Call for executive mayors

HARARE - Stripped of their executive powers, mayors in Zimbabwe are mere lame ducks and can only but watch as the powerful Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere meddle in their affairs replacing elected officials with commissions.

And ahead of next year elections events in most councils are now following a familiar script, sparking fresh debate on whether the country should have executive or ceremonial mayors.

Take Harare Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni — as much as he wants to bring back the glitter to the former sunshine city — he finds his hands tied because his role is just ceremonial.

“Stakeholders have got a mandate to change the current setup so that the next mayor who comes after me can be an executive mayor,” Manyenyi said last week.

Under the current arrangement ceremonial mayors have to wait “for the full council meeting after a lot of procedures” yet “some things need to be dealt with there and then without wasting so much time.

“When things are not okay like this we need a mayor who has powers not just a mayor who stays in his office and waits to read full council meeting minutes. If things are as bad as they are now there is no reason to wait for a full council resolution,” Manyenyeni said.

Before the emergence of the MDC in the late 1990s, Zimbabwe had executive mayors and the opposition went on to dominate in urban constituencies causing much discomfiture to Zanu PF which then went on to replace executive mayors with commissions and eventually amending the law to suit the situation.

MDC Local Government shadow minister Eddie Cross said the starting point in restoring powers of mayors would be turning to the Constitution which provides for devolution of power to local authorities.

With a devolved State, more powers are in the hands of local authorities and the Local Government ministry only plays an oversight role.

“Manyenyeni was totally right when he said Zimbabwe needed executive mayors. Local authorities are critical to the quality of life of Zimbabweans.

“They provide for housing, education, health, roads, water and sanitation needs. However, when you look at these issues you will notice that local authorities do not have the powers to deal with such problems and are inadequately funded.”

As a ceremonial mayor, Manyenyeni only receives a token of appreciation while town council employees, who he is supposed to control, earn staggering salaries and get mouth-watering allowances.

“Manyenyeni is responsible for about 40 percent of the country’s population yet he does that on a meagre allowance. How can anything positive happen when the mayor only sits on issues once a month, it is a joke. Mayors and chairpersons are operating in laughable conditions.”

“Look at the three men who were put to run Gweru. That commission was receiving more than $100 a day in allowances and after investigations were concluded, all councillors were found not guilty, yet the commission had cost the city thousands of dollars,” Cross said.

Even residents, who elected councillors, are now itching for a return of executive mayors as they believe such a setup would bring more accountability.

Harare Metropolitan Residents Forum (Hamref) chief executive officer Mfundo Mlilo said having executive mayors has numerous benefits to residents as the mayor is directly accountable to the residents.

He added that since Manyenyeni is only ceremonial, residents cannot pile responsibilities on him because he cannot act on them since he does not have the executive powers to do so.

“Bureaucrats in most local authorities do not owe the mayors or chairpersons of their councils any allegiance because they are not answerable to them since they are all ceremonial. If you look at Harare, Manyenyeni in his ceremonial position does not know how much the town clerk and most directors earn.

“They can easily award themselves hefty salaries and allowances because he is not signatory to any of the city’s accounts. He cannot be considered independent when he cannot monitor his own employees,” Mlilo said.

Mlilo said because ceremonial mayors do not have any powers, they are prone to suspensions which lead to establishment of commissions.

“When a mayor is suspended or fired, the law provides that a commission is established. However, these commissions are just supposed to be caretakers of the council until whatever that is being investigated is finalised.

“But in Zimbabwe you find that most commissions end up running affairs like elected officials, though in not such a positive way.

“Historically, commissions have been responsible for the decay of most local authorities. They open up to rampant corruption and looting of resources from local authorities.

“In Harare, during the Sekai Makwavarara led commission, houses were being sold for peanuts and disease outbreaks such as cholera emerged. Ultimately mayors should be executive if our local authorities are to survive and provide adequate and quality services to the people,” Mlilo said.

Comments (1)

This is an issue (plus many others) to be delt with in the new Zimbabwe..i.e. after 2018 when zanupf is buried.

Sinyo - 22 May 2017

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