URBAN councils under the dominion of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) are headed for more chaos as the ruling ZANU-PF government escalates its agenda to place them under its functionaries ahead of make-or-break general elections in 2018.
The Financial Gazette can report that between now and the 2018 plebiscite, city fathers in MDC-T dominated municipalities essentially have only two options open to them – either to play ball or fall by the wayside.
Either way, it is a zero-sum game for Morgan Tsvangirai’s party, which has been on the back foot ever since it came close to gaining power in 2008, when ZANU-PF lost its majority in Parliament to the MDC-T for the first time since independence.
ZANU-PF has found a wily enforcer in the form of Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere, whose other hat is that of national political commissar for the ruling party.
As the party’s head of the commissariat, Kasukuwere’s performance objectives include aiding and abetting ZANU-PF’s power-retention strategies by mobilising grassroots support at the polls.
In order to achieve the party’s objectives, he is using his other hat as Local Government Minister to ensure that none amongst MDC-T functionaries stand in his way.
Those who dare to frustrate his moves will get their marching orders, creating room for ruling party apparatchiks who will go along with him.On top of ZANU-PF’s agenda is the fulfilment of 2013 election promises, as captured in the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset) blueprint.
One of Zim-Asset’s objectives is to rollout affordable housing for home seekers across the country.
Already, ZANU-PF has promised to make available land in urban centres to clear the backlog on the housing waiting list which stands at over two million people.
Tied to that, the party is also hoping to roll out vending stalls for informal traders and small to medium size enterprises to absorb thousands of people on the job market.
Through Zim-Asset, ZANU-PF is looking at creating 2,2 million jobs.
MDC-T-run councils are being viewed as an impediment to the achievement of these and other objectives.
So far, the country’s largest opposition party has been exploiting the new Constitution, which has devolved powers to councils, to sidetrack the Local Government Minister.
To dribble his way past the new charter, Kasukuwere is in the process of amending the Urban Councils Act (UCA) to support his agenda.
With ZANU-PF enjoying a clear majority in the National Assembly, the courts might soon offer no sanctuary for the MDC-T, hence assertions that its officials might soon be at the mercy of Kasukuwere.
Legal and parliamentary watchdog, Veritas, this week said Kasukuwere’s law amendment manoeuvres could best be deemed as unconstitutional.
“It is apparent…that the Bill is unsatisfactory, and quite probably unconstitutional, in several respects,” said Veritas.
Ever since the Constitution came into operation three years ago, the country has been waiting for the Rural District Councils Act (RDC Act) and the UCA, among other statutes, to be amended so as to devolve powers to local authorities and accord them the independence they are entitled to under Chapter 14 of the Constitution.
Veritas said the Local Government Laws Amendment Bill, which government gazetted on May 9, should have provided for this, but it didn’t.
“All it does is to amend the two Acts to allow for the setting up of a tribunal to deal with the removal from office of mayors and councillors,” argued Veritas.
“Local authorities need oversight from the central government, because both in this country and elsewhere some of them have proved to be incompetent, extravagant and corrupt. Nonetheless, the powers given to the Minister under the UCA and the RDC Act are excessive and unconstitutional. The Local Government Laws Amendment Bill does nothing whatsoever to remove or even limit the Minister’s powers.”
Ever since his appointment last year, Kasukuwere has set the cat among the pigeons by stoking fires in Gweru, Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare, Chitungwiza and Gwanda.
By 2018, Kasukuwere is set to create a record number of commission-run councils in the country’s history if his will prevails.
Despite outcries over his machinations, he has thrown caution to the wind, at times running afoul of the country’s Constitution.
Soon after getting into office, the combative minister announced that he would clean up all the local authorities where corruption and poor service delivery had become the order of the day.
While his mission appeared noble, the grand plan has been to destroy the MDC-T’s influence in its urban strongholds and re-establishing ZANU-PF control through the back door.
Gweru is already being run by a commission after its mayor and 16 councillors were sent packing over allegations of corruption.
Increasingly, Harare is slipping out of the MDC-T’s control.
Harare mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni was suspended on Tuesday after returning from yet another suspension for allegedly violating the UCA by appointing James Mushore as town clerk without first seeking approval from the Ministry and the Local Government Board.
Tuesday’s suspension stemmed from fresh allegations of failure to cause an audit of the city’s EasiPark and City Parking subsidiaries following alleged corruption in the entities.
Kasukuwere is also moving to shake-things-up in Gwanda where he is trying to reverse the appointment of Hlupho Mhlanga as town secretary.
His efforts have, however, suffered a temporary setback after Mhlanga successfully appealed to the Bulawayo High Court to strike down a directive he had issued in which he ordered the Gwanda municipality to re-advertise his post.
In Bulawayo, city fathers are awaiting with bated breath the release of findings of a seven-member investigative team dispatched by Kasukuwere earlier this month to establish if there was any wrongdoing in the allocation of stands and prime land to councillors.
The Local Government Minister has also dispatched chartered accountants, Ernst and Young to audit Bulawayo’s accounts for 2013 and 2014.
Any indications from both findings that may suggest corruption on the part of the city fathers, is likely to give Kasukuwere a perfect excuse for him to give Bulawayo mayor, Martin Moyo, and all the councillors marching orders.
The removal of Moyo would mean that the country’s two largest cities of Harare and Bulawayo might for the first time run concurrently without mayors, setting the ideal stage for ZANU-PF to regain control of the cities, which the party lost in 2000. financial gazette