Councils struggled to collect rates or other forms of revenue under the regime of a collapsed Zimbabwe dollar. But there are also other causes of the lacklustre performance of local authorities since that devastating year.
First, the so-called harmonised elections of 2008 resulted, inter alia, in the thorough defeat of Zanu (PF) by the MDC formations, which now control virtually all urban and the majority of rural councils. Most of the newly elected councillors were new to the job and lacked the requisite skills for effectively running local authorities. There was little, if any, training of these new legislators.
A few civic bodies undertook some training of a few councillors, but the majority of the new leaders had to learn the skills on the job as it were. What exacerbated the situation was the fact that the criteria for the selection of candidates by the various political parties left a lot to be desired. In fact, there is no clearly stipulated criteria regarding who qualifies to be a councillor and who does not. This is an urgently needed requirement if the calibre of our councillors is to improve.
Perhaps a third cause was that local authorities are largely manned by civil servants who are generally believed to be loyal to Zanu (PF) and not to the MDC. One of the obvious consequences of this was the alleged sabotage of the efforts of the newly-elected councillors by some council employees. Numerous court cases, law suits and claims of vicitimisation consumed time and money as the battles between councils and their employees raged in various parts of the country.
One of the results of these battles was the collapse of effective service delivery as resources were diverted towards meeting the costs of litigation. Then there is also the unhealthy situation where the minister responsible for local authorities is a member of Zanu (PF), in spite of the fact that the majority of local authorities are controlled by MDC councillors. This was a deliberate attempt by President Mugabe to ensure that real power at local government level would remain in the hands of his party. Minister Chombo has done a lot of damage to local authorities by appointing losing Zanu (PF) candidates to councils as special interest councillors. Although current legislation allows the minister to appoint such councillors, it is faulty in that these councillors are not nominated by the specific groups whose special interests would need to be represented in council. The minister, naturally, took advantage of this provision to ensure the representation of his own political party which had dismally lost the 2008 local government elections.
There are numerous allegations relating to the frustrations brought about by these so-called special interest councillors. Indeed, some crucial decisions have had to be shelved by elected councillors as a result of the resistance of some of these ministerial appointees.
Here again, it is the residents of local authorities that have been short-changed. As the nation approaches the forthcoming elections, it is imperative that both political parties and civic organisations devise ways and means to improve the selection and training of prospective councillors if our local authorities are to effectively do their work for the benefit of the people.Post published in: Opinions & Analysis