Brian James suspension Exposes Ugent Need for Local Government Reform!

Ignatius Chombo, Minister of local government rural and urban development has suspended Brian James, Mutare’s elected Mayor who got into office on an MDC-T ticket. Brian James has become yet another victim of Chombo’s reign of terror on MDC Councilors. A total of 15 councilors have been suspended to date with some receiving a favorable high court ruling ordering their reinstatement.

Chombo
Chombo

Brian James has been suspended in the same style that saw most elected mayors right across Zimbabwe being suspended by the same minister. Brian James is being accused of general misconduct. In a letter to Councillor James, Minister Chombo said: "Having cautioned you in a letter of Remedial Intervention dated March 03 2011, reports of misconduct continue to come to my office implying that you are unrepentant. This leaves me with no option other than to invoke section 114 of the Urban Councils Act (chapter 29:15) to suspend you from being a councillor (ward 12) Mutare City, with immediate effect."

During the period of suspension, Mayor James shall not conduct any council business and will not receive any form of remuneration. Minister Chombo said the suspension of Mayor James "was in the interest of ensuring sound local governance for effective and efficient service delivery in Mutare City".

The minister then appointed Masvingo provincial administrator Mr Felix Chikovo as chairman of a probe team expected to ascertain allegations levelled against the mayor.

Others members of the investigation team are Mr G Madzimure (deputy director traditional leaders support services), Mr J Chauke (Accountant Financial Advisory section), Fortune Mutete (banker) and Mr A Magumise (Rural Local Authorities).

CHRA would like to condemn these continuous suspensions in the uttermost contempt as they only serve to appease certain political loses that were encountered by one political party during the local government elections in March 2008. These revelations do act as manifestations of our advocacy on the overall review of the urban council’s act, which seek to revise the role played by the minister of local government rural and urban development.

The act gives the minister a leeway to abuse this piece of legislation hence obstructing the systems of good governance placed at the bottom. Chombo is on record of having argued that if it means that he will have to dismiss all elected councillors, he will do it which now leaves us with question of whether it is going to be Brian James only. In December, the Herald reported that Chombo wrote to the elected Mayor of Harare, Muchadei Masunda, warning him of underperforming which puts him (Masunda) at risk of being suspended. It is also against these written warnings that Brian James got the chop.

Chombo has so far suspended a total of four MDC councilors in Harare for corruption; five in Rusape; one in Nyaminyami Rural District Council; two in Zvimba Rural District Council; and two in Harare Municipality – Councilors Warship Dumba and Casper Takura who had opened a council probe on the minister on how he had acquired so many properties in Harare, Brian James becomes the latest victim.

The four councilors who were suspended for alleged corruption charges got a favorable high court reinstatement order to which the judge ruled that their dismissal was "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”. The suspension followed the recommendation of a board of inquiry headed by senior magistrate Munamato Mutevedzi. However, Chombo has since filed a Supreme Court order arguing that the hearings were done

without their side of the story being head which then over rules the high court order.

What worries residents and organizations like CHRA is that the overall set up of the local government system is an open-open system with which corruption thrives upon without any checks. The Minister has got the power to appoint a probe team at his own discretion. Most of the people come either from urban or rural local authorities, provincial local government or the ministry itself. Most of these individuals are senior people who have either been seconded for their positions by the local government board which itself is appointed by the Minister. A careful analysis will indicate that there is no partiality in the whole probing process as indicated by previous probes which all resulted in the dismissal of elected mayors and councilors.

WHAT IS CHRA DOING?

A motion has been moved in parliament which is targeting a possible review of the urban councils act. CHRA will be doing nationwide consultations on the review of the Urban Councils act chapter 29:15. Critical areas that we intend to lobby Parliament to review include but are not limited to:

(Listed in order of criticality and cruciality)

ü Sec 80: The Minister is empowered to suspend a Council and appoint a Commission

ü Sec 114: Suspension and dismissal of elected Councilors

ü Sec 311: Inquiries by the Minister and appointment of investigators

ü Sec 314 :Minister may reverse, suspend, rescind resolutions, decisions, etc. of councils

ü Sec 229: Approval of by laws by the Minister

ü Sec 223: Minister’s power to make by-laws on behalf of Council

ü Sec 288: Estimates (budget formulation)

ü Sec 304: Appointment of auditors

ü Sec 116: Composition of the local government board and its function as set in sec 123

ü Sec 206: Minister’s power to act on behalf of council regarding estate development

Findings from these consultations will be taken to parliament for review and it is our hope that our own parallel findings shall be able to act as the centre of the Urban Councils act discourse enquiry in parliament.

CHRA remains committed to good local governance practiced on a non partisan basis.

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