'Dismissal of mayors unconstitutional'

HARARE - The dismissal of Harare and Gweru mayors by the minister of Local Government is unconstitutional as he is citing old laws which are under dispute, a civic leader has said.

Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe (CCDZ) executive director Phillip Pasirayi said the minister, Saviour Kasukuwere is taking advantage of the slow movement in aligning local government laws to the Constitution, hence continuously refers to old laws to dismiss mayors and councillors.

Kasukuwere has so far dismissed Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni and Gweru mayor Hamutendi Kombayi.

“The new Constitution spells it out clearly that there should be devolution of power so that councils operate independently — we do not know why government still holds on and this is stifling progress in councils. And we think it is deliberate that they are refusing to align local government laws to the Constitution,” said Pasirayi.

He added that the view of civil society and they have pronounced it on several occasions is that the dismissals of mayors is wrong and unconstitutional. “There must be a process whereby the elected councillors and mayors are able to work independently without the interference of central government.”

Pasirayi said government is reluctant to align local government laws and establish the Provincial and Metropolitan Councils. “Government is half-hearted when it comes to aligning local government laws. Take for example the ongoing attempts to fast-track the Local Government Laws Amendment Bill despite its rejection by civil society and the people. We have since, as civic society, petitioned Parliament over this deliberate ploy to delay this alignment.

“It is sad that three years after elections, local government laws are still to be aligned with the Constitution and that government continues to use old laws to interfere with the operations of local authorities.”

He said as civic organisations they need to work with the minister of Local Government because he is responsible for government policy. “We have a good working relationship with the minister and we have engaged with his deputy and officials in his ministry. As civic organisations, we need to work with the minister because he is responsible for government policy.”

Pasirayi said it was sad that there are people in government who deliberately try to link their community engagement work with a regime change agenda.

“There is deliberate politicisation of civic society work especially in rural communities. As civic society we are there to complement the work of government and we are not at all there for the regime change agenda.

“We have witnessed such deliberate politicisation by some traditional and political leaders in Mashonaland Central and Manicaland provinces who are in the habit of demanding a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) before we can work in their areas.”

Pasirayi said working in communities has been fulfilling to him as he gets to understand issues affecting ordinary people. “I like working with and empowering marginalised communities. Through our engagements we have imparted skills to ordinary people who are now aware of their basic rights.

“But there are also huge challenges and risks associated with the work that we do. One of the challenges is being denied access by partisan traditional leaders and district administrators. There are times when authorities refuse to clear our civic education meetings. The most difficult time is towards elections.”

He said as civic organisations they will continue to demand the alignment of local government laws to the Constitution. “We will continue to demand a law that is clear, that sets parameters of local government operations and recognises the devolution of powers to local and provincial councils as spelled out in the Constitution. We need a new culture of doing politics in the country — we need to be tolerant of each other and have leaders driven by the desire to serve and not for personal gain.”

Pasirayi called on government departments, civic organisations, resident unions and community- based organisations to come together and discuss issues to do with poor service delivery and corruption within councils saying that these ills affect us all regardless of political party affiliation.

“Local authorities are failing to deliver services due to rampant corruption. We urge government to urgently intervene within the framework set out in the Constitution to address rampant corruption in local authorities and other public institutions”, said Pasirayi.

CCDZ is a non-profit organisation founded in 2008 whose focus is to promote citizen participation in governance and human rights issues.

Pasirayi said: “Our thrust is around participation and community mobilisation which is spearheaded by community working groups at ward and district level. Except for Matabeleland, we have community working groups in all provinces that are responsible for driving this work at the community level. The community structures also act as citizen journalists. They monitor and report on human rights and service delivery issues within their communities”.

He said CCDZ was there to empower citizens so that they are aware of their rights to social services and to hold the duty-bearers accountable on their obligations towards social service delivery. “We are advocating for democratic policies and institutional reforms, hence taking advantage of the promulgation of new the constitution that provides framework for good governance.

“We are also happy that we now have a comprehensive justiciable bill of rights that also recognises social and economic rights. This empowers ordinary people to demand these rights.”

Pasirayi said it was difficult to work in rural areas without the buy-in of local traditional leaders. “You cannot avoid traditional leaders, community organisations and political parties working in these areas — they are all important. We engage and consult them.”

But there were many places which are difficult to penetrate: “There are some places where traditional leaders there are heavily politicised to an extent that they would demand a MoU before you can engage the communities they lead.

“Other leaders understand our mission and they have embraced our work since they have realised that we are only there to promote citizen participation and engagement,” said Pasirayi.

The key issues coming from the communities they have engaged included the issue of absent leadership. “The people in the communities are not adequately engaging with their leaders and we have since established that most councillors or Members of Parliament disappear immediately after being voted into office and only resurface when another election is due.

“So we are saying that communities should demand their rights, they are supposed to hold their leaders accountable. MPs and councillors should be at the service of their constituencies and as an organisation we are in the communities to raise awareness so that people affected demand their right to social delivery.”

The communities, added the CCDZ executive director, are not being engaged adequately by their leaders in local governance and decision-making processes”.

Pasirayi said the community engagements have seen an increase in people’s awareness and understanding of their rights. “We have a situation where some local authorities are now holding consultative meetings and inviting residents to attend full council meetings. This is a positive step which allows citizens to participate in local governance and service delivery issues.”

He said “Councillors and MPs are there to serve the public. They are public servants which mean that they hold public office to represent the interests of their constituencies and deliver services. There seems to be a misconception among some leaders public office is a vehicle for personal aggrandisement”.

“We have since established community groups which act as our ambassadors at the grassroots level. They are the rights holders, so we train them and equip them technically to monitor the human rights situation in their communities. We also raise awareness and build their capacity to engage duty-bearers to demand improved social service delivery.”

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