Tensions are mounting between Zimbabwean Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo and municipal councils controlled by the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change as tightening budgets lead to reduced public services.
Deteriorating infrastructure, disintegrating roads and broken-down water and sewer systems are increasingly hampering normal municipal operations.
The MDC formation led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has accused Chombo of meddling in council business in many municipalities, and of attempting to replace elected councilors with ZANU-PF officials under the guise of special interest advocates.
Chombo says he is doing his job by firing errant councilors from the former MDC, citing alleged poor performance and corruption.
He suspended scores of councilors last year including mayors of Bindura and Chinhoyi. In January he suspended one of his most outspoken adversaries, Mutare Mayor Brian James, alleging misconduct, an accusation that James has rejected.
In Parliament, a motion has been tabled proposing to amend the Urban Councils Act to reduce the powers of the controversial minister.
Deputy Local Government Minister Cecil Zvidzai of the MDC told VOA’s Violet Gonda that local government has improved greatly since the MDC came to power in most cities, while Chombo of ZANU-PF has abused his executive powers in harassing them.
Zvidzai accused his boss of having an “agenda to cause the councils to fail so that he can blame the problems on the MDC.”
But Gerry Gotora, a former president of the Association of Rural District Councils of Zimbabwe, said the biggest problem is that corruption is surging with elected officials focused on amassing wealth instead of delivering services to their citizens.
“The councilors need guidance so that they can perform better,” Gotora said.
But Zvidzai disagreed that corruption is rampant in municipal councils, saying only 20 percent of councilors may be corrupt, which he called “fairly normal.”
The deputy minister said Chombo uses the “unfairest measures against these councilors and to date he has suspended 12 out of 800 MDC councilors.”
Zvidzai noted that the High Court only convicted six of those 12.
But Gotora rejected Zvidzai's acceptance of a 20 percent corruption rate.
"I don't know which world he lives in," Gotora said. "As Zimbabweans we don’t even entertain 0.02 percent of corrupt practices.”