Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo — who recently suspended Harare councillors on allegations of occupying council houses ahead of sitting tenants — had in 2002 recommended the city fathers to do exactly that, it has emerged.
MDC-T councillors who were suspended last week have accused Chombo of double standards for political expediency. The councillors said Chombo endorsed a council resolution when he gave councillors the first right of refusal on council houses and stands.
Councillor Warship Dumba yesterday said the accused councillors were not responsible for the day-to-day running of the municipality hence they did not allocate themselves council property.
“The section of the Urban Councils Act Chombo is using to charge the councillors, is very specific.
“It states gross misuse of council property but in this case, it’s just intimidation of councillors as they are not responsible for the day-to-day running of the municipality,” he said.
“The resolution to allocate councillors houses and stands was adopted in 2002 coming from Chombo himself, but now it’s an offence that MDC-T councillors followed this procedure to secure council houses.”
Councillor Panganayi Charumbira last week also said the suspension of the councillors was political as the councillors clearly had no case to answer.
“This is pure intimidation of the councillors by Chombo as in as far as we are concerned, they have no case to answer,” he said.
The councillors pointed out that Chombo in 2002 urged the predominantly Zanu PF council to give councillors the first right of refusal in the allocation of vacant houses and stands.
This is contained in minutes in NewsDay’s possession.
Although the councillors involved declined to comment indicating that would further complicate the matter, full council minutes showed that Chombo had urged council to prioritise councillors’ housing whenever accommodation or stands became available.
The minutes read: “The minister (Chombo) urged the council to give preference to councillors whenever a council house or residential stand became available.
“The committee concurred with the views of the minister and resolved to recommend that it be council policy to give the right of refusal to a councillor whenever a council house or residential stand became available, if such a councillor does not own any other residential stand.”
The minutes further stated: “Subject to approval of the paragraph above, the director of housing and community services be authorised to prioritise allocation of houses or stands to councillors who qualify as above on the municipal housing waiting list,” the minutes further said.
In addition, minutes of a full council meeting in 2009 also showed that the human resources committee resolved to allocate residential stands to councillors in terms of the existing council policy on allocations to councillors.
“The council resolved to recommend that the Town Clerk endeavours as far as practicable to allocate council-rented accommodation to councillors who are in dire need of accommodation,” read the minutes from the 2009 meeting.
The seven MDC-T councillors who have been suspended argued that they applied for houses and senior council officials notified them of the vacant houses.
They said they did not allocate themselves the houses but that was done by council as per Chombo’s policy directive.
The councillors added the issue was a smear campaign to create a bad picture of MDC-T to residents.
Chombo appointed a team to investigate the councillors but last week he set up another team to further probe the suspended councillors on the matter, before a concrete decision was made.
The councillors face possible dismissal from council if found guilty.
While the councillors maintain they had no case to answer, Chombo argued that the probe he had instituted was above board.
Chombo was not available for comment yesterday, but in a recent interview, he blamed councillors for being “docile” and not acquainting themselves with the Urban Councils Act.
“As long as they do not read the Urban Councils Act and continue to break the law, I will continue to act,” he said.
So far, Chombo has suspended Bindura mayor Daniso Wakatama and a number of councillors while Rusape MDC-T councillors were also suspended from office last week.
Two of the implicated councillors Herbert Gomba and Peter Marange recently demanded a retraction from the state media threatening to sue after they produced documents proving their innocence following reports that they had seized council houses.