An organization representing Gweru residents says there is need to bring to finality the issue of the city’s suspended councillors as the prolonged stay of an interim commission put in place last year to run the city’s local authority is proving to be costly and worsening service delivery in the Midlands capital.
Cornelia Selipiwe of the Gweru Residents and Ratepayers Association says although they had initially welcomed the suspension of councilors and the subsequent appointment of a commission to run the affairs of the city, local people are now unhappy over the commission’s continued stay and delay in resolving the issue of the suspended councilors.
Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere suspended 18 Gweru councilors last August on allegations of incompetence and corruption. He also fired three local councilors.
Kasukuwere then appointed a three-men commission headed by former Masvingo Town Clerk, Tsunga Mhangami, and it is still in place to date. Last week the commission suspended Town Clerk, Daniel Matawu, amid reports that investigations had revealed that council management was guilty of maladministration and corruption.
Selipiwe says the final decision on suspended councilors is taking too long, adding that the prolonged stay of the commission is worsening service delivery.
“The move by the Ministry of Local Government to suspend Gweru councilors on allegations of corruption, incompetence and abuse of office was welcomed by the residents, and even the appointment of commissioners. But what we now have as a problem is that allegations will remain allegations until the issues are fully investigated and the case is brought to finality.
“What is now worrying us is the prolonged stay of the commissioners, the prolonged stay on suspension of the councilors without their issues being resolved. We need this matter to be brought to finality.”
Selipiwe said residents are unhappy that the commission does not consult residents and has not improved service delivery in any way. He said the commission is making matters worse by drawing large sums of money in allowances, claiming that it has so far spent over a $100,000 in such allowances.
“The commission is actually doing the same things that the councilors were doing … They are also abusing council funds; they are also taking a lot of allowances; they are not holding any meetings with residents or stakeholders to find out how they can best help the residents. They are not answering to anyone besides the minister who appointed them. I think the commission is just the same as the councilors who were there and this is really worrying.”
Studio 7 was not able to hear from Mhangami or other members of the commission on the issue. When they were suspended, eleven of the councilors, including mayor Hamutendi Kombayi, challenged the suspension as well as the appointment of the commission at the High Court.
The court granted a decision in their favour explaining that under the new constitution the local government minister has no powers to unilaterally suspend or fire councilors and to appoint such a commission.
Kasukuwere was later quoted in a state newspaper as having said that the commission would remain in place because he had challenged the High Court decision.
VIOLATION OF ZIMBABWE CONSTITUTION
A lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity for professional reasons, said it was clear that Kasukuwere was violating the country’s constitution and seemed to take advantage of the absence of the appropriate regulations as most laws are still to be realigned to the new constitution.
Studio 7 was unable to reach Kauskuwere for comment.
Development studies lecturer Didmus Dewa of the Zimbabwe Open University, speaking as an independent analyst, told Studio 7 that while it is necessary to curb corruption in councils in Zimbabwe, the Zanu PF government has often interfered with the running of some local authorities to frustrate the opposition MDC-T councilors, who have dominated in most urban councils.
Dewa said there is need to implement devolution as enshrined in the new constitution and also urged political parties to choose the right people as candidates so as to help ensure that councils are run in an efficient way.
“We need the provincial councils as outlined in the constitution. There is lack of political will on the part of government to align our laws so that we can have devolution in local councils. So we are saying lets align the constitution, and at the same time let’s dismiss everybody who is corrupt, have elections held and have the right councilors in council.
“I want to send a message to all political parties that the time for politics of patronage is over. Let’s have competent people in local authorities; let’s have benchmarks.”
PREVIOUS COUNCIL SUSPENSIONS
The Ministry of Local Government has over the years suspended councilors in cities controlled mostly by opposition parties. In the 1980s then Local Government Minister Enos Chikowore suspended some councilors in areas controlled by PF Zapu claiming that they were incompetent and supporting so-called dissidents.
The MDC-T has found itself in a similar situation in cities like Harare, Chitungwiza and others.