HomeOpinion & AnalysisSunday Opinion:Special Interest Councillors: Curse or blessing

Sunday Opinion:Special Interest Councillors: Curse or blessing

Under Section 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 Section 4A states that appointed councillors shall participate in the business of the municipality 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 MDC-T, Zanu PF and the MDC led by Professor Welshman Ncube.

Against this background, there are genuine contestations against the appointment of special interest councillors to contribute to the running of local authorities. Supporters of such appointments, mainly the Minister, argue that because democracy does not always produce the best councillors, the special interest appointees 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 brings through the back door rejects of electoral contests drawn mainly from his party Zanu PF, disguised as special interest councillors. 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, women and youths. Whose interests are they serving?— surely not residents’ interests!

During March 2008, harmonised elections, Harare residents elected 46 councillors for the 46 wards under the city’s jurisdiction. But when they were sworn-in on July 2 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 elected, only five were women, none of them “specially”appointed to represent women. Of the 11 appointed special interest councillors, none was a woman.

This approach does not augur well for gender mainstreaming within the City of Harare, particularly with Zimbabwe focused on achieving Millennium Development Goal III 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 only to the Minister. Still, residents of Harare pay their allowances, and the Local Government ministry contributes nothing towards their upkeep.

Repeated efforts 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 a Private Members Bill proposing amendments to the UCA was brought before parliament. 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 tell us that the legal framework governing the administration of local authorities is fragmented, chaotic and inadequate to propel service delivery to desirable levels.

The mere fact that 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 existing pieces of legislation are insufficient to curtail corruption within local authorities, deal with excessive incompetence among councillors and  transform service delivery.

By Precious Shumba

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