Central government at the epicentre of the challenges facing local authorities
By Luke Tamborinyoka
Today is Christmas day, the day we celebrate the birth of the Son of Man, our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a day that is supposed to be a day of love, unity, togetherness and celebration. A day that families in this country must celebrate together while thanking the Almighty God for pulling them through a tough year under this inept, illegitimate and corrupt leadership (mis)running the affairs of the State.
In this our fractured nation replete with so much hate, suffering and the unmitigated callous repression of human rights, today must be a day of sober reflection and rapt wonderment particularly on the grave toxic matters bedevilling this our beloved homeland.
The glamour, glitz and merry-making associated with Christmas is long gone—pilfered by an illegitimate regime that has conspired to mount yet another coup, this time on the happiness of the people.
On my part, this Christmas Friday marks the end of a very sad week in which I learnt of the death of members of buddies and fellow members of the Fourth Estate, among them Charles Laiton, Tendai Ndemera and Zimbabwe Union of Journalists secretary-general Foster Dongozi. Foster, a close colleague who was a year ahead of me in journalism school and a former workmate of mine during our era of audacious journalism at The Daily News, is the one who succeeded me as secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, the office in which he was still serving albeit on a full-time basis at the time of his death.
Coming so soon after the death of Janet Munyaka, a classmate of mine in the 2020 Master of Science in International Relations class at the University of Zimbabwe, who died just 24 hours after our graduation day earlier this December, it has indeed been a teary month for the country’s press corps.
Given the current debate on the ongoing demolitions of people’s homes, the crackdown on the MDC Alliance mayors and the contrived recalls of our councillors, my instalment this week is about central government’s desperate but well-calculated measures to systematically take over the running of local government. I just wish to add a few pointers to what our secretary for Local Government Hon. Sessel Zvidzai told the press some two weeks ago about the deliberate emaculation of the powers of local authorities.
There has been a flurry of spirited talk and blame games especially around the demolitions of people’s homes in Budiriro and other suburbs in Harare. This week, while addressing a gathering in his home area of Chivi, Emmerson Mnangagwa said MDC Alliance-run councils had failed to run the affairs of the people in the respective municipalities. He pointedly hinted at a systematic blitzkrieg to reverse our dominance in urban areas, which strategy is already in full-swing given the clampdown on our mayors and the contrived recalls of our elected councillors.
True, our councils may have their own shortcomings which the party leadership sought to address when President Advocate Nelson Chamisa on 28 February 2020 hosted a Mayors’ Forum in Harare for all our elected local authorities in the country. It emerged at that workshop that while the people had elected their councillors to run their affairs in their local areas and despite clear provisions in the Constitution that only elected councillors run local government, the Zanu PF-run central government has usurped all municipal powers and is at the centre of the mischief and lack of prudent service delivery in all local authorities across the country.
It emerged from that workshop that elected councils cannot even buy a pen without the authority of central government. They cannot even buy water chemicals on their own to treat water for the residents they serve in their respective local authorities because the required foreign currency can only be provided by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe while all procurement of the respective chemicals is done by the State Procurement Board, housed in the President’s Office. The residents and the citizens of this country are unaware that notwithstanding clear provisions in the law and in the Constitution empowering elected councillors to run councils, the Zanu PF-run central government is effectively in charge.
Today, as part of my citizen responsibility to impart information to fellow citizens on the challenges facing our councils, I reproduce the piece I wrote after accompanying President Chamisa to the Mayors’ Forum we held early this year and in which the leaders of all MDC Alliance-run chronicled how Zanu PF had systemically usurped their powers and how this heinous move has severely hampered service delivery in the respective local authorities:
The sad story of how Zanu PF has taken over local government
On Friday, 28 February 2020, the people’s President Advocate Nelson Chamisa hosted a Mayors’ Forum where the party’s elected local government leadership from across the country chronicled their successes and challenges in delivering prudent services to the people.
The forum was part of the new culture of performance management in the MDC Alliance aimed at ensuring our councils perform effectively in delivering the services for which they were elected.
It emerged from the meeting that the MDC-led local authorities had done wonders amid gross interference by central government, which intervenes even on trite issues that should ordinarily be under the purview of elected people’s representatives.
It must be stated from the outset that chapter 14 of the national Constitution explicitly states that there must be devolution of governmental powers and responsibilities to provincial, metropolitan councils and local authorities. The Constitution is clear that only elected representatives must manage affairs at local government level.
The government has however paid lip-service to the devolution principle, with central government arrogating upon itself all local government authority and usurping the powers of the elected representatives of the people in the lower tiers.
Section 274 of the national Constitution specifically states that only elected urban local authorities must manage the affairs of the people and that only elected councillors must administer the government at local level. Section 276 states that a local authority has the right to govern, on its own initiative, the local affairs of the people within the area for which it was established and “ has all the powers necessary to do so.”
The eight-hour robust engagement at Morgan Richard Tsvangirai House in February 2020 exposed that central government was grossly interfering in the administration of local government and was behind all the challenges facing the people. Six main challenges emerged from that meeting:
- Elected policy-makers shut out of all procurement
All procurement has now been centralized and local authorities do not have powers to procure water chemicals and guarantee delivery of clean water to the people. Procurement, even of a simple pen or even any other minute gadget, is now being done by a central procurement authority under the Office of the President.
This means that the elected people’s representatives can no longer execute their mandate, in brazen violation of the Constitution. Prudent service delivery has been grossly affected because of bureaucratic drudgery and deliberate central government delays especially in the procurement of essential commodities such as water chemicals so as to sabotage the mainly MDC Alliance-run authorities in charge at local government level.
