Discipline magistrate: reinstated councillors demand

Four MDC councillors fired by Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo and reinstated by a High Court judge want the Judicial Services Commission to discipline Magistrate Munamato Mutevedzi who presided over their disciplinary hearing.

Ignatious Chombo
Ignatious Chombo

Mutevedzi presided over the inquiry into the alleged unprocedural allocation of Harare City Council stands to the four councillors.

In his report submitted in December 2010, the magistrate found the four councillors guilty and recommended their dismissal.

On the basis of the magistrate's recommendations, Chombo fired the councillors – Maxwell Katsande ward 26, Johnson Zaranyika ward 39, Paul Gorekore ward 3 and Silas Machetu ward 25.

They appealed against their dismissal in the High Court. And last week Justice Bharat Patel acquitted them all of allegations of irregularly acquiring stands and forcing themselves into council houses.

Justice Patel said in his ruling Chombo had blatantly ignored evidence presented to him absolving the four councillors of any wrongdoing – but proceeded to fire them anyway. He said Chombo was directed by his handpicked commission to fire the councillors and blatantly disregarded the detailed record of proceedings of the inquiry and the evidence contained therein.

"If he (Chombo) had done so he would not have simply adopted the commission’s findings and recommendations of dismissal," Justice Patel's ruling says.

"The town clerk and deputy director of housing were not called to testify at the inquiry and the commission totally ignored the evidence of the director of housing (Chivavaya) and that of chief housing officer (Mandizha) which clearly exculpated the applicants of any wrongdoing," Justice Patel said in his ruling.

"In short the findings of guilt in relation to all four applicants were so grossly irrational in their defiance of logic that no reasonable person applying his mind to the matter could possibly have arrived at those decisions," Patel said.

The Elected Councillors Association of Zimbabwe’s legal secretary, Tinashe Madamombe, has written to the Judicial Services Commission calling for disciplinary action against the magistrate.

"We are concerned that a very senior magistrate failed to apply the objective test in arriving at his recommendation to dismiss the councillors," said the letter to JSC seen by The Zimbabwean.

"A man of his stature and experience on the bench chose not to uphold the professional tenets expected of a magistrate presiding over a disciplinary hearing of a political nature. The effects of his recommendation seriously impacted on the social standing of the 4 councillors in a negative manner.

"It is our considered view that the commission is empowered and mandated to look into the professional conduct of magistrates in the exercise of their duties. We are concerned that a senior magistrate chose to negate the basic principles applicable in arriving at a determination. In the circumstances we implore the commission to take appropriate action against Mutevedzi.”

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