Local Governance - 1
Provincial and Local Governance
What is responsible leadership and citizenship?
When I last made a contribution to MyGweru under the name Prof. Chamakanda, we shared ideas about starting and running your own business. I am hopeful that many of you have by now applied the ideas with positive results. Ever since that time, a cloud of guilt and a sense of abdication of patriotic duty has been persecuting my conscience. You may wonder what it is I am talking about now. Yes. You guessed right. I have failed to make any contribution to the residents of my beloved city of Gweru, through the eminent mouthpiece MyGweru.com . Well done to the team that runs the mouthpiece. You have kept the fire burning, and citizens at home and abroad have derived immensely from the variety of articles, advertisements, and basic information enabling citizens to navigate their way around the city. I hope in the new year 2015, you will create a section titled: Residents’ Forum, to encourage residents to air their views to those who lead them, their councillors.
Today I welcome you to a series of short articles on governance, or articles about your legal obligations either as a Gweru citizen or a councilor or both. As it is said, “ you don’t have to be a lawyer to understand basic law”. Note that legally you belong to the Midlands Province as well as to the local government run by the Gweru City Council. Let us begin with you the resident, and I will direct your expectations from this discussion by asking these few questions that fellow residents ask everywhere I go, e.g. when I stand in the queue paying my bill at ZESA; when paying my rates at Town House; when watching a soccer match at Ascot Stadium; or when travelling home in a Kombi:
i. How does provincial governance differ from municipal governance?
ii. Who is the councillor for my ward?
iii. What are the responsibilities of my councillor to me as an individual?
iv. When I have a problem in my ward, where do I go for help?
v. What services am I entitled to as a rate-payer?
vi. Why should I pay rates?
As you will appreciate, there are many more questions that you ask as a responsible citizen, and these deserve answers by your elected councillors. In turn, the councillors themselves ask comparable questions about their leadership role as local administrators. In many cases, they too ask questions about the nature of their responsibilities; how to conduct themselves ethically; how they should relate with central and provincial government; what local governance means, and so forth. In actual fact, MyGweru.com on its “Information on Gweru” site, capably lists headlines about councillors, emergency numbers, and most importantly, rates and by-laws. It is in respect of provincial and local government law that dialogue in our series of articles will be conducted.
Primarily, this means there ought to be a confluence of expectations between those who govern, and the governed (i.e. councillors and residents). To understand where we are going as a city, all stakeholders ought to have a shared understanding of what obligations we owe one another. Our starting point is the commitment to the idea that things could be better with effort and good will, but both these depend on a clear understanding of our legal rights as enshrined in the constitution. Someone has said, “ We have got to have a dream, if we are going to make the dream come true”. Among other considerations, dreams are best attained when we can answer questions like: What is local government law? What are my rights as a citizen in the city? What is government? Is government the same as a state? What is public administration as it relates to the Gweru City Council? What has the Constitution to do with local governance? What is meant by development in our City? How can development be best leveraged? Obviously there are numerous other questions, but suffice it to say that our discussion will centre around basics of local governance. We shall begin with the question:
What is provincial and local governmen law, and why is it important to you?
First of all, what is government? The idea of a ‘government’ is better understood if it is distinguished from the concept of ‘a state’. These two do not mean exactly the same thing. The state is characterised as a specific geographically defined territory (e.g. Zimbabwe); has a community of people living within the territory; has a legal order which is accepted by the community, and to which the community is subject; and has a certain measure of separate political identity. For example the state of Zimbabwe has a different political identity from that of Botswana. The Government, on the other hand is the temporary bearer of state authority. The government represents the state at a particular time. In mature democracies in countries such as the UK, governments alternate between labour and conservative, and currently there is a coalition between labour and liberals. In Zimbabwe, there was a time when there was a government of national unity, dubbed the GNU.
Our constitution refers to three spheres of government, namely, the national government (previously called central government); provincial government (e.g. Gweru is located in the Midlands Province); and local government. Local Government (e.g. Gweru City Council, or Gweru Vungu Rural District Council) is said to represent the foundation of democracy because it operates at what we usually call the grassroots level. It is at the local government sphere that the person in the street has direct contact with governance, and this explains why your councillor and yourself should have clarity about how Gweru is run. In our constitution, there are specific sections dealing with national, provincial, and local government. For example, there are matters over which each of the spheres has what we call exclusive legislative authority, meaning that only that particular sphere is enabled by law to handle such matters. Our Constitution also contains a list of functions over which parliament (the legislature), the provincial government, and the local government have what we call concurrent legislative authority, that is, the three spheres share responsibility. For example, the local authority has the sole responsibility to patch potholes in the Gweru central business district (CBD). However, road systems and environmental conservation are a collaborative responsibility. This means both provinces and municipalities may legislate on these matters.
Finally, the word ‘constitution’ has been used. What does it mean to you? In a broad sense the Zimbabwe constitution includes the entire body of rules, which govern the exercise of state authority. It embodies the will of the people, and reflects the popular and current values. It is normally a written document. Please note very carefully that Zimbabwe is a constitutional state, that is, it is a state in which constitutionalism prevails. Constitutionalism refers to a state where law is supreme, and the government and state authorities (e.g. your councillors in Gweru) are bound by the constitution. This is as it should be. However, you may occasionally observe a relapse in adherence to constitutional strictures (legal obligations) by some councillors, it may be because they lack instruction in the rudiments of local government law, hence the need for them to share insights from the series of articles presented in the next ten weeks. Thus, a knowledge of provincial and local government law will:
• empower councillors and municipality officials to perform their functions within the boundaries of law;
• contribute to the achievement of a stable and democratic system of government;
• contribute to the provision of proper services to urban and rural communities; and
• facilitate effective planning and organization.
To conclude this first article, you were introduced to the idea of responsible leadership/citizenship, which councilors and citizens residing in the wards of M’tapa, Mkoba, or Ridgemont, to name only a few, ought to have for purposes of reconciling their expectations. A number of questions, which councilors and members of the society might ask, were raised for your consideration as you reside in a particular municipality or district council (your local government). The interrelatedness of the three spheres of government (national, provincial, and local) were spelt out, and in the process, defined exclusive and concurrent legislative authority. We closed our discussion with a brief clarification of the terms constitution and constitutionalism.
In our next discussion, let us share ideas in answer to commonly asked questions, namely, What is law? What are the sources of law in local government? Why is the constitution important in the provincial and local governance? You definitely need to learn something about this as a responsible Gweru resident. Until we meet next week, remember these words: Ignorance about basics of law can result in self-enslavement.