Local governance should be enshrined

constitutionThe ongoing constitution-making process must entrench decentralization as a form of local governance in order to strengthen both urban and district councils, create confidence regarding its permanency and introduce mandatory structures for citizen participation, writes MORGEN KULARE.


This was after Zanu (PF) had awoken to the reality that MDC was now in control of all urban local authorities and all executive mayors were from that party

HARARE

Local governance is the process of determining how decisions are made and implemented and how public resources are used in a locality. In Zimbabwe this process is led by semi-independent local authorities recognized by law, with a council, elected by the people, that is legally responsible for planning and implementing specific developmental functions.

Although inundated with such a mammoth task which influences the daily lives of citizens positively or negatively, Zimbabwe`s local governance system is not included in the current constitution. The ongoing constitution-making process must entrench decentralization as a form of local governance in order to strengthen both urban and district councils, create confidence regarding its permanency and introduce mandatory structures for citizen participation.

The only local government structure embodied in the constitution is the office of the Provincial Governor and Resident Minister, which of late has been a bone of contention between MDC and the former ruling party Zanu (PF) party. Despite the critical importance of this office in coordinating, directing and supervising local governance and local authorities, the selection of the incumbents rests entirely with the president.

Elected officials

The new constitution must make it mandatory that these governors and resident ministers become elected officials. They should serve a term of office equal to that of MPs and Senators. This will certainly prevent abuse of local authorities by provincial governors and cultivate and strengthen a culture of democratic selection of local governance leadership.

The outgoing gerontocratic Zanu ( PF) government has amended both the Urban and Rural District Councils Act at every turn just to please its supporters or create avenues to loot state resources. Zimbabweans will remember local govt minister Ignatious Chombo controversially introduced the post of executive mayor for city and town councils. His argument then was that he wanted to introduce the modern practice of efficient management of the day-to-day running. This was just a smoke screen to cover for the real intention of rewarding long time Zanu (PF) cronies such as the late Masvingo mayor Francis Aphiri and Solomon Tawengwa of Harare.

Faced with a turbulent sea of rejection, the beleaguered Zanu (PF) regime desperately tried to remain afloat when it unilaterally amended both the Urban and Rural District Councils Act to abolish the post of executive mayor in Urban councils and introduced appointed special interest councilors in urban and district councils. This was after Zanu (PF) had awoken to the reality that MDC was now in control of all urban local authorities and all executive mayors were from that party. The move to create appointed special interest councilors was meant to at least keep the dying Zanu (PF) voice alive in both urban and district councils regardless of whether they control that council.

Partisan interests

To avoid such manipulation of local governance offices to suit partisan interests, the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Constitution (COPAC) must ensure local governance offices are enshrined in the new constitution. In fact it will only be fair for the outreach teams to ask whether Zimbabweans want a ceremonial or executive mayor. The preferred choice will then have to be made a constitutional office.

COPAC can also do Zimbabwe proud by making the number of rural district councils constitutional. This will assist in preventing any future government from tampering with the number of district councils to suit its political desires. The prevailing situation where the number of district councils is determined by the minister of local government in the RDC Act is unhealthy and open to abuse by any minister who might create a new RDC in an area where he/she feels his/her political party stands a chance to sweep the wards.

Mechanisms must also be put in place for residents to recall non-performing councillors. Currently such powers rest with the minister of local government under the Urban councils Act (Chapter 21:15) and the Rural District Councils Act (Chapter 29:13). However Zimbabwe has witnessed Chombo dismiss popular councils such as the Mudzuri-led Harare City Council simply because it was an MDC dominated council which challenged his interference in the running of its affairs.

Power to residents

Although some city and district councils have not lived up to their expectations, they are popularly elected and the power to recall them must be vested in the residents who elected them. They must be given such power in the new constitution as a means of empowering them to decide the fate of their local affairs and also to prevent undue national government interference.

The new constitution should also briefly state that there should be structures for citizen participation in decision-making in the local authorities. The structures will then have to be defined in the respective Acts of parliament. The premise of this is to make it mandatory for both Urban and District councils to consult residents before making and decisions. The current situation is not transparent and is fraught with loopholes. leaving chief executive officers and town clerks with room to author projects and present them to full council meetings for rubber stamping without consulting residents.

There are numerous advantages in constitutionalising our local governance system. The developing global trend is that local governance structures are forming partnerships and joint ventures with both local private and international investors in driving investment in urban areas. Surely no one would want to get into a joint venture with a city council which could tomorrow be replaced by the local government minister`s appointee. This also scares off donors, especially those who prefer to work with elected councils who would not want to donate equipment to a city/town council only that facility to be abused by unelected officials.

Good local governance is achieved through citizen participation, responsible accountable leaders, improved knowledge and skills, supportive policies, fair allocation of resources and improved coordination and management by men and women conscious of their duties and protected by the law as defined in their constitution. – Kulare is the National Research and Advocacy Officer for Youth of Zimbabwe for Transparency and Progress (YZTP). For feedback email: [email protected]

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