Local Government Laws Amendment Bill - Complete Portfolio Committee report - 28th & 29th June 2016

FROM NATIONAL ASSEMBLY HANSARD
Tuesday 28th June and 29th June 2016  

 

NOTE BY VERITAS: The greater part of this report was read out in the National Assembly on 28th June, before Hon Zindi was interrupted by the adjournment of the House.  She completed her presentation on 29th June, as indicated on page 4 below.

 

PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE REPORT ON
LOCAL GOVERNMENT LAWS AMENDMENT BILL

HON. ZINDI: Thank you Mr. Speaker

INTRODUCTION

The Local Government Laws Amendment Bill (H.B. 1, 2016) was gazetted on 9 May 2016. Consequently, the Bill stood referred to the Committee on Local Government, Rural and Urban Development compelling the Committee to exercise its function of scrutinizing bills in order to make the necessary recommendations. The Bill seeks to amend the Rural District Councils Act [Chapter 29:13] and the Urban Councils Act [Chapter 29:15] so as to align certain provisions of the Acts with section 278 (2) and (3) of the Constitution which provides that an Act of Parliament must provide for the establishment of an independent tribunal to exercise the function of removing from office mayors, chairpersons and councillors on specified grounds.

METHODOLOGY

This report is a product of an analysis of the Bill by the Committee informed by written submissions from the public and hearings held with members of the public and stakeholders in Mutare, Masvingo, Bulawayo, Gweru, Harare, Karoi, Chinhoyi, Mvurwi, Mutoko, Murewa, Macheke, Lupane, Gwanda, Umguza and Plumtree. The hearings were held from 13 to 16 and 22 and 23 June 2016, in fulfilment of Section 141 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe which provides as follows:

Parliament must ensure that interested parties are consulted about Bills being considered by Parliament, unless such consultation is inappropriate or impracticable

The Committee expresses its sincere appreciation to all stakeholders who attended and participated at the public hearings and many others who made written submissions. Regrettably, there were disruptions and violence at the public hearings in Harare with the hearing at the Rainbow Towers proceeding after being halted for some time and the hearing in Highfield having to be abandoned completely.

SUBMISSIONS FROM THE PUBLIC

POWERS OF THE MINISTER

Some members of the public were of the sentiment that the Bill confers too much power to the Minister, which is inconsistent with the provisions of section 278 of the Constitution. They argued that the Constitution does not give the Minister the powers to suspend or remove a Councillor, Chairperson or Mayor of a local authority. It was pointed out that Chapter 14 of the Constitution speaks to the devolution of power from the central government to the local authority. The Bill, if enacted in its present form, will be in violation of Chapter 14 of the Constitution.

Some were of the view that the Minister should be conferred such powers to suspend, and or remove a councillor, chairperson or mayor from office who has committed acts of gross misconduct, corruption or abuse of public office as he is the head of local authorities. They expressed satisfaction with the Bill and argued that the Minister should have power vested in him as the head of local authorities to remove mayors, councillors, or chairpersons from office for failing to perform their duties.

Another view was that the Minister must consult the local people before suspending and the need for the Minister to investigate thoroughly before suspending or removing a councillor, mayor or chairperson from office was emphasised, citing that sometimes a Minister might act on a matter of grudges and not wrong doing.

APPOINTMENT OF INDEPENDENT TRIBUNAL

The establishment of an Independent Tribunal was hailed as a good idea but the Minister should not appoint members of the Tribunal to avoid partisan and nepotism appointments. It was suggested that a Parliamentary Committee should be responsible for the appointment of Tribunal members and it must be reflective of political divide and gender composition. It was also proposed that the Secretariat to service the Tribunal should come from Parliament to ensure its independence and the Tribunal should report to Parliament. It was proposed that the Minister must be a complainant and must report to the Tribunal the allegations leveled against chairperson, councillor and mayor in matters involving misconduct, corruption and abuse of power. Members of the tribunal must investigate allegations and report its findings to the Minister.

Another suggestion was that the members of the Tribunal be nominated elected at the local level and be responsive to the needs of the locals. Residents Association were of the view that residents should be consulted in the suspension or removal from office of councillor, mayor or chairperson because they are the ones who voted them into power. They felt that their importance was not recognised in the Bill.

Some were of the view that the Tribunal must be set by the Minister who has an oversight and supervisory role to the local authority so that accountability is achieved. The powers of the Minister to suspend or remove councillors, chairpersons or mayors were welcomed citing that the Minister is needed to supervise his Ministry so as to curb corruption. It was argued that the Minister has a right to choose members of the tribunal.

