The landmark ruling by the High Court that clipped Local Government minister July Moyo's wings is a huge step towards curtailing central government’s meddling in the affairs of local authorities, which has been crippling service delivery in urban areas.
Moyo, who has been the driver of Zanu PF’s scorched earth policy when dealing with urban councils just like his predecessors in that ministry, has been issuing unilateral directives to councils that harm the long-term interests of residents.
Zanu PF, which lost control of urban areas at the turn of the millennium, has the mistaken belief that if it makes councils ungovernable and unable to deliver services it will win more votes as urban voters turn against the opposition-dominated councils.
The Local Government ministry has been leading the sabotage against councils such as Harare and Bulawayo to aid the ruling party’s mission to regain control of urban areas through dirty means.
One of the directives by the Local Government ministry that contributed to the massive collapse of service delivery was the cancellation of debts owed by ratepayers in 2013.
Then Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo issued the directive whose effects are still being felt today.
High Court judge Pricilla Munangati-Manongwa on January 17 set aside Section 314 (2) of the Urban Councils Act Cap 29:15 that gave the minister overbearing control on the affairs of local authorities.
The ruling followed an application by the Combined Harare Residents Association, Borrowdale Residents and Ratepayers Association, Clive Rambanapasi, Ian Makone and Elvis Ruzani to stop Moyo’s meddling.
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Their lawyer Tendai Biti argued that the Urban Councils Act gave the minister unnecessary powers to make decisions even on non-policy issues.
They said Moyo had literally taken over the running of local authorities through numerous directives.
The judge said for the minister “to reverse, suspend and rescind resolutions without consultation whatsoever is tantamount to acting contrary to the provisions of the constitution, which provides residents with powers to manage their own affairs”.
We can go further and say Moyo’s directives went against the spirit of devolution of power, which President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration claims to be advancing.
The ruling should trigger self-introspection by the Local Government ministry and Moyo himself before they start undoing the damage they have done in local authorities.
All directives that affect service delivery by councils must be rescinded forthwith and going forward the government should ensure that duty bearers act within the confines of the constitution all the time.