By Precious Shumba
The local government system in Zimbabwe was inherited from the colonial administration. Remnants of colonial systems remain to date, especially in respect of town planning regulations.
Since 1980, the local government system, especially governance of urban local authorities, has undergone significant changes in the powers of council committees, status of local authorities, the election of mayors, the abolishing of executive mayors and the Constitution.
Most importantly to note is the changing mindsets of policymakers and bureaucrats on the role of national government in the affairs of local authorities. The emergence of the major opposition in June 2000 in Zimbabwe’s local authorities has meant that ZANU PF is mainly concentrated at the national government level and rural district councils with the opposition providing the majority of policymakers in urban local authorities.
This has created unending conflict over what powers and authority to exercise with what levels of oversight. The opposition legitimately believes that they have autonomy where they have more councillors, and frown at the presence of the national government in their affairs. Sadly, the roles of local authorities and the national government are clearly stated in the country’s legislation. Local authorities are a tier of government closest to the people. The ruling party, as the governing party, controls the national government. There is no immediate solution to the jurisdictional conflicts but the degree differs from one local authority to the other.
How our councils are run
Here, I attempt to unpack and highlight the hierarchical structure of decision making processes in Zimbabwe’s local government system;
1. Cabinet of Zimbabwe headed by the President of Zimbabwe.
2. Parliament enacts laws to facilitate the governance system. These include Rural District Councils Act, Urban Councils Act, Environment Management Act, Public Health Act, Regional, Town and Country Planning Act, etc. Each Minister is given specific laws to administer on behalf of the Cabinet, chaired by the President.
3. Minister of Local Government and Public Works has oversight of local authorities in Zimbabwe on behalf of the Cabinet. The Minister is expected to follow the guidelines of the Constitution and relevant legislation.
4. Local authorities: cities, municipalities, towns, RDCs and local boards. These are a tier of government with semi-autonomy.
5. Governance of Local Authorities: Each local authority is run through Council Committees made up of ward councillors. After Constitutional Amendment Number 2, there is going to be an additional 30 percent of women councillors elected through proportional representation based on political party lists.
Decisions of each Committee are submitted to the monthly Full Council meeting where they are tabled as recommendations. The full council makes the final decisions known as Resolutions which become council policies, strategies and by laws. All resolutions made by the Full Council are handed over to the Town Clerk/Town Secretary/Chief Executive Officer, depending on the status of the local authority. Each Full Council is chaired by a Mayor/Chairperson, again depending on the status of the local authority. Rural district councils, town councils and local boards are chaired by the Chairperson while municipalities and Cities are chaired by Mayors. Mayors in Zimbabwe are not executive, meaning that they are not full time but make time for council business while doing their personal business outside council.
6. Recruitment of Council Workers: This is done by both the councils and the Local Government Board for urban local authorities. Junior council workers are recruited and dismissed by the council alone without the involvement of the national government. Ask yourself how your local activists end up being council workers. Have you ever seen an advertisement calling on residents to apply for council junior jobs, or you only find them in council. The Councillors and the managers are responsible.
Senior Council workers are recruited by the Council, with the national government retaining its oversight. Before finalising their recruitment or dismissal, the councils submit all documentation relating to the vacancies being filled and the list of the interviewees and how they performed in the interviews to the Local Government Board where the final approval is granted. That is oversight and consistent with good corporate governance.
The declaration of vacancy, the setting of the job description and job content, the advertising and the shortlisting of the candidates is done by the Council through the responsible human resources committee.
7. Implementation of council decisions is done by the council technocrats led by their accounting officers of town clerk/town secretary/ chief executive officer down through their heads of departments until the least council worker. They all operate through a highly organised bureaucracy.
Recommendations: Legal shake-up
- Local authority elections should be held separately from the presidential and parliamentary elections so that the quality of candidates is improved. Political parties currently do not give much value to local authorities candidates, putting their best candidates in Parliament and the President.
- Repeal the Urban Councils Act. Enact a consolidated local government law that factors in Chapter 14 of the Constitution.
- The Local Government Board should be enhanced to cover all council workers, not only urban local authorities and senior managers. The national government should facilitate the creation of a more vibrant local authorities Board in the same manner as the Public Service Commission which is responsible for staffing in government.
- Councillors should not have anything to do with the recruitment of Council staff.
- Depoliticise service delivery.
- Jurisdictions of the national, provincial and local authorities should be valued and respected by all without encroachment to the other. Local authorities need the space to exercise their control over their public mandate. The national Government should enact devolution laws to safeguard jurisdictional authority of each tier of government.
Service delivery has largely suffered from personality fights between incumbents policymakers and bureaucrats within local authorities, and the overbearing influence of the national government using existing legislation. As long as we have partisan national government and local authorities policymakers and bureaucrats, it is the ratepayers who will continue to be shortchanged in the provision of public services.
Precious Shumba is head of the Harare Residents’ Trust