Local Government Bill limits ZEC powers

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Fresh controversy surrounds the Local Government Laws Amendment Bill as it emerged this week that the bill fails to give the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) power to deliminate electoral boundaries in accordance with the constitution, while ensuring that President Robert Mugabe retains the ultimate authority to determine boundaries.

By Wongai Zhangazha

The Bill — which gives Mugabe a gerrymandering opportunity — is expected to amend provisions of the Rural District Councils Act (RDCA) and the Urban Councils Act (UCA) which are inconsistent with the constitution in many respects.

A lawyer grouping with an interest in legal and parliamentary issues, Veritas, said while the Bill provides for the suspension and removal from office of mayors, chairpersons and councilors of local authorities through an independent tribunal, it fails to touch many other provisions of the two Acts which need to be aligned with the constitution.

Under section 161 of the constitution the responsibility for delimiting wards is vested in ZEC.

“Sections 6 and 7 of the RDC Act give the President power to establish and alter the boundaries of districts. No mention is made of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, which must be consulted in terms of section 267(2) of the constitution,” said Veritas.

“Section 4 of the UC Act and sections 8 and 139 of the RDC Act give the President power to divide council areas into wards, to determine their boundaries and to alter ward boundaries. Under section 161 of the Constitution, this is the function of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, not the President.”

Section 161 (1) of the constitution states that ZEC must conduct a delimitation of electoral boundaries to which Zimbabwe is to be divided once every 10 years on a date or within a period fixed by the commission so as to fall as soon as possible after a population census.

The country conducted its last census in 2012.

Zanu PF insiders say although the Bill is supposedly meant to align the country’s local government laws with the constitution, it is also aimed at aiding the ruling party’s campaign ahead of the 2018 elections. It would make it easier for Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere — who is also Zanu PF political commissar — to destabilise MDC-T led municipalities.

Using Kasukuwere, Zanu PF has rolled out a plan to gain control of MDC-T strongholds by, among other things, dissolving elected MDC-T dominated councils for alleged incompetence and corruption before appointing Zanu PF aligned commissioners who will roll out housing schemes and avail residential stands, to entice urban voters.

Section 114 of the Urban Councils Act 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”.

It 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.”

Kasukuwere suspended Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni in April. Last year, he suspended Gweru mayor, Hamutendi Kombayi, his deputy Artwell Matyorauta and all the 18 Gweru councilors on allegations of gross misconduct and mismanagement of council funds and affairs.

He is now investigating Bulawayo and Mutare City Council officials for alleged corruption.

Veritas noted that the Bill had done “nothing whatever” to remove or even limit the minister’s powers making local authorities subject to strict ministerial control.

“Local authorities need oversight from the central government, because both in this country and elsewhere some of them have proved to be incompetent, extravagant and corrupt. Nonetheless, the powers given to the Minister under the UC Act and the RDC Act are excessive and unconstitutional. The Local Government Laws Amendment Bill does nothing whatever to remove or even limit the minister’s powers,” Veritas says.

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