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Dissolution of councils unconstitutional
Phyllis Mbanje, The Standard (Zimbabwe)
July 07, 2013

Ignatius Chombo, the Minister of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development acted illegally when he dissolved local authorities around the country, constitutional experts have said.

Chombo dissolved all councils saying their tenure had ended.

A circular distributed by the secretary for Local Government, Rural and Urban Development, Killian Mpingo then announced that caretakers and commissions would take over council affairs.

For Harare and Bulawayo metropolitan provinces, town clerks and the respective provincial administrators have been appointed to take charge of all affairs.

In other urban councils, district administrators and town clerks or local board secretaries would be in charge while in rural councils, district administrators and chief executive officers would be commissioners.

But Section 58 (1) of the former Constitution which was cited by Mpingo makes no mention of the dissolution of local authority councils.

It merely says that council elections are to be harmonised with Presidential and Parliamentary elections.

Constitutional expert Professor Lovemore Madhuku said the Constitution does not have the mandate to regulate the term of office of councils.

“What has been done is unlawful. Our constitution does not regulate the term of office of council; it only has provisions that relate to council.”

Madhuku said the councillors had also acted irresponsibly alongside Chombo when they agreed to step down in accordance with the misguided directive.

“The councillors enjoy the same status as executives and their term of office is clearly spelt out in the Urban Councils Act,” said Madhuku. “Councillors are supposed to remain in office until the newly elected team comes into office.”

The Rural District Councils Act, section 30 (1) says: “Every elected councillor shall assume office as a councillor on the day following the day of his election, and … shall hold such office until the day following the day on which a new councillor is elected.”

Madhuku said the general public should flood the Constitutional Court with applications seeking to overturn Chombo’s directive.

Veritas, a watchdog group of lawyers that monitors Parliament, also questioned the constitutionality of dissolving councils.

It accused Chombo of making an assumption that dissolution of Parliament also meant that councils must be dissolved.

“That is a heroic assumption, to put it mildly. Neither the old nor the new constitution says so expressly and the fact that elections for different institutions are held together does not necessarily mean that the office-bearers in those institutions must serve the same terms,” said Veritas.

“It seems clear that the Secretary and, presumably, his minister were acting in the belief that since the life of Parliament came to an end on the 29th June, the terms of office of all local authority councillors also came to an end.”

It further charged that even though Parliament had expired, the President’s term had not ended, as did that of MPs who were elected together with him.

“If therefore it had been intended that local authorities expire when Parliament expires, one would have expected a specific statement to that effect in the Constitution or in an Act of Parliament.”

The group also said the councillors were supposed to stay in office until the elections were held and the new bearers announced.

“Councils themselves remain in place from one election to the next, because one cannot have councillors if there are no councils for them to sit on,” said Veritas. “If therefore the Secretary’s letter to local authorities was based on legal advice, then the advice was questionable at best in regard to urban councils, and downright wrong in regard to rural district councils.”

A Harare commission led by Sekesai Makwavarara in 2004 was accused of running the city to the ground. It was accused of corruption, poor service delivery and rampant looting of council properties.

Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) director, Mfundo Mlilo said they were against the appointment of commissions and caretakers.

“We are against the appointment of the commission because they are only accountable to government. The precious commissions plundered the scarce resources that were there at the time.”

Residents fear massive corruption

Harare Residents Trust (HRT) fears massive corruption by the commissions appointed to run local authorities as has happened before.

HRT director, Precious Shumba said previous commissions were not accountable to the ratepayers and abused resources.

“Commissions or caretakers are by nature very inconvenient to the residents given their tendency to undermine decisions made by the elected council,” he said. “As the HRT, we shall be keeping a close eye on council’s operations in the absence of the elected council.”

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