The election season is upon us with advanced plans for primary elections underway by the bigger political parties. We focus on laws related to elections and politics and have updated this article for its relevance at this time. There has never been a more exciting time to run for public office than now after the politics of the country changed unexpectedly in November 2017.
By MIRIAM TOSE MAJOME
There are going to be unpredicted outcomes in this as nothing is guaranteed anymore. The youth are agitating for greater inclusion in politics more than ever before and there are more opportunities to participate and influence policy in both national and local government.
Those interested in contesting for parliamentary or the presidency seats have registered their interest by now and are making preparations to run. There are also opportunities for participation in rural or urban councils as elections are harmonised with national elections.
Election of councillors
Councillors are elected in terms of the Electoral Act Chapter 2:13. Basic qualifications are set in Section 115 and 119. The number of councilors forming a council is determined by the Minister of Local Government. Each councillor represents a ward in the area. There are no basic educational qualifications required. The Electoral Act does not prescribe any minimum qualifications other than that the candidate should be a resident of the ward they wish to represent and that they must be a registered voter.
They should be a citizen of Zimbabwe and be at least 21 years of age and would be disqualified if they have a criminal record or if they are a member of Parliament or have previously been declared insolvent or bankrupt.
The exclusion of minimum educational qualifications presents problems pertaining to the quality of the candidate because it means just about anyone can take part if they are old enough. Councillors inevitably perform poorly if they lack the critical educational skills required to understand the complex legislation and policies they have to grapple with in council business. Councillors are at the frontline of managing service delivery in communities.
They supervise the implementation of actual tangible deliverables such as water supply, sewerage, refuse collection, road maintenance, street lighting amongst other day to day services.
Calibre of councillors
Since the 90’s the major challenge has been the caliber of councillors. Because of the hostile and often violent nature of the country’s politics contested positions have not necessarily been filled by the most skilled candidates but by those who have been brave and courageous to run in elections.
Both councillors and members of Parliament are expected to have the capacity to understand and interpret legislation. Councillors should be conversant with the Urban Councils Act Chapter 29:15, Rural District Councils Act Chapter 29:13, the Regional Town and Country Act Chapter 29:12 and indeed all other pieces of existing and proposed legislation.
Acts of Parliament and Bills are typically voluminous and complex and require specialised expertise to read, understand, interpret and apply them in their service delivery work. Legislations run into hundreds of pages, for example the Insolvency Bill runs up to 152 pages, the Public Sector Corporate Governance Bill is approximately 108 pages and they must all be read and understood and debated meaningfully.
Reading and interpreting legislation is a weighty task that requires special skills and a certain level of education and training. To be effective public servants councillors and MPs have to be well read and conversant with all the various laws affecting their work.
They are also supposed to understand and interpret council budgets and deal and debate the various applications for permits they are seized with in the course of their work. This is an onerous if not impossible task for councillors who do not possess the expertise and skills. Hence the onus is on educated and qualified people to take part and grab the available opportunities.
People are empowered to participate in issues that affect them.
The rights of communities to manage their own affairs at community and local level are upheld and protected.
When capable people see the failings of local councils to provide decent service they must get involved and offer themselves for office. Unresponsive tired or absent public representatives must be replaced with energetic and capable people, who are passionate about public service.
Qualifications for legislators
Qualifications for members of Parliament are prescribed under Section 125 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe 2013.
They have to be registered voters so one cannot be an MP without having registered to vote and be at least 21 years of age. In the senate the minimum age is 40 years which is also the minimum presidential age. No academic qualifications or special skills are required to become a member of Parliament or the Senate and they must not have criminal record.
It would have been prudent to prescribe minimum academic qualifications for MPs because the complex legislation and debates they have to deal with require legal training and skills. It makes no sense to have semi-literate people debating and passing laws for the entire country.
It is retrogressive yet this is the present reality in Zimbabwe as a good number of parliamentarians and Senators do not have the requisite skills and qualifications. They are just in Parliament because they were either brave and confident enough to run or they just won popularity contests in their constituencies. The work of legislators is a weighty task because they are responsible for making the country’s laws. Legislators are expected to have a firm grasp and comprehension of legal and legislative issues and must be able to articulate and debate the issues very seriously. When legislators find themselves overwhelmed with the quality or level of debate they get sidetracked and focus on petty issues.
Before blaming the calibre of elected officials it is necessary to examine the calibre of the electorate itself. When a constituency elects a semi-literate person to represent it at national level what does it expect? Do people understand what they will be voting for and do they know what goes on in Parliament and councils? Many people do not know the roles of councillors and legislators and the difference between them. We will discuss the different roles of councillors and legislators next week
Miriam Tose Majome is a lawyer and a teacher. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org