The High Court this week reversed the dismissal of four Harare councillors by Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo and described the minister’s action as having been informed by “grossly irrational” judgment.
Justice Bharat Patel said the verdict of guilty which led to the dismissal of the city fathers was “so grossly irrational in its defiance of logic that no reasonable person applying his mind to the matter could possibly have arrived at that decision”.
This is not the first time the courts of law have found councillors that Chombo would have “convicted” and given the sack not guilty. Warship Dumba and Casper Takura were accused by Chombo of fraud and were kicked out of council, but the courts that tried their cases found them innocent.
Chombo has, however, refused to reinstate them just as he declined to take back the Bindura mayor whom the courts exonerated of any wrongdoing and yet Chombo stuck to his guns saying the mayor remained fired.
No one questions the Local Government minister’s authority over councils, including his power to fire wayward officials, but the rate at which the minister is removing elected councillors makes it appear he has a mission and is deriving joy from it.
The Harare council and its leader, the mayor, have questioned the minister’s actions and accused him of behaving in an arrogant and irresponsible manner.
In many cases, the mayor is informed of the minister’s decisions after the axe would have already fallen.
It is true local authorities throughout the country have been unable to deliver — not only since 2008, but throughout the many years during which Chombo has held fort at Local Government.
Urban dwellers have cried their voices hoarse for clean water, good roads, refuse collection and functional sewer systems, but all they have received in reply are ever-rising bills, more burst sewers and deeper potholes.
These are issues Zimbabweans expect Minister Chombo to rectify — to justify his continued stay at the ministry and to accept responsibility when he fails to deliver.
What is intriguing in developments at urban councils lately is the trigger-happy attitude that Chombo has developed since 2008. Elected city fathers are being suspended and fired on allegations of corruption, some of which allegations are baseless — even laughable.
Selective heavy-handedness on councillors becomes very suspicious. The motive becomes barely hidden and the people get increasingly irritated. Why should people be made to vote for officials that an appointed minister can just kick out — for clearly political and/or personal reasons?
Nelson Chamisa summed up Chombo’s behaviour as the ultimate abuse of office. “Two things that are bedevilling service delivery in this country are Minister Chombo and Minister Chombo,” Chamisa said.
Chombo may have his time abusing power at the expense of ratepayers, but he must be aware that while he continues to play political games with local authorities, the people are not blind to the fact that he is ultimately responsible for the dirty water they are made to drink.