Some participants proposed that the remuneration of members of the Tribunal must be determined by Parliament and that it must be published in the Government Gazette. It was pointed out that there was no justification for a council that is being investigated to pay for the expenses of a Tribunal which has been appointed by the Minister. The funds should go towards service delivery and the remuneration of the Tribunal be paid by the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing.

The Bill was said to be silent on the time frame for the resolution of a matter referred to Tribunal and therefore a time frame should be set. Some members of the public were of the view that the life of the tribunal need not necessarily be ad hoc.

Another view was that there is no need to set a tribunal. The Minister was said to be qualified enough and has been given the power to run the affairs of local authorities. They argued that setting of a tribunal is an unnecessary cost. Some members of the public also argued that those who commit crimes should be reported to police and if found guilty, be arrested and therefore no need for the Minister or Tribunal to be involved in matters that the police are qualified to deal with.

Some members of the public felt that the Tribunal must be set up by the Provincial Councils.

Some members of the public felt that the Minister should not have power to remove members of the Tribunal as that undermines its independence.

ALIGNMENT OF THE BILL TO THE CONSTITUTION

Some members of the public said that the draft Bill is unconstitutional as it addresses two issues and is silent on the wholesome local government laws that need to be aligned to the Constitution. Some members of the public even accused the proposed amendment to be seeking to replicate provisions of Section 114 of the Urban Councils Act. Alignment of local government laws should start with setting up of provincial and metropolitan councils. They were disappointed that the Bill addressed the issue of suspension or removal and ignored the issue of devolution of power as outlined in the Constitution.

Some accused the proposed Bill of replacing the powers of the Minister to control the local authorities that were taken away by Chapter 14 of the Constitution. The Bill was said to be unconstitutional and should align with the Constitution. It was argued that the Minister decided to act on two issues only when the nation was waiting for alignment of all local government issues and it seems the Bill is meant to address some grievances that the Minister has with certain mayors. It was further argued that it was not an ideal situation to come up with a law to deal with certain individuals. A holistic approach is needed and not piece meal alignment.

It was also submitted that the Minister should not combine the Urban Councils and Rural District Councils Acts citing that the operations of Urban Councils and Rural Councils are different. It was proposed that the Minister should implement the Constitution as it is by setting up provincial and metropolitan councils so that councils will be responsible for monitoring developments in their area of jurisdiction. The Bill was said to be an excuse by the Minister to justify what he has been doing and the public hearings were also an excuse to rubber stamp the Minister’s actions.

Some participants expressed satisfaction with the Bill in its form and noted that it was long overdue. They felt that if the Bill had been enacted earlier, councillors, mayors or chairpersons would perform their duties well.

Other Issues Raised by the Public

Members of the public complained that the publicity was not adequate and urged Parliament to look for better ways to inform the people of public hearings. People from the rural areas said they do not have access to newspapers and chances of seeing an advertisement are minimal.

-Lack of copies of the Bill and the Constitution was raised. People were not able to contribute meaningfully because they did not know the issues. They urged Parliament to make enough copies and to distribute them in advance.

-Parliament was also urged to start advertising public hearings two weeks before the event.

[Note by Veritas:  At this point on 28th June the House adjourned.  The remainder of the report was read out by Hon Zindi on 29th June.]

THE COMMITTEE’S OBSERVATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The Committee expressed disappointment that Members of the Committee were not involved in the preparations of the public hearings on the Bill because the Executive did not give Parliament enough time to consult. This resulted in the Administration of Parliament acting on behalf of the Committee by coming up with the itineraries and suggesting dates for the public hearings and dates for Committee meetings. Although the Committee went ahead with the advice and instructions from the Administration of Parliament, in future the Committee urges the Executive to take Parliament business seriously and give the Committee enough time to consult.    

Therefore, in relation to the above, Parliament was not given enough time to make necessary arrangements like sourcing for funds, advertising, consulting the public and looking for venues for the hearings. The whole process was rushed and the Committee wonders why suddenly the Executive was in a hurry to come up with the Bill considering that the Constitution was done in 2013 and the Committee has been asking for the alignment of local government laws for some time. The Committee also observed that there was poor publicity of the public hearings and members of the public complained that they did not receive copies of the Bill and the Constitution. The Committee urges Parliament to start advertising about two weeks before the event and to find a way of circulating copies of the Bill in advance. The Minister is encouraged to consult as much as possible regarding the independence of the Tribunal in order for the process to be transparent.

Conclusion

In Section 157 A (2), the Committee noted that there were some amendments made to the Bill to the effect that Judicial Service Commission was substituted by the Law Society of Zimbabwe.

In Section 157 A (5), amendments are also to the effect that the Law Society of Zimbabwe and Civil Service Commission are the ones nominating or appointing members or alternates to the Independent Tribunal. The report presented was based on the information gathered on the first draft Bill that was circulated in May 2016.

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