Service delivery: do councils have autonomy?

By Thomas Madhuku

FOLLOWING years of poor service delivery in most urban centres, a debate has ensued over elected councillors’ capabilities to run municipalities without the support and cooperation of central government.

This debate was also ignited by remarks made by Harare Mayor Councillor Jacob Mafume, who claimed that the current set-up made him a stooge who has to seek approval from central government to buy even toilet paper.

Since the emergence of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in 1999, and its subsequent dominance in urban areas, a not very ideal situation has emerged in which the opposition controls councils but reports to a local government minister appointed from another party.

This has resulted in endless power battles that saw the first opposition Mayor of Harare Engineer Elias Mudzuri being booted out of office by the then local government minister Ignatius Chombo.

Subsequent mayors of Harare have also struggled to assert their authority as most decisions are either vetoed or thrown out by the minister.

With service delivery now at its lowest in most urban centres, the opposition has laid the blame on government for interference and what he described as sabotage, while the ruling party has also blamed the opposition for failing to run cities and towns.

Bulawayo-based journalist, Zenzele Ndebele, believes only an overhaul of the current electoral system will give power to elected officials to run cities independently.

Ndebele said councillors should stand as independent candidates without the party tag, a move he pointed out would help ensure that only capable people preside over cities and towns.

“I think council elections should be held separately so that we vote for capable individuals, not political parties. This harmonised business results in clueless individuals being voted into office,” Ndebele said.

A Twitter user, Thando Khumalo, concurred with Ndebele saying incompetence in councils can only be stemmed out by picking out councillors using a different formula to the one used in electing parliamentarians and presidents.

“I agree with this. Our councils are a disaster rife with incompetence, mismanagement and corruption. Folks need to pick out councillors away from the frenzy of parliamentary and presidential elections,” Khumalo said.

Anti-constitutional amendment activist, Namatai Kwekweza, accused Zanu PF of interference in the running of cities saying they would rather have poor service delivery in cities and towns to prove their point against the MDC.

However, Tirivanhu Kateera, accused the MDC of ignorance saying they only blame government for their failures including waste management.

“MDC’s continued blame on government for poor waste management, that is in its jurisdiction is the perfect example of ignorance. It’s MDC’s responsibility to come up with waste management framework in the councils they run,” Kateera said.

Former Harare mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni, called for a legislative framework with an uncontested chain of command which he said would allow councillors to have authority over municipality affairs.

“What is required to bring back the cities we used to have?….. Clear legislative framework with an uncontested chain of command – allowing responsibility with authority,” Manyenyeni said.

He challenged the Local Government minister, July Moyo, to re-set councils back to original settings- before inter-party politics destroyed the local government.

Post Author: Chido Luciasi

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