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Special interest councillors ideal but not necessary
April 26, 2012
So much has
been in the media and in other discussion forums concerning the
usefulness of special interest councillors within local authorities
as provided for in the Urban
Councils' Act (Chapter 29:15), under administered by the
Minister of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development, who shall
be referred to as the Minister throughout this instalment.
In this article
I will evaluate the impact of special interest councillors on service
delivery in local authorities, and make suggestions that would ensure
the citizens derive maximum benefit from the nation's systems
of local government. Harare City Council would be ideal as a case
study so that there is clarity in the minds of citizens and other
4A (b) of the Urban Councils' Act (UCA), titled membership
to municipal and town councils "such number of appointed councillors
representing special interests, not exceeding one-quarter of the
number of elected councillors, as the Minister may fix in respect
of the council by statutory instrument, and who shall hold office
during the pleasure of the Minister."
Part (2) of
the Section 4A states that appointed councillors shall participate
in the business of the municipal or town council to which they are
appointed and perform the same functions and be entitled to the
same benefits in every respect as if they were elected councillors,
except that they shall not have a vote at meetings of the municipal
or town council concerned.
The above legal
provisions passed through the Parliament
of Zimbabwe as part of Constitutional Amendment Number 18 in 2008,
comprising members of Parliament from the Movement for Democratic
Change- Tsvangirai (MDC-T), the Zimbabwe African National Union
Patriotic front (ZANU PF) and the Movement for Democratic Change
(MDC) of Professor Welshman Ncube.
background, there are genuine contestations against the appointment
of special interest councillors to contribute to the running of
local authorities. Supporters of the appointment of special interest
councillors, mainly the Minister, argue that because democracy does
not always give the best councillors, the special interest councillors
are skilled and experienced personnel that come in to complement
the capabilities of elected councillors. But the major handicap
of this argument is that there are no legal provisions defining
a special interest councillor except to say the one appointed by
the Minister in terms of the Act.
On the other
hand those who oppose the appointment of special interest councillors
say the incumbent Minister is to bring through the back door disguised
as special interest councillors rejects of electoral contests, drawn
mainly from his party Zanu PF. The special interests have also not
been defined in the Urban Councils' Act to assist in the identification
of suitable personnel to complement the gaps in the elected officials.
Currently this is only done by the Minister instead of being done
by a panel involving major stakeholders in local government like
engineers, land developers, residents and ratepayers, and women
and youths. Whose interests are they serving? Surely not residents'
On 29 March
2008, during the harmonised
elections, Harare residents elected 46 councillors for the 46
wards under the city's jurisdiction. But when they were sworn
in to officially start their work on 2 July 2008, 11 special interest
councillors, all with known links to Zanu PF, were also sworn in,
bringing the number of councillors in Harare to 57. Of the 46 were,
only five were women, none of them 'specially' appointed
to represent women. These are Evelyn Njiri (Zanu PF- ward 1), Joyce
Kariwo (Mufakose- ward 36), Ruth Kavunika (Ward 2- Harare Central),
Charity Bango (Ward 41- Marlborough), Paula Macharangwanda (Ward
5- Belvedere), all from the MDC-T. Of the 11 appointed special interest
councillors, there was no woman. Only recently, I think January
2012, the Minister only replaced Provincial Administrator Alfred
Tome with a female special interest councillor Ms Chikumbirike.
does not augur well for gender mainstreaming within the City of
Harare, particularly with Zimbabwe focused on achieving the United
Nations Millennium Development Goal Number Three which aims to promote
gender equality and empower women. It is unfortunate that the 'special
interests' as defined by the Minister do not cover women representation
at the policy level for local authorities.
Since they came
into office, the special interest councillors have attended full
council meetings; they have participated in committee meetings,
making significant contributions in shaping council's policymaking.
