BY PROBLEM MASAU
THE central government has been accused of meddling in the running of local authorities throughout the country, a situation that has created challenges in their capacity to effectively deliver services.
During the State of the City address in Harare yesterday, mayor Jacob Mafume said there was too much interference by central government in the running of local authorities to the extent that 90% of all executive positions in Harare City Council (HCC) were held by people in acting capacity.
The Urban Councils Act gives the Local Government minister powers over urban councils’ financial management.
The minister has power to approve appointments of senior executives in councils, while also approving council budgets.
The Act also gives the minister powers to fire elected councillors and mayors, while budget disbursements to local authorities are done by central government.
“We have a leadership crisis because 90% of senior management in local authorities is in acting capacity. We only have two substantive directors in Harare. This creates challenges in the smooth operation of the city as a person in an acting capacity cannot make binding decisions. City councils must be allowed to appoint senior executives on their own,” Mafume said.
He said for instance, government allocated Harare a $2,3 billion budget for devolution in 2022, adding that only $73 million had so far been disbursed.
“We have only received a fraction of the devolution funds. The money has already been eroded by inflation and even if it comes now, it means we cannot use it on capital projects that we budgeted for.”
The Harare mayor accused central government of imposing tenders which were detrimental to city councils.
“Central government is negotiating tenders on behalf of councils without consulting them. They imposed the fire tenders on us, but we are saying we cannot buy them at that inflated price. Mwenezi Rural District Council cannot have a fire tender worth US$500 000 while it has a small beer manufacturing plant,” Mafume said.
Former Harare mayor Ben Manyenyeni said government should not interfere with the running of local councils.
“Harare has a population of three million. It is bigger than some countries. These guys are running a mini-government and the local authority should support them and not interfere with its operations,” Manyenyeni said.
Bulawayo’s ward 17 councillor Sikhululekile Moyo said the central government was stalling the city’s devolution projects by disbursing funds late.
“The challenge is we believe that we are a city and if devolution funds are allocated earmarked for Bulawayo, we expect the government to tell us how much the money is so that it can be transferred to the account. The procedure is that after we are told how much is earmarked for devolution, we then go to consult the people so that they can tell us their expectations,” Moyo said.
“When the money for devolution comes, we are told that some of it has been used to employ 13 contractors, for example. But most of the time, those contractors will be coming from Harare. The contractors begin implementing their own plans which are not from council and do not include the residents’ needs. We get the money from the central government, and they are also the ones in charge.”
Recently, the Local Government ministry released funds for the Bulawayo Fire Brigade, which was not a priority project for the city because it was experiencing a water crisis and dilapidated sewer infrastructure.
“Right now, we are told that there are funds meant for devolution for fire brigade vehicles for Bulawayo, yet BCC is the only council in the country which has the best fire brigade equipment. Other cities and towns borrow from us and we are the hub of fire brigades. But still we heard that the Local Government ministry wants to buy what we don’t want,” Moyo said recently, and called on government to assist Bulawayo sort out its water crisis and old sewage reticulation systems.
“So, the city has its own priorities which we would have gone out for consultations with our residents. As councillors, how do we represent people when central government wants to buy things that we do not want on our behalf? Central government should just allow things to go according to what the Constitution states,” Moyo added.
Government has also been accusing the CCC led local authorities of corruption.
On Monday while addressing mourners at the National Heroes Acre in Harare, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the 2023 elections presented residents an opportunity to remove the opposition from urban councils.
Meanwhile, Mafume said some of Harare’s roads would be named after former city mayors, including the late national hero Oliver Chidawu who was mayor from 1984.