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Government Unduly Delaying Establishment of Constitutional Provincial and Metropolitan Councils: Experts.

Government Unduly Delaying Establishment of Constitutional  Provincial and Metropolitan Councils: Experts.

Byron Mutingwende

Provincial and Metropolitan Councils are provided for under the Constitution of Zimbabwe, primarily for the advancement of the principle of devolution of governmental powers and responsibilities.

According to prominent Harare lawyer Chris Mhike, such devolution, if followed through faithfully, would naturally enhance democratic participation in national and local government.

Mhike lamented the failure of the government to act on implementing this constitutional obligation as a violation of law.

“Now, the negligence, failure; or both – by the government to implement these critical components of the Chapter 14 constitutional provisions gravely compromises the democratic credentials of this nation as a modern democracy.  The Rule of Law, a principle that should stand as a critical pillar to our claim in the league of participatory democracies, is left in tatters – just over a year after the promulgation of the current Zimbabwean Constitution,” Mhike said.

He said citizens, who ought to have a say in national and local governance issues, are currently unjustly and unconstitutionally excluded by government.

“Without the implementation of the devolution model that is envisaged under sections 268 and 269 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe (that is the establishment of Provincial and Metropolitan Councils), the effectiveness areas that are specified for accomplishment by the subject Councils, gravely suffer.  The said areas include:  social and economic development, governmental programmes; optimum conservation, improvement and management of local resources; and the promotion of tourism.

“That is to say, without the assemblage of the all-important Provincial and Metropolitan Councils, Zimbabwe’s democratic system, as well as her social and economic development programmes have either stalled or, in certain instances, reversed,” Mhike added.

There is a general feeling that this constitutional obligation has been ignored to strengthen the political gains of the ruling party.

In the new Constitution, provincial chairpersons would be chosen and drawn from the party with majority seats in a particular province.

According to Section 264 (2) the objectives were to give powers of local governance to the people and enhance their participation in the exercise of the power of the state and in making decisions affecting them as well as preserve democracy and peace among other reasons.

Dr. Pedzisai Ruhanya, director of Zimbabwe Democracy Institute said in the absence of an enabling Act to operationalise the provincial governments as promulgated in the Constitution, it is difficult for that constitutional creature to be put in place.

“The opposition and civil society must pressure the ZANU PF government to align the laws to the constitution. Responsible ministers must bring the Bill to Parliament since the failure to align laws serve the interests of ZANUPF,” Ruhanya said.

He added that setting up provincial government structures will enhance democracy and would mean the government will be following the rule of law.

“Metropolitan and provincial councils will allow citizens in provincial set-ups to determine the use of provincial resources and create semi-regional autonomy. This will also assist in the decentralization of state bureaucracy as in the issuance of birth certificates and passports.

Thus these structures curtail the enormous power of central government for the benefit of the citizens and must be understood as democratic processes that give power and voices to local communities. In the same vein, regional resources can be used to develop local authorities,” Ruhanya said.

To consolidate the gains of power President Mugabe last year appointed 10 ministers of State for the 10 Zimbabwean provinces, in a move interpreted as subversion of the new Constitution.

David Coltart, a lawyer and former education minister in the inclusive government said the appointment of 10 ministers of State for provincial affairs scuttles all hopes for devolution envisaged under the new Constitution.

Coltart said there will be duplication of roles among the ministers and chairpersons provincial councils should the time come for them to be instituted.

But Precious Shumba, director of Harare Residents’ Trust (HRT) believes  the provincial and metropolitan councils will further drain public resources at a time when the governance of local authorities is experiencing a deficit in areas of accountability and transparency.

“A reading of Section 270, 271 and 272 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe shows that these bodies were meant to appease each other politically without much consideration on the capacity of the council to generate revenue.

The HRT however welcomes the establishment of that governance structure. Our hope is that citizens will have an open democratic space to voice their concerns and address issues of service delivery,” Shumba said.

He added that although citizen participation remains chaotic, the Provincial Councils structure will increase citizen participation and provide balances and checks to powerful members of the executive.

“Our hope is the legislation for their operations should be dealt with by the Parliament of Zimbabwe, working with the Attorney General’s Office, rather than for this to be done by the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, already burdened with a lot other responsibilities,” Shumba said.

Constitutional law expert Professor  Lovemore Madhuku blamed the new constitution for containing vague clauses that gave the President wide discretionary powers as responsible for delaying the alignment of the laws to the new governance charter.


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