THE recent High Court ruling preventing the Minister of Local Government and Public Works from interfering with councils has been received with diverse views from concerned stakeholders.
Peter Tanyanyiwa Suburban Reporter
The court set aside Section 314 of the Urban Councils Act Chapter 29:15, declaring it unconstitutional as it allowed the Minister to issue directives to councils or overturn their decisions.
Some residents’ associations urged Local Government Minister July Moyo to appeal against the ruling saying Government should not leave them at the mercy of corrupt councillors.
Those against the ruling argued that central Government has acted as a shield between ratepayers and the City of Harare.
Other residents’ associations welcomed the ruling saying the City of Harare was now exposed as it was left with no excuses over its failure to deliver services. The residents’ representative bodies said for long the municipality had been using central Government as a scapegoat for its shortcomings.
However, there were residents’ associations who argued that both corruption and central Government interference were responsible for the municipality’s failure to deliver services.
Zimbabwe National Organisation of Associations and Residents Trust (ZNOART) National chairperson Mr Shalvar Chikomba pleaded with Government to challenge the ruling and continue fighting for service delivery. He said the ruling had left ratepayers exposed and at the receiving end of councils if there are no checks and balances.
“With the corruption that we have witnessed at local authorities, especially the City of Harare, if the Ministry of Local Government doesn’t interfere, the residents will be left exposed and I can assure you that service delivery will surely go down.
“The parent ministry was not only interfering with council business, they were interfering on our behalf in an effort to improve service delivery. We will be left on the receiving and council will do what it wants with residents. Government should appeal and challenge that ruling. The Government and the local authorities should work and in hand for the sake of residents,” said Mr Chikomba.
Zimbabwe Combined Residents and Ratepayers Association (ZICORRA) Harare provincial chairperson Mr Lawrence Kuleya said for some time Harare has been playing the blame game over service delivery.
But he argued service delivery failure could not be entirely blamed on Government interference and advised local authorities to simply shape up and stop corruption.
“For some time now the Minister of Local Government has been accused of interfering with councils but truth be told it is not everything in councils that can be blamed on an individual Minister. Councils are supposed to operate as a collective effort from all council departments, councillors, council committees and employees. These are all responsible for the day to day operations of council not an individual Minister. Are they all operating efficiently? So some of the problems in councils are deeper in-house and administrative issues which have nothing to do with the Minister,” said Mr Kuleya.
He said in a way the ruling was welcome because it left councils with no excuses.
“It clarified many things and there is no scapegoat now to hide under for poor performance. At least it will make councillors and council more accountable to residents. We are all tired of this blame game where no one ever accepts responsibility within councils. So now since the ruling has been passed we just await to see if things improve since there is no one else to blame except themselves,” said Mr Kuleya.
The Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA), which was one of the applicants suing the Minister, said the ruling does not exonerate local authorities from mismanagement and corruption. CHRA said going forward it hopes to see service delivery improving.
“Our view is that both interference by the centre and mismanagement in local authorities has seen death of service provision. Also our court challenge doesn’t mean that we exonerate these local authorities from mismanagement and corruption. What is key to understand is that Chapter 14 of the Constitution provides for devolution which gives local authorities power to make decisions to administer, make laws and raise revenue. The moment when the centre takes over those responsibilities that’s interference, that is the Pomona issue, fire tender directive and so on. It is dangerous for the centre to make a decision on behalf of the local authority and then expect the same local authority to be accountable to the residents when the decisions are made by the centre. Full implementation of devolution as provided in the Constitution will reduce corruption and mismanagement,” said CHRA acting director Mr Reuben Akili.
He said they expected local authorities to have autonomy and see if the autonomy brings improved services.
“Our expectations are to ensure that local authorities or councils must begin to make decisions without fear of interference from the Minister. Furthermore, this High Court judgement is critical in the democratisation of our local government system. This also strengthen devolution implementation in Zimbabwe. We expect our duty bearers to embrace a constitutional culture and envisage that Parliament will expedite reform of local government laws so that they can be in tandem with Chapter 14 of the Constitution. On the other hand, we expected the Harare City Council to reintroduce the resolutions that were rescinded by the Minister in particular sharing the report of the investigation committee on the Pomona Waste to Energy project,” said Mr Akili.