Imposition of mayors, a damp squib Clr David Coltart

Sikhumbuzo Moyo, [email protected]

COUNCILLORS from the country’s two biggest cities, Harare and Bulawayo, last week elected their mayors in line with the Urban Councils Act with Councillor Ian Makone taking over in the capital while Councillor David Coltart assumed office in the latter.

Both mayors are from the opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) led by Mr Nelson Chamisa whose bid for State House keys in the August 23 harmonised elections ended in tears after he failed to unseat the incumbent and Zanu-PF candidate, President Mnangagwa.

CCC had pledged in their manifesto to re-introduce executive mayors in towns and cities.

This explains why Mr Chamisa, with the backing of the civic society especially in Bulawayo, imposed Clr Coltart, despite being rejected by Ward 4 residents, to be the City of Bulawayo’s 70th mayor.

It explains why an obviously excited Clr Coltart boldly declared that once in office as Mayor of Bulawayo, he would reverse standing contracts that he considered to have been corruptly awarded, singling out the city’s traffic management company, Tendy Three Investments (TTI), despite stakeholders in the city praising the company for bringing order and reducing theft from vehicles in the city centre.

“I will review all contracts entered into by BCC to see whether they have been lawfully entered into and are in the best interests of BCC. If they are now and can be lawfully cancelled, I will do whatever I can to act in the citizens’ interests. Regarding the TTI contract, I said that it is one I will look at as I am concerned about the manner in which it is being executed,” Clr Coltart told this publication a few days before the nation went to the polls.

What is interesting about the above quote is that Clr Coltart, a lawyer and former Cabinet Minister under the Inclusive Government where he was the Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture, continuously and constantly refers to himself, instead of ‘we’ simply because as far as he was concerned, he would be the executive Mayor of Bulawayo since his party, CCC, would be in Government and would thus re-introduce executive mayors.

Previously, executive mayors headed municipal councils. These were directly elected by the electorate in local government elections. The system of executive mayors came into operation in 1996 by an amendment to the Urban Councils Act. In 2008, the system was abolished and mayors are now elected by the elected councillors. 

According to the Urban Councils Act, a person who is elected as mayor does not have to be a person who is himself or herself an elected councillor. This is because section 103 provides that the person who is elected as mayor can be a councillor or other person. The term other person is not defined.

As alluded to by the immediate past Bulawayo Mayor, Clr Solomon Mguni, under the current law, the mayoral post is merely a ceremonial post.

“Executive powers are derived from council standing committees and council resolutions. The mayor and his deputy are just but first, among equals, they are not bosses of councillors,” said the former mayor.

On its official website, the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) states that decisions are made at policy and management level and these decisions are made through committees.

In terms of the Urban Councils Act (cap 29:15) the BCC, an Urban Local Authority, makes its decisions through standing committees. What this means is that each committee, with its own terms of reference, deliberates on those issues brought before it makes firm recommendations to the full council which meets every first Wednesday of the month at 4.30PM. 

Clr Ian Makone

At the full formal meeting which is open to the public, the council can do either of the following;

λ Adopt the recommendation of the committee in its entirety;

λ Amend/vary the recommendation;

λ Refer back the matter if it is deemed that justice was not done to the subject matter.

There is no clarity better than what has been said above on the operations of the council. It is never a one-man gang.

The only distinction that a mayor under the current law has to the rest of the elected councillors is his or her casting vote or a deliberative vote as prescribed in the Urban Councils Act.

In Section 104 of the Act, on the functions of the mayor, his or her deputy, chairperson or deputy chairperson;

The mayor shall preside at all meetings of the council at which he or she is present and, in the event of an equality of votes on any matter before the council, he or she shall, subject to sections 103(7) and 290(2)(a), have, in addition to a deliberative vote, a casting vote.

Subsection 2 states that whenever the office of mayor or chairperson is vacant or the mayor or chairperson is absent or incapacitated or fails to act, the deputy mayor or deputy chairperson, as the case may be, shall perform the functions of the mayor or chairperson in terms of this Act or any other law or any resolution of the council.

“(3) Save as otherwise provided in section 103(7), whenever the offices of both the mayor or deputy chairperson and the deputy mayor or deputy chairperson are vacant or both the mayor or deputy chairperson and the deputy mayor or deputy chairperson are absent or incapacitated or fail to act, their functions in terms of this Act or any other law or any resolution of the council shall be exercised by a councillor appointed by the council for the purpose or, failing such appointment, by a councillor appointed by the Minister, and such councillor shall, while performing his or her duties, be designated— (a) in the case of a municipal council, the acting mayor; (b) in the case of a town council, the acting chairperson. (4)”

For the purposes of this section, a certificate under the hand of the town clerk as to the existence of a vacancy in the office, or the absence or incapacity of the mayor, chairperson, deputy mayor or deputy chairperson or the failure of the mayor, chairperson or deputy mayor or deputy chairperson to act shall be prima facie evidence of that fact.

The law is clear on the functions of the elected local municipality officials. It is clear that their allegiance must lie on the people that elected them.

While a council may at any time discharge a senior official upon notice of not less than three months; or summarily on the ground of misconduct, dishonesty, negligence or any other ground that would in law justify discharge without notice, it shall not discharge a senior official unless the discharge has been approved by the Local Government Board.

So to the newly elected councillors and mayors, particularly from the opposition, it is never going to be a laissez-faire affair where people will do as they please because they will be the majority in the council chambers.

In the end, the imposition of mayors and council chairpersons on the people is all just but a damp squib, nihil in Latin.

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