'Moyo's caretaker commissions illegal'

HARARE - Commissions set up to run local authorities by Local Government minister July Moyo are illegal and should be abolished, constitutional and local government experts have said.

This comes after Moyo last week appointed commissions led by Zanu PF officials to run the affairs of Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Chitungwiza, Ruwa, Epworth and other local authorities until the inauguration of the new president.

The commissions will preside over the local authorities on an interim basis until the new council is sworn in.

The commissions will not make any far-reaching decisions on behalf of council without consulting government and shall not engage in land or stands allocations.

According to a memo from government, the commissions are barred from entering into agreements involving joint ventures and will not engage in acquisition or disposal of council property.

The commissions will not recruit new staff and are barred from dealing with tenders.

Moyo claimed the caretaker commissions were appointed in terms of section 80 of the Urban Councils Act.

But constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku said there was absolutely no scope for the appointment of the caretaker commissions, given that elected councillors should have begun work a long time ago.

He said it was only Parliament and provincial councils which had to wait until inauguration of the president to assume office, and not councillors.

“Those commissions are illegal. Councillors should have resumed their duties on day nine after the election results were announced and finalised. They should be operational and not sitting.

“All that the elected councillors should do is approach their various council offices and demand for work from the management and if they are denied, they have every legal basis to go to the courts of law and have every basis to do so,” Madhuku told the Daily News on Sunday.

Local government expert Mfundo Mlilo said the commissions are just a disaster waiting to happen considering their past.

He said if the councillors do not begin work, the Combined Harare Residents Association would approach the High Court on the matter.

“There is no justifiable reason why our elected councillors are not working for the people. The whole thing smells of gross corruption as was the case with previous commissions.

“Their reporting structure which requires them to declare allegiance only to the minister and not people who voted them into such positions makes it difficult for residents to hold them accountable for anything.

“Besides, that the experience we have had with commissions is not good, for example Harare’s water problems and the cholera epidemic can be traced back to Sekesayi Makwavarara’s commission,” Mlilo said.

Community Water Alliance chairperson Hildaberta Rwambiwa said the applicable law in urban areas for the setting up of commissions is Section 80(1) of the Urban Councils Act which explicitly states the conditions under which a minister may appoint such.

She said the caretaker commissions have no legal grounding because elected councillors were announced by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission on August 2 and since then, nine days have lapsed.

“Section 80(1) provides for appointment of caretaker commissions if at any time (a) there are no elected councillors for the council area; (b) all elected councillors for the council area have been suspended or imprisoned.

“Section 277(3) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe states that ‘except as otherwise provided in subsection (2) or an Act of Parliament, mayors, chairpersons and councillors of local authorities assume office on the 9th day after the announcement of the results of the general election in which the councillors were elected’.

“This provision is not saying may assume, it says they assume meaning that the limitations only apply where Section 277(2) applies and where Section 80(1) of Urban Councils Act applies. Section 277(2) deals with election of mayors and chairpersons of local authorities,” she said.

Rwambiwa urged government to abolish the commissions and allow councillors to assume office in terms of Section 277(3) of the Constitution.

Harare Residents Trust (HRT) said the appointment of commissions to run councils is unjustified, ill-timed and a costly expenditure for local authorities who will eventually pay them.

The residents’ pressure group said commissions breed unrivalled corruption by conniving with corrupt council managers which will have negative consequences for the ratepayer.

HRT said the chairperson of the commission is paid the same remuneration as the mayor while the commissioners are paid rates equivalent to councillors.

However, they are not accountable to the ratepayers.

“Moyo should not abuse his powers by appointing commissions to run the public affairs of local authorities as if there are no elected councillors to run the affairs of their respective local authorities.

“The nation is reminded of similar abuse of authority by the commission appointed to run the Harare City Council ahead of the July 31, 2013 elections, then under former minister Ignatius Chombo.

“Six senior council officials were speedily recruited to be part of the council workforce, despite the councillors having resolved not to recruit more senior personnel.

“By the time the newly-elected councillors assumed their offices in August 2013, the commission had made several bad decisions on housing and land allocations,” the residents pressure group said

“Just like the ministers, the elected councillors cease to be ward councillors when their successor councillors have taken their oaths of office. The last council was inaugurated on September 16, 2013.

“At their first meeting following their election, the councillors are sworn in and they elect their mayor and deputy mayor which will be the only agenda items for their congregation. This means that the councillors elected in 2013 – 2018 are still the legitimate councillors until the ones elected on July 30, 2018 are sworn into office,” HRT said.

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