Kasukuwere to dissolve HCC?
AGGRESSIVE moves by Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister, Saviour Kasukuwere towards city fathers in Harare have unsettled the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) dominated council, amid reports that the combative minister was aiming to dissolve the elected council for incompetence.
The rumours have sent shivers down the spines of panic-stricken city fathers who suspect that Kasukuwere is planning to appoint a special commission to run the capital city’s affairs in the interim.
Since his appointment to the Local Government portfolio, Kasukuwere has not made a secret of his intention to break up councils that do not conform to his demands.
Speaking soon after his appointment in July, he threatened to “clean up Town House if city fathers fail to clean Harare’s mess”.
Already, he has shown that he is capable of translating his threats into action by suspending the entire Gweru council, also MDC-T dominated.
In recent weeks, he has not let a single council decision pass without poking his noses into it.
Last month, he vetoed Harare City Council (HCC)’s decision to fire 3 000 of its workers.
He has also been pushing council to act on vendors and land barons.
At his behest, many vendors were driven out of Harare’s central business district while scores of vendors were arrested in the process.
Thousands of illegally build properties have also been razed to the ground on his instructions until last week when the High Court ordered a halt to the demolitions.
Still, Kasukuwere has found new angles to exert pressure on the city fathers.
On Monday, the minister ordered an urgent audit of council’s businesses that include farms, nurseries, real estate and parks that he said were not performing.
Councillors have until the end of this month to institute the audit.
Councillors are afraid they jobs could be over if they fail to do so in the specified period.
“Everyone is concerned. We are working with the axe hanging over our heads and we can feel it. There is panic and fear. The minister has shown real interest in destabilising the city. It looks like he won’t leave us alone,” said one councilor.
Harare mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni, acknowledged on Tuesday that there was anxiety at Town House.
“There is a fair sense of anxiety in council over the minister’s orders. Council is mandated to conduct its affairs without ministerial orders,” he told the Financial Gazette.
Asked if council would resist Kasukuwere’s latest order to have its businesses audited, Manyenyeni said: “We want to facilitate that but in future, we would like to take them as advices and not orders or directives. Those businesses are not under the ministry and council is actually a shareholder in them. They have boards that manage them and if he wants to give advice, then we will very much welcome it and relay it to the boards for consideration.
“I would like to clearly state that council is not a department in the ministry but an autonomous authority which makes its own decisions and is not run by ministerial directives. We are not being defiant but we want things to be done properly. We are not a ministry department.”
Manyenyeni was, however, diplomatic when asked if they were ready for the impending Kasukuwere strike.
“We won’t speculate, but of the current situation, our position is that he should understand that the level of ministerial interest varies from structure to structure. To us, directives do not seem appropriate,” he said.
The MDC-T, which parents HCC also hit out at Kasukuwere, saying his moves were nothing but attempts by ZANU-PF to regain control in Harare by dismissing the elected councils and appointing pro-ruling party commissioners to run the city.
Kasukuwere is also ZANU-PF’s national political commissar.
Matters are not being helped by speculation that Kasukuwere was specifically given the Local Government portfolio to help ZANU-PF regain popularity in urban areas still dominated by the MDC-T.
As the national secretary of the commissariat, his main party duty is to mobilise votes for ZANU-PF and keep its structures intact.
The current Urban Councils Act states that the appointed commissioners serve at the pleasure of the minister, who also sets their allowances.
Stakeholders contend that such a provision undermines the impartiality of the commissioners, thereby defeating the whole principle of self governance of councils.
Section 80 of the Urban Council’s Act empowers the minister to dissolve council and appoint a commission to act as council for an initial period of six months.
“The minister may appoint a commission to act as council if at any time there are no councillors or all councillors for a specific council, area have been suspended or imprisoned or are otherwise unable to exercise their functions as councillors,” reads subsection one of the section 80 of the Act.
Legally, councils are autonomous administrations with Acts of Parliament, notably the Urban Councils Act, significantly limiting ministerial involvement in local authority affairs.
The MDC-T is banking on the new Constitution to forestall Kasukuwere’s maneuvers, amid concerns over the applicability of the Urban Councils Act given that it seems to be running against the provisions of section 278 of the Constitution, which states that a minister can only suspend councillors only after proven cases of gross incompetence, mental or physical incapacity, gross misconduct, criminal conviction and willful violation of the law ending.
“A mayor, chairperson, or councilor of a local authority does not vacate his or her seat except in accordance with this section,” says the Constitution.
“In terms of section 278 of the Constitution, Kasukuwere has no power to unilaterally dissolve any local authority. An act of Parliament is yet to be enacted that will harmonise the existing Urban Councils Act to the new Constitution. So in the event that Kasukuwere decodes to subvert the Constitution, as he is apparently fond of doing, the MDC-T will take appropriate legal action,” said MDC-T spokesman, Obert Gutu.
The issue has also courted backlash from Harare residents, with Precious Shumba, director of Harare Residents Trust charging: “We don’t support the move as it gives room to the minister to manipulate systems in council.”
Kasukuwere’s mobile phone was first answered by his aide who kept saying he was in meetings for the entire week.
This is not the first time that a ZANU-PF minister has been at loggerheads with HCC to the extent of warranting a council dissolution.
Former local government, public works and national housing minister, Ignatius Chombo, once disbanded the Elias Mudzuri led council during his tenure and appointed a commission chaired by Sekesai Makwavarara.
During the tenure of the inclusive government, Chombo also kept meddling in the affairs of local authorities, appointing known ZANU-PF sympathisers as special interest councillors in MDC-T dominated councils.