Some civic society leaders have criticized parliament for not allowing adequate public consultations on the proposed Local Government Laws Amendment Bill, which they say does not address important national issues such as devolution of power to provinces.
The criticism of both the public hearing process as well as the proposed bill came out during a stakeholders’ consultative meeting in Bulawayo, ahead of the public hearings on the bill, which began in the country yesterday.
Several people, who attended the meeting, said the public hearings being held by the Portfolio Committee on Local Government, Rural and Urban Development are too few and also hit out at the local government ministry for coming up with what they said was a half-baked bill.
Lawyer Kucaca Phulu, who was a facilitator at the consultative meeting, told Studio 7 that instead of dealing with comprehensive issues under the realm of local governance, the bill only deals with the issue of how to remove councillors, council chairpersons and mayors from office.
Phulu said the parliament’s public consultation on the bill is far too inadequate, adding that he believes the bill is being “fast-tracked” in order to deal with the cases of the suspension of Gweru mayor Hamutendi Kombayi and his Harare counterpart Bernard Manyenyeni.
“They simply deal with the issue of the removing of chairpersons, councillors and mayors and we know that in Harare there is the case of Manyenyeni and in Gweru there is the case of Kombayi and others where the minister has acted unlawfully. All they are doing is simply to fast-track this bill and that’s why you see even the consultation is not sufficient. They are fast-tracking this in order to deal with the current situation and they are taking the people of Zimbabwe for granted.”
Vice chairperson Ntombizodwa Khumalo of the Bulawayo Progressive Residents’ Association said although Zimbabweans have repeatedly called for the implementation of devolution as spelt out in the constitution, the bill does not deal with the issue.
“As the people of Zimbabwe we all aired our views about devolution which we think they have now ignored and yet they are talking about the local government bill. Again last year, as the people of Matabeleland we petitioned government through the Public Policy Research Institute of Zimbabwe about devolution. They have not responded to the petition and yet they are talking about having a local government bill. We are appealing to the minister to concentrate on the issues that are important to ordinary people.”
Maxwell Munenge, a Binga resident who also attended the recent meeting, echoed these sentiments saying the issue of devolution needs to be dealt with urgently as it affects ordinary people in their daily lives.
The public hearings on the Local Government Laws Amendment Bill kicked off in Mutare, Chinhoyi and Karoi yesterday and will be held in Bulawayo tomorrow (Wednesday).
Tiisetso Dube of the Local Authority Capacity Enhancement Project said with just one hearing in Bulawayo and none scheduled for other parts of Matabeleland North and South, many Zimbabweans will feel excluded from the process and won’t have faith in whatever comes out of the public hearings.
“You look at the size of Bulawayo where we are going to have only one meeting … Bulawayo has 29 wards and the meeting is in Nkulumane, and not everybody is going to be able to attend that meeting. The holding of the meetings should have been such that there is a clustering of two or three wards so that if a person fails to go to one meeting at a particular venue they may be able to attend another meeting elsewhere.
“As it is this is just like window dressing where they will say they consulted people in Bulawayo when in reality most people never got the chance to air their views.”
According to the bill, the local government minister will have the power to trigger the suspension of any councillor and also select the independent tribunal which presides over the hearing in which the councillor shall be facing charges brought against him or her by the minister.
Phulu said the bill in its current form vests powers into the minister to be both prosecutor and judge, which he said is in violation of principles of the independence of the tribunal as envisaged in the
constitution, as well as the right to a fair hearing.
“There is no way this bill will be allowed to pass in its original form. I find it very difficult how the parliamentary legal committee for example can let it pass when it says that you have no right to appeal against the decision of the tribunal, when it criminalizes a hearing. Certainly some of those issues will need to be amended but the question is are the amendments going to be enough.”
The Local Government Laws Amendment Bill seeks to amend the Rural District Councils Act and the Urban Councils Act in order to align the provisions of the acts with the constitution.