By Peter Sinkamba
The Minister of Local Government Honorable Vincent Mwale finally declared today that the PF Government will not regard elected Mayors and Chairpersons of Councils across the country as executive officials. From this declaration, it is now clear that insofar as the PF Government is concerned, Mayors and Council Chairpersons across the country will remain ceremonial. In other words, these popularly elected officials shall not wield executive powers for their term current term of office, as earlier envisaged, unless the decision of Government is challenged by way of seeking interpretation of the Constitution by the Constitutional Court in this regard is sought.
The Constitution of Zambia 2016 in Article 154 prescribes election and term of office for Mayors, Chairpersons, their deputies and Councillors. The Constitution does not however state whether these functionaries shall wield executive powers or not. In similar fashion, the Constitution of Zambia does not expressly state anywhere that the President of Zambia shall be the executive president, the President wields executive functions.
The Constitution does in Article 151 provide for functions, responsibilities and resources of the Councils. The Constitution establishes a local government system where functions, responsibilities, and resources from the national Government and provincial administration are transferred to the local authorities through a well-coordinated cooperative governance system. The Constitution provides for a new system whereby local council are mandated to initiate, plan, manage and execute policies in respect of matters that affect the people within their respective districts. The Constitution also mandates local councils to deal with all social, spatial, financial and economic planning issues in their districts. In addition, the Constitution mandates local authorities have been mandated to monitor the performance of persons employed by the national Government and provincial administration.
Clearly from the elaboration of functions and responsibilities of the local government in the new dispensation, Mayors and Council Chairpersons must wield executive functions. And this is what the people have always wanted since 1991.
On Pages 517- 518 of the Interim Report of Mung’omba Constitution Review Commission (June, 2005), concerning the election of Mayors and Council Chairpersons, the Commission reported as follows:
“A number of petitioners said that Council Mayor/Chairpersons should be elected by universal suffrage (186)…..a few petitioners suggested that councils should have Executive Mayors or Chairpersons, as the case may be (5).
“… [The]Commission observes that the idea of Mayor or Council Chairman being popularly elected points to a desire to have local authorities presided over by a person democratically chosen by the people. Such a person would inspire confidence in the minds of the electorate and enjoy popular support to spearhead development programmes of a Local Authority.
“The Commission further notes that a similar call was made by the petitioners to the Mwanakatwe Commission…..[The] Commission of the further view that it would be appropriate for popularly elected Mayors/ Council Chairpersons to have executive power as demanded by some petitioners. The Commission observes that this arrangement is common in the Scandinavian countries. The Commission’s view is that the role of these leaders and Councillors should be restricted to directing policies and service delivery. Implementation should be left in the hands of appointed executives”…
“The Commission recommends that the Constitution should provide that Council Mayors/Chairperson should be elected by universal adult suffrage and the Office should have executive powers”….
From the Constitutional Commission observations and recommendations stated above, it is very clear that the spirit of the majority of the people who submitted on Council Mayors/Chairpersons wanted executive powers. This is the wish and recommendation of the people. It is also the recommendation of the Commission. And the fact that Article 151 provides for transfer of functions, responsibilities, and resources from the national Government and provincial administration to the local authorities, this confirms that the drafters of the 2016 Constitution amendment provided for executive Mayors and Council Chairpersons and merely omitted to include the word “executive” for these functionaries, as is the case with the President.
Just like the PF Government has embraced the President perform executive functions when the Constitution does not expressly state so, the same latitude should be extended to Mayors and Council Chairpersons. Anything short of this approach is double standards, selfishness, and disrespect of the Constitution and constitutionalism.
We the Greens, demand that the PF Government gives the people what they want. Government should respect the Constitution and adhere to the spirit of constitutionalism. We demand that Government forthwith lets Mayors, Council Chairpersons and their Councillors perform their Constitutional functions. We further demand that government leaders stop being selfish. It is imperative that Government lets Mayors, Council Chairpersons and Councillors enjoy their Constitutional entitlements without any further delays. Otherwise, we the Greens will have no option but seek judicial interventions to challenge PF Government constitutional impunity on this extremely pertinent governance issue.
The Author is the President of Green Party of Zambia