THERE has been ongoing debate among the citizenry, political parties, local government experts and councillors over the significant contribution or impact of the executive mayors and or ceremonial mayors on the provision of public services to the citizenry.
By Precious Shumba
The majority of the citizens prefer to have executive mayors running the affairs of cities and municipalities over ceremonial mayors in terms of their operations, their job description and their influence on decision making and governance of local authorities. A 2017 survey by the We Pay You Deliver Consortium (WPYDC) involving residents’ associations and women’s organisations established that 67% of households think that executive mayors are better than ceremonial mayors in managing city affairs.
Reasons for this were that executive mayors hold the power and executive authority to implement agreed Council resolutions, and they are accountable as they are directly elected by city residents. According to the WPYDC (2017) it is, therefore, recommended that a switch to executive mayors is a fundamental step in unlocking service delivery challenges facing the country. The functions and election of mayors is provided for in Sections 103 and 104 of the Urban Councils’ Act (Chapter 29.15). It is argued in this paper that the type of Mayor to effectively and efficiently lead local authorities is largely dependent on the relationship between the Central Government and Local Government.
Executive mayors were introduced following the amendment of the Urban Councils Act (Chapter 29.15), which weakened the office of the councillor as well. Before the amendment, the Executive Mayor was like the Executive Chairperson of a company who presided over council meetings, administratively and in terms of governance, as a policymaker and also the enforcer of council policies and administrative decisions.
The Executive Mayor worked in collaboration with what were executive committees made up of councillors which monitored and supervised council staff in terms of delivering on their mandate of policymaking, supervision, representation, service provision and oversight roles. However, the Executive mayors faced a mammoth task in coordinating their work. They were full time at their town houses, commanding and mediating between different interest stakeholders such as councillors, employees and ratepayers.
Their major challenge was in the implementation of council’s decisions and policies, because they were both referees and players. They made the policies and also had a direct influence on the implementation of those council policies. The result was that for example the late Nomutsa Chideya, then Town Clerk in Harare was always in conflict with Executive Mayor Engineer Elias Mudzuri.
Therefore, based on the above, it is argued that executive mayors had a positive impact on service provision, supervision, monitoring and evaluation of their own decisions and policies, which also came with its own challenges.
The removal of the provisions for the executive mayor brought in another dimension to the Office of Mayor. In 2008 following the elections, cities, municipalities and towns were able to invite an experienced and knowledgeable outsider to come in and be their mayor in terms of the law.
This is how lawyer Muchadeyi Masunda, a Zimbabwean businessperson was appointed to be the mayor of Harare (2008 – 2013), albeit in a ceremonial capacity. The elected councillors voted for him, apparently with the influence of the whipping system employed by political parties to keep their deployees in line with their party policies.
Section 103 (1) states that “At the first meeting of a council alter it has been established and thereafter at the first meeting held—(a) after the general election of councillors; or (b) after an initial election of councillors referred to in section 17(1)(c);or the councillors present at that meeting shall, under the chairmanship of the district administrator, or, in the case of the Harare and Bulawayo municipal councils, the provincial administrator within whose province the municipal council lies, elect—(c) in the case of a municipal council, one councillor or other person to be mayor and thereafter another councillor to be deputy mayor.”
This method of electing this type of Mayor further weakened the electorate in that the residents’ role in electing their mayor was directly taken away from them at the same time executive mayors were frozen out of legislation. This therefore means that at the same time that ceremonial mayors were coming into being, the citizens were also being further side-lined in determining their own mayor.
Under the current Urban Councils’ Act, following the last amendment in 2008, Section 104 (1) specifically assigns the mayor’s role as “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, have, in addition to a deliberative vote, a casting vote.”
This role is minimal in terms of its influence on service provision. A mayor whose simple role is chairing of council meetings is without doubt a glorified ward councillor, if we are to use the words of outgoing Harare mayor, Councillor Bernard Manyenyeni, who says he does not have the political and legal authority to enforce his vision for Harare, and the political space to manoeuvre. Councillor Mayor Manyenyeni was elected differently from Masunda.
He was elected from among the elected Councillors, but still without executive authority, thus through the amendments made to the Urban Councils Act, the Town Clerk is now the accounting officer with more executive authority. Therefore, without executive authority, the power and authority reside with council’s management who also have a strong relationship with Central Government, thus weakening the influence of councillors and their mayor on policy formulation, decision-making and oversight functions.
It is concluded that the choice of which type of mayor to have at the helm of a municipality or city is dependent largely on what Central Government considers to be appropriate legal and political powers for that office. There is speculation that the ruling Zanu PF political party, which has a super majority in the Eighth Parliament of Zimbabwe has no intentions of bringing back the executive mayor in the local government legislation.
Their main fear is that the urban electorate has betrayed them by consistently voting for the opposition since 2000. So, if they allow the opposition to succeed in urban centres, Zanu PF would never regain these opposition strongholds.
It is further concluded that service delivery will continue to suffer at the hands of political contestants from different political persuasions who will repeatedly sabotage or hinder each other when it comes to efficient and effective service provision. Executive mayors are more convenient in terms of empowering the policymakers to enforce their decisions and policies where the town clerks and other executives in cities and municipalities wield executive powers.
Precious Shumba, is the Director of the Harare Residents’ Trust.
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