- Gross government interference in staffing
Councils do not even have powers to recruit their own staff in furtherance of their own plans and programmes on which they would have consulted residents.
Despite there being directors of Human Resources in the various councils, there have been myriad directives from the Minister of Local Government that are meant to usurp the recruitment of staff from the respective elected local authority.
Added to this, the Local Government Board that should oversee the recruitment of senior technical council officials is not even in place. Most councils have been suspended and victimized for taking action against corrupt Town Clerks, most of whom are sentries of ZANU PF interests in the various towns and local authorities. Chitungwiza and Gweru municipal authorities are pertinent examples in this respect.
- Incessant power outages
The power outages caused by the chronic shortages of foreign currency in the country and for which the clueless and illegitimate government is solely responsible, have caused massive anxiety in local authorities. The power shortages have not only meant shortage of power for domestic and industrial use but have made it impossible to pump water and sewage, further endangering the lives of residents in the various towns and cities.
- Anomalies and favoritism in disbursement of devolution funds
Central government has paid lip-service to the principle of devolution encapsulated in the national Constitution. Even though government has purported to be distributing devolution funds, there have been serious anomalies in the amounts disbursed to the respective local authorities.
The unfair disbursements have seen larger local authorities run by the MDC receiving less funds while smaller councils dominated by ZANU PF councillors have been awarded huge amounts. For example, the bigger local authority of Zvishavane has received less funds than the smaller Runde Rural District Council, pointing to skewed disbursement of devolution funds.
The MDC-run Rusape council has also received less money than the surrounding smaller rural district councils that are ZANU PF-controlled.
To make the situation murkier, the provincial councils envisaged under the devolution principle that is encapsulated in chapter 14 of the Constitution are still to be set up, seven years after 93 percent of Zimbabweans overwhelmingly endorsed the new Constitution in a referendum. Instead of ensuring that provincial councils are in place as dictated by the Constitution, Zanu PF has in their place foisted Ministers of Provincial Affairs, even in provinces where they were strenuously rejected by the people such as Harare and Bulawayo.
- Government still to approve council budgets
In order to cripple the MDC-run councils, central government delays the approval of the budgets of most urban local authorities, which are approved by the Minister of Local Government. Harare is a case in point, where service delivery has been seriously hampered by central government’s deliberate ploy to delay the approval of the council’s budget, which has made it impossible for the capital city to charge competitive tariffs that enable council to deliver prudent services to the residents.
Ironically, in the case of Harare, Local Government Minister July Moyo late February wrote a memorandum urging the municipality to urgently pay its debt to Chemplex Holdings, a Zanu PF-linked company involved in the procurement of water chemicals.
July Moyo conveniently chose to forget that Harare was failing to service many of its debts apart from the one owed to Chemplex on the grounds that it was Moyo himself who was still to approve the city’s budget for 2020, thereby grossly impeding council from servicing its debts and delivering prudent services to ratepayers.
Since 2013, Harare and other cities have been in financial doldrums owing to ZANU PF’s populist announcements towards every election cancelling all debts owed to councils, including those owed by government, the biggest debtor to most urban local authorities. This has incentivized non-payment of rates as residents and corporate consumers now have a legitimate expectation that their debts will be written off on the eve of every election.
- ZANU PF-linked land barons parceling land to themselves
Most urban local authorities have been fleeced of their land by ZANU PF-linked land barons. Harare, Chitungwiza, Rusape and other local authorities have had most of their land taken away by bigwigs linked to the party (mis)running central government.
The mayors and council chairpersons told President Chamisa that most of their land had been parceled out to well-heeled ZANU PF cronies. ( The current demolitions in Budiriro and other areas in Harare are linked to this ploy by central government to hand over land to Zanu PF land barons)
Keeping the head above the water
Despite the six main challenges chronicled above, most MDC-run local authorities have made sterling progress to ensure that some modicum of normal service is delivered to the residents, albeit under very difficult circumstances.
Most councils have signed twinning arrangements with other cities outside the country; they have installed solar-powered street lights as is the case with Norton and some have bought refuse trucks even amid gross interference by central government.
President Chamisa told these mayors and council chairpersons of local authorities in February 2020 that they owed their mandate to the people who elected them and not to anyone else. Notwithstanding the challenges, he urged them to continue holding feedback meetings with the residents and to continue delivering services.
At the end of the day, said President Chamisa to Mayors’ Forum, it is the people who are sovereign. In spite of the hardships, councils must strive to deliver prudent services to the people who elected them.
Since that workshop held in February, the regime has intensified its onslaught in the various MDC Alliance-controlled local authorities across the country, particularly in Harare where two mayors have been suspended on trumped-up charges of corruption.
It was evident during last February’s Mayors’ Forum that it is an understatement to say that the illegitimate Zanu PF regime is throwing spanners in the works to disable local authorities from arguing out their mandate.
Yes, they are not throwing just spanners to disable the people’s councils from working. ZANU PF is instead throwing the whole tools box into the works!
Luke Tamborinyoka is the Deputy Secretary for Presidential Affairs in the MDC Alliance led by Advocate Nelson Chamisa . He is a multiple award-winning journalist and a former secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists . Tamborinyoka also served as spokesperson for almost 10 years to the country’s democracy icon , Morgan Tsvangirai , until the latter’s death in 2018 . He has just graduated with a Master of Science degree in International Relations from the University of Zimbabwe He is an ardent political scientist who won the Book Prize for best student when he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science at the University of Zimbabwe . You can interact with him on Facebook or on the twitter handle @ luke_tambo ._