But they have no mandate from the residents of Harare. They are
loyal to the Minister. Still, residents of Harare pay their allowances,
and the Ministry of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development
contributes nothing towards their upkeep.
to amend the Urban Councils' Act have met with resistance
from the Minister who argues that the nation needs a harmonised
piece of legislation governing local government. Yet Honourable
Tangwara (MP- Buhera Central- MDC-T) brought a Private Members Bill
proposing amendments to the UCA. These two actions and views on
the local government legislation speak volumes on the vision of
our national leaders to issues of national development. Chombo's
arguments and the views of Honourable Matimba, while divergent,
tells us that the legal framework governing the administration of
local authorities is fragmented, chaotic and inadequate to propel
service delivery to desirable levels. They both see the gaps in
existing legislation but with totally different motives. The mere
fact that Minister Chombo is advocating for a harmonised local government
legislative framework is an indicator that while he wields executive
and unchecked powers over local authorities under the current set
up, he realises that the Urban Councils' Act, the Regional,
Town and Country Planning Act (Chapter 29:12), Rural District Councils
Act (Chapter 29:13), and the Traditional Leadership Act which he
administers are insufficient to curtail corruption within local
authorities, deal with excessive incompetence among councillors
and transform service delivery. The various pieces of legislation
are a genuine hindrance to community development.
From our viewpoint
as the Harare Residents' Trust (HRT), the contests on whether
or not special interest councillors are relevant or not have not
been done in the interest of improving the welfare of residents,
but a desire by respective political parties to have total control
and authority over residents so that their party get credit for
'bringing development' to the community instead of focusing
on facilitating development.
Although the focus of elected councillors has been on their power
and authority within local authorities, their roles as elected councillors
have not been clearly defined, leaving them at the mercy of the
Minister who capitalises on their lack of real power and authority
to direct operations within local authorities from the comfort of
his office, using, of course the Acts of Parliament.
With this legislative
oversight, they are left in the same position as special interest
councillors, without much power. Taken into the bigger picture,
this scenario plays out openly during the annual budget consultations
that local authorities are expected by the citizenry to undertake.
But in terms of the Urban Councils' Act, there is no obligation
on the part of the local authority to actually conduct the pre-budget
consultations, further highlighting the inadequacies of existing
legislation to serve the interests of residents as the electorate.
Assertions by the Minister that urban local authorities are not
consulting residents smack of hypocrisy. He is aware that there
is no legal provision that compels local authorities to do pre-budget
consultations. When they actually go out to consult it is a mere
formality to hoodwink people into believing that their views will
be factored in budget formulation.
What has apparently
been happening with regards to the powers and authority of the Minister
over local authorities has been mainly driven by political motives
and not a conscious development agenda. Political parties have repeatedly
narrowed the scope for engagement around such important development
issues. Legislation has capacity to hinder and propel development.
Because of a
system failure to address expressed needs of citizens regarding
the appointment of special interest councillors and the absolute
failure of legislation to provide for clearly defined roles and
responsibilities of special interest councillors, the only other
possible alternative is to repeal the Urban Councils' Act
(Chapter 29:15) to; (1) recognise residents bodies as major stakeholders
in local authorities administration , (2) revamp the structure of
local authorities to provide for the abolishment of special interest
councillors, (3) clearly define the roles of elected councillors
and set criteria for election of councillors beyond merely being
on the voters roll and above 18 years (4) empower councillors to
have power and authority to oversee the implementation of their
decisions at committee and full council level by senior council
of special interest councillors, just like the appointment of 'Caretaker
councils' as provided for in terms of Section 80 of the Urban
Councils' Act is at the 'pleasure of the Minister'
meaning the Minister retains executive powers over these individuals.
The Act is silent on the meaning of 'pleasure of the Minister'.
This suggests that it remains in the power of the Minister to define
this term. In a deeply partisan local government in Zimbabwe, the
probability is such that such term as 'pleasure of the Minister'
may be interpreted within the context of the party ideology and
policies the local government Minister belongs to, and this raises
high chances of abusing this 'pleasure'. The legal provisions
indicate that while these appointed caretaker councils derive their
authority from the Minister, the burden is on the rate payer to
meet their expenses like salaries and allowances, determined 'by
Unless the Urban
Councils' Act is repealed, the appointment of special interest
councillors should be stopped and removed from the legislation,
as it is an unnecessary burden on the residents. Without legal provisions
outlining how the Minister selects the special interest councillors,
this becomes unnecessary. Only the Minister knows the 'special
interests to be represented', which I do not think was the
intention of the legislature. The legislature needed all stakeholders
represented and competencies brought in to complement the crop of
Visit the Harare
Residents' Trust fact
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