|BCC reverses decision to challenge Dr Chombo|
|Saturday, 11 August 2012 19:39|
Municipal CorrespondentBULAWAYO City Council has developed cold feet over a recent decision to engage lawyers in a bid to challenge the Minister of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development, Dr Ignatius Chombo, over what they allege are sweeping powers that include cancellation of foreign trips.
According to a council confidential report, the local authority had to seek external legal advice on a number of matters that also include the power by the minister to reverse, suspend and rescind resolutions or decisions of councils.
“The town clerk reported that due to challenges surrounding the issue of obtaining Cabinet approval for external trips, he had since sought external legal opinion on these directives. The opinion had been sought on whether such a circular was lawful, whether the 14-day in the circular was reasonable and whether there was any alternative for the city,’’ reads the report.
However, the municipality had to reverse their decision to challenge the minister after it was noted that he was indeed empowered by law.
“The best that could be done in the circumstances was to appeal to his common sense and conscience on matters that were in the best interest of the city, a case in point was the ministry’s refusal recently to facilitate Cabinet authority for the mayoral visit to Polokwane to finalise twinning arrangements with that South African city,’’ reads the report.
BCC had singled out sections 229, 233, 234, 235, 311 and 314 of the Urban Councils Act which they alleged showed how powerful the minister was.
“In terms of Section 229, which deals with approval of by-laws, when the Minister receives any by-laws from council, he may approve the proposed by-law or withhold thereof as he thinks fit.
“In terms of Section 233, which deals with the minister’s power to make or adopt by-laws on behalf of council, he can direct a council to make a particular by-law and if it does not do so, he can make the by-law himself.
“Section 234 deals with powers of the Minister to make general regulations, he can make regulations in respect of all matters for which he, considers it necessary or expedient to provide for the better carrying out of the purposes and objects of the Urban Councils Act,’’ reads part of the main grievances by the local authority.
Section 235 deals with the Minister’s power to make regulations he considers necessary for the control, management and good governance of an area while Section 311 basically deals with the holding of enquiries against any local authority.
BCC argued that while the minister’s powers were to protect national interests it, however, meant at times the local interests can be surplanted by the national interest.
Ironically, in the same confidential minutes, it is noted that the local authority recently resolved reimburse three of their officials who had not been granted cabinet approval to travel to South Africa for a meeting with the Development Bank of Southern Africa.
The three, Mrs Sikhangele Zhou (chamber secretary), Engineer Simela Dube (Director of Engineering services) and Mr Kimpton Ndimande (Financial Director), had to take their leave days instead of special leave days that are usually taken in such instances, so as to make the trip.
“As the benefits from presentations of the proposal would accrue to the city, it was only just that the three officials be reimbursed their funds based on council’s usual incidental, in transit meal level.
“An alternative would be for council to pay whatever the three would charge as consultancy fees for providing services of representing council,’’ read part of the minutes.
Contacted for comment, Dr Chombo said he was not going to be moved with regards to implementing the Urban Councils Act and would not allow anyone to just abuse office and frustrate service delivery.
“As a minister I am there to administer the Urban Councils Act and I will do that without fear or favour, as long as I feel something is against the principles of service delivery I won’t allow it to happen,’’ said the minister.
The move by the council comes in the backdrop of Minister Chombo blocking a trip by mayors to Washington DC accusing them of abusing council funds.
The officials were due to leave for Washington DC for a 10-day “study trip’’ trip which was organised by the US embassy when the Minister had to intervene.
Dr Chombo refused to grant them the Cabinet authority to travel and warned that they risked suspension or dismissal should they defy him.