Councils have lately become political hotbeds with the ruling ZANU PF seeking to fight the MDC Alliance through propaganda bringing focus on the latter’s alleged failure to run the town councils, the biggest of which they control.
The opposition has itself continuously denied culpability and cited the larger macro-economic state of the country, run by a ZANU PF government, as the main reason for the challenges.
Here we run through the narrative of the Urban Council’s Act to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each side in the current blame game as we seek to answer the question of who runs Urban Councils.
According to the local government handbook, local government is a lower level of public administration whose structure, powers and functions are given in the constitution and statute law as approved by a body of elected representatives at a national level called Parliament.
The Minister of Local Government is empowered to delegate powers and functions to local authorities and is also responsible for setting standards and monitor the activities of the Councils.
Councils do not have independence but merely autonomy which means they are able to govern themselves but within a rigid structure of preset laws.
It is the government which sets those rules and requires accountability.
Without the independence to create own rules and self-govern Councils have to constantly be answerable to the government and explain whatever they do.
Each Council chooses a Mayor but since the changes to the laws he does not have executive power meaning that he is just part of the staff of Council and cannot make decisions alone.
Basically he is ceremonial, a mere first among equals and some critics argue that this undermines the speedy and effectual implementation of duty as he still requires everyone else to do anything.
Councilors as individuals do not give instructions to members of the executive but work through the Town Clerk.
Thus the position of Town Clerk has always been a hotbed of contestations with former Town Clerk James Mushore alleging that he was fought of the job by former Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere, on political grounds.
They thought he wasn’t ZANU enough to hold the position.
A Kubatana research paper has alleged that the position of Town Clerk is too powerful in local Councils.
The separation of powers also dictates that Councilors not be involved in Council day to day running and members of staff to also stay away from the political aspects of Council.
Essentially all local authorities are the legal responsibility of the Ministry of Local Government headed by a Minister who is himself accountable to government.
Thus the Ministry oversees Councils by attending Council meetings, analyzing its minutes and reports, monitoring visits and systems audits.
The Minister also provides regulation advice and sanction to local authorities.
On the ground all these features, seeking to create an accountable system, open and transparent, are however open for abuse especially in the particular case of the current political state of the country where each side is looking for an upper hand.