HRT Director Precious Shumba

The Harare Residents’ Trust (HRT) says it welcomes the overdue appointment of the Local Government Board (LGB) as a stop gap measure to address the finalization of senior workers in most urban local authorities whose key departments are being led by officials in acting capacities.

HRT director, Precious Shumba says his organisation has repeatedly demanded that the LGB be appointed so that urban local authorities could function with efficiency, adding that there are substantive issues of governance that have been compromised as a result of its absence.

The Local Government Board is established in terms of Section 116 (1) of the Urban Councils’ Act (Chapter 29.15) and is made up of seven members appointed by the Minister of Local Government and Public Works to finalise the recruitment and dismissal of senior urban council workers.

In the case of Harare, Shumba says five departments have been without substantive directors for more than two years.

He adds that the departments have been led by different acting directors who have no substantive powers and authority to provide technical expertise and policy recommendations for adoption by elected councillors.

Read the rest of the statement below;

The situation has been compounded by the absence of 23 councillors, 21 of whom were recalled by their political party over internal political party conflicts while two others have died. By-elections are long overdue to replace them.

According to Section 116 of the Urban Councils Act (Chapter 29.15), the Minister selects one of three members recommended by the Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe, municipal workers’ union, the Public Service Commission, from town clerks and two are drawn from experienced public administrators who have more than five years prior working experience in the public service or a local authority.

While the HRT has welcomed the decision by the Minister to announce the Local Government Board, it is its lack of representation of ratepayers and other key stakeholders within the local government sector that compromises its integrity as the arbiter of urban local authorities’ affairs. Local authorities serve citizens as part of the third tier of government in Zimbabwe.

This appointment is in terms of the law and the only current provision that deals with recruitment and dismissal of senior urban council employees. At the same time, the rights of the citizens have been disrespected as the Constitution provides for the enactment of devolution legislation which has not yet taken place.

This therefore means that the overbearing influence of central government in the administration and governance of urban local authorities has been strengthened especially in the recruitment of their senior staff.

July Moyo, Minister of Local Government and Public Works was quoted in the Herald on 28 April 2021 claiming that council managers in acting capacities had caused chaos in urban local authorities.

He further claimed gave the LGB a revised mandate, contrary to the provisions of the Urban Councils Act.

He said: “The board should not only focus on human resources issues, but rather broaden the scope to look into other pressing issues. The appointment of the board has been necessitated by the depleted situation in the country’s urban local authorities in terms of service delivery, “People who have been acting in councils have caused mayhem in councils with Harare having, only two senior staff on substantive appointment now with the other one on the run.”

The minister is wrong for the reason for establishing the Local Government Board. His claim that the appointment had been ‘necessitated by the depleted situation in the country’s urban local authorities in terms of service delivery’ is an indictment on his capacity to deliver on his mandate as the Minister.

The law provides that it must be established to oversee the final recruitment and dismissal of senior personnel in urban local authorities. The minister dismally failed to have in place the LGB since his appointment.

The first thing should have been for him to apologise to Zimbabwean rate payers living in urban centres for his failure to appoint the board with the mandate to deal with senior staff in our councils. Instead the minister wants to create the wrong and misleading impression that service delivery collapsed because the councils failed on their own.

He should be ashamed of himself as a government minister. Several people have fallen sick while others have died, with thousands of ratepayers’ money going towards salaries of dismissed and suspended workers whose cases can only be concluded by the LGB. From a human rights perspective, the HRT urges concerned citizens to take the Minister to court over his dereliction of duty.

While the HRT welcomes the appointment of the LGB, the damage that has been done to our urban local authorities will take longer to repair. This calls for more professionalism from the board in its handling of outstanding issues from the 32 urban local authorities in Zimbabwe. Our hope is that they discharge their mandate in a transparent and accountable manner.

The legislation provides the following as the key functions of the LGB; (1) The functions of the Local Government Board shall be—

(a) to provide guidance for the general organization and control of employees in the service of councils; and

(b) to ensure the general well-being and good administration of councils staff and the maintenance thereof in a high state of efficiency; and (c) to make model conditions of service for the purposes stated in paragraphs (a) and (b) for adoption by councils; and

(d) to make model regulations stipulating the qualifications and appointment procedures for senior officials of councils; and (e) to approve the appointment and discharge of senior officials; and

(f) to conduct inquiries into the affairs and procedure of councils; and (g) to exercise any other functions that may be imposed or conferred upon the Board in terms of this Act or any other enactment.

The oversight role of the Local Government Board on urban local authorities remains centralized with the minister determining when the LGB is appointed and even expanding their mandate without legislative oversight of his actions.

Devolution provisions in the Constitution have delegated the responsibility for the running of our local authorities in the hands of our elected councillors with minimum interference of the central government.

Recruitment of personnel, budgeting and administration are some of the key responsibilities that should be placed in the hands of the councils to initiate and finalise recruitment and dismissal processes of all workers.

A transparent and accountable complaints handling mechanism should be provided such that the councils do not engage in unethical, corrupt and partisan practices. Despite the existence of devolution in the constitution, it is becoming clearer that the devolution widely imagined by the citizens is not what the national government has in mind.

There is a systematic recentralization of power and authority in the hands of the central government.

Now that the LGB is in place, the Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe (UCAZ) and the respective urban local authorities should expedite their processes to fill in all the vacancies in their respective managements. The capital city cannot be allowed to operate without key personnel in finance, human resources, water, works, chamber secretary and town clerk.

The LGB must be seen to be professional in handling the human resources issues brought to their attention. Urban councils in Zimbabwe have the capacity to recruit and dismiss their personnel without the need for the involvement of a central government structure.

The existence of the LGB and its given functions go against the true spirit of devolved governance systems. Central government should only establish functional systems to guide how lower tiers of government operate within a devolved structure.