are working on the draft legislative framework for the provincial councils and the timing of their tabling and passing will depend on the interrogation of the Bill in the house,” he said.

Mpingo added that so far no allowances have been extended to the 80 provincial council members elected on party lists in the eight provinces excluding the metropolitan provinces.

“The allowances and remuneration of provincial councils are subject to the matters to be addressed in the Bill,” Mpingo added.

However, a senior Zanu PF official elected to a provincial council said the party seems not to be in a rush to enact the Bill that will operationalise a limited form of devolution which it opposed vigorously during the writing of the new constitution.

“We are waiting for the party leadership and government to steer the enactment of a law that will give life to the provincial councils. However, there appears to be a deliberate move to stall the swearing in of the councillors whose functions, especially that of its leader, the chairperson, is now in direct conflict with the minister of state responsible for the province,” said the source.

Meanwhile there is no clarity on how the sittings of provincial councils will be synchronised with the National Assembly and Senate. National Assembly members and senators are also members of provincial councils in their respective provinces.

Clerk of Parliament Austin Zvoma confirmed that the synchronisation of the two institutions’ sittings is still a grey area.

“We don’t know how we (parliament) will relate to the provincial councils until the Provincial Councils’ Bill is passed by parliament,” said Zvoma.

The Bill is, among other things, expected to specify where and when the provincial councils will sit and how their administrative staff will be recruited.

The provincial councils are not the only institutions created by the new constitution that need to be operationalised by enabling Acts. Other institutions include the National Prosecuting Authority, Gender Commission, Peace and Reconciliation Commission and the Land Commission.

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