GOVERNMENT has laid groundwork for a fresh fierce crackdown on the opposition-run municipalities, ahead of the crucial 2018 elections. To do that, the Zanu PF regime has now proposed several ammendments through the Local Government laws amendment bill 2016 which will give Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere powers to appoint an “independent tribunal” to preside over cases on suspensions and expulsions of the mayors, chairpersons of councils, and councillors. This comes against the backdrop of the ruling party’s roll out of a dirty grand plan to systematically reclaim control of local authorities led by the MDC-T, while making populist but unrealistic promises ahead of the elections to woo urban voters.
As first reported by the Zimbabwe Independent last year, Kasukuwere, who is also Zanu PF national political commissar, is spearheading a crackdown on MDC-T-run municipalities, while coming up with impressive but fake poll promises as the party did in 2013.
The amendment bill which was seen by this paper seeks to “amend the Rural District Council Act (chapter 29:13) and the Urban Councils act (Chapter 29:13) so as to align certain provisions of those Acts with section 278 (2) and (3) of the constitution, which provides as follows: (2) An Act of parliament must provide for the establishment of an independent tribunal to exercise the function of removing from office mayors, chairpersons and councillors.”
Section 114 of the Urban Councils Act which reads: “But any such removal must only be on the grounds of 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, or wilful violation of the law, including a local authority by-law” has been amended to give Kasukuwere a strong grip.
The section now states that officials can be removed for “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, or wilful violation of the law, including a local authority by-law, subject to this section, if the minister has reasonable grounds for suspecting that a mayor, chairperson or councillor is unable to perform the functions of his or her office due to mental of physical incapacity or is guilty of any misconduct.”
The bill also states that “the minister shall, by written notice to the mayor, chairperson or councillor and the council concerned, suspend the mayor, chairperson or councillor from exercising all or any of his or her functions.”
The bill also proposes for the appointment of a tribunal whose chairperson will be appointed by the minister “from a list of at least three and not more than nine registered legal practioners.”
However, Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe director Philip Pasirai said the amendment bill could be unconstitutional as it gives excessive powers — which are open to abuse — to the minister to undermine voters’ choice and the popular will.
“Government has failed to address concerns of the stakeholders because the tribunal is not independent if it is the minister who should appoint its chairperson,” Pasirai said.
“The amendment does not also provide for the establishment of provincial and metropolitan councils. This is a deliberate move to make sure that the minister deals with the mayors and councillors hiding behind the amendments,” he said.
The suspension of the Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni last month as well as the removal of the town clerk James Mushore, falls into Zanu PF’s ploy to seize control of MDC-T-led local authorities, particularly Harare and other major municipalities.
Sources say the plan to weaken the opposition revolves around aligning Kasukuwere’s party duties with his government responsibilities.
In Zanu PF, Kasukuwere is responsible for organising the party structures and mobilising support. In government, he presides over a massive bureaucratic structure which has a national footprint. He is in charge of rural and urban councils countrywide and also oversees provincial and district administrators as well as traditional chiefs — Zanu PF’s electoral kingpins in its rural strongholds — and headmen, among others.
Provincial ministers — who are a new version of yesteryear governors and resident ministers who represent Mugabe in the regions — are working hand-in-hand with Kasukuwere ahead of the polls.
Sources said Zanu PF, battling an economic implosion, thinks that weakening the main opposition ahead of the polls could scuttle plans for an opposition grand coalition angling to unseat Mugabe.
As previously reported by the Independent, Kasukuwere was given the task of using government infrastructure to help the party, especially in urban areas, with the first step being to take over the councils and use them as a base to win back towns and cities in the next elections.