One of the most important of these Acts is the Urban Councils Act as it affects nearly half the population of the country and impacts on the daily lives of millions. Instead, no effort has been made to bring the Act into alignment with the Constitution and instead, the Minister of Local Government is continually trying to use the old Urban Councils Act to impose his will on the democratically elected Councils that are tasked with the responsibility of governing the areas under their jurisdiction.
The principle of devolution was one of the most important issues raised by the people during Copac and as a result, the Constitution in Chapter 14 in sections 264 to 279 sets out in clear terms a new dispensation for elected Councils, giving them the right and all the powers required to Govern the areas under their jurisdiction.
In Mid 2015, the Minister of Local Government took steps to dismiss two Councilors and to suspend the remaining Councilors of the City of Gweru in complete disregard of the Constitution.
The MDC took the Minister to Court on this issue and was granted an order by the Courts in Gweru that the Councilors should resume their duties and stating that the actions of the Minister were ultra vires the Constitution. Despite this, the Minister appealed the decision to the High Court in Bulawayo and this CourtÂ confirmed the earlier rulings by the Court in Gweru and awarded costs to the Party, suggesting that the High Court considered the Ministers appeal to have no merit at all. Despite this clear decision the Minister has again appealed the rulings to the Supreme Court in Harare.
The MDC wants to know if the Minister has Cabinet authority to continuously appeal Court decisions thereby wasting Court time and incurring significant legal and administrative costs to be borne by the Exchequer. If he does have Cabinet support then this confirms the view that the Government holds the new Constitution in absolute contempt and has little or no intention of either abiding by the Constitution or pursuing the alignment of existing legislation or behaving in a Constitutional manner within the rule of law.
If he does not have Cabinet approval then it is time that the Government moved to rein him in and demand that he respect the Constitution in all respects in the manner in which he administers his Ministry and exercises his authority.
In recent weeks, in complete violation of the Constitution, the Minister has intervened in the affairs of the Council for Harare. He has demanded that the Council rescind its decision to appoint Mr. James Mushore as the new Town Clerk after an extensive and professional recruitment process that identified him as the most qualified and experienced candidate for this important post. When the elected Mayor of Harare refused to comply, the Minister responded by unlawfully suspending the Mayor both as Mayor of the City and as Councilor for Mt Pleasant.
In response the MDC has again been forced, in the absence of any action by Government to remedy matters, to go back to the Courts for a decision in the matter. An urgent application to stop the Minister interfering in the affairs of the Council has been submitted to the High Court and a decision is expected shortly. In addition the Party has reluctantly taken the decision to ask the highest Court in the Country, the Constitutional Court, to set aside the relevant sections of the Urban Councils Act that are clearly in conflict with the Constitution.
In addition to these Court actions, the Combined Harare Residents Association, acting in the interests of the residents of the City, has supported the Councilâ€™s decision to appoint Mr. Mushore to the post ofÂ Town Clerk and has made a separate application to the Courts for a specific ruling in favour of the Councils decisions. This is especially important as the Association was involved in the selection process and has expressed full confidence in Mr. Mushore as the new custodian of their interests.
The MDC wishes to state once again that the decision to appoint Mr. Mushore was a collective decision and that it stands in full support of his appointment and wants him to continue to assume his responsibilities in the Councils affairs while the Courts deal with the actions of the Minister. The Party considers the interests of the residents of the City of Harare as supreme in this matter and is absolutely satisfied that the Council has acted lawfully in terms of the supreme law of Zimbabwe as expressed in the Constitution.
The Party recognises the professionalism of the Courts and has complete confidence that they will not deviate from their responsibilities as custodians of our Laws and our Constitution.
E G Cross
Shadow Minister ofÂ Local Government