22 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Court Bars Chombo From Imposing Councillor in Bulawayo

Bulawayo residents on Monday succeeded in obtaining a court order blocking the Local Government Minister, Ignatius Chombo, from using his powers to appoint a 'special interest' councillor in Bulawayo.

According to the Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA), Chombo instructed the City Council in late November to appoint Fidelis Fengu as a 'special interest' councillor. The minister had made the decision without consulting any stakeholders in the city, and the BPRA has accused him of appointing Fengu to represent his personal interests and not those of the residents.

Then last week, Chombo allegedly wrote to the City Council threatening to fire the Mayor and Town Clerk if Fengu was not sworn in by Monday. The Monday deadline moved the residents to act, and they filed an urgent application with the Council to stop the appointment.

"The appointed councillor, Fengu, was representing the special interests of Minister Chombo under the guise of representing people living with disabilities. We managed to argue that case in court and won," said Roderick Fayayo, coordinator for the BPRA.

He added: "We have a special councillor here in Bulawayo who is disabled. He uses a wheelchair. Does Minister Chombo not think that he can represent the disabled? If a special interest councillor is to be appointed, they should represent the special interests of the residents of Bulawayo."

Fayayo explained that this is not the first time that Bulawayo residents have blocked Minister Chombo from trying to appoint councillors of his choice, without consulting any other stakeholders.

"Immediately after the 2008 harmonised elections he appointed eight 'special interest councillors' and apparently all of them had lost in the election. We went to court and won. After that he didn't say anything and we don't expect to hear from him," Fayayo said.

In addition, the term of office for the current councillors comes to an end in just eight weeks. Fayayo questioned the wisdom in appointing any councillor with such little time left for them to make any difference.

Chombo has in the past managed to force the appointment of councillors in several municipalities, including Harare, Chitungwiza, Mutare and Kwekwe. In Harare he suspended councillors who had investigated illegal land deals the Minister was linked to. And in Mutare, he suspended the Mayor and other MDC-T officials who were calling for an independent audit.

Fayayo said in terms of the law, the Urban Councils Act gives Chombo the power to appoint these special interest councillors, but consultations are called for.

In a statement, the Bulawayo Residents expressed concerns over the Urban Council's Act, saying it invests too much power in the Local Government Minister by allowing him "too much leeway to undemocratically dictate the conduct of local authorities without consulting residents."

The group said "special interest councillors should not be imposed by a Minister, but should be selected by the residents in a democratic manner."

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