‘No ratepayers’money for legal costs’
LOCAL authorities will not be allowed to use ratepayers’ money to pay legal costs when new urban councils regulations come into force, a senior official has said.
The Government is in the process of reviewing council regulations under the Local Government Laws Amendment Bill of 2016 to align it with the provisions of the new constitution and modern practice in the running of local authorities. The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, Engineer George Mlilo, said this as he read the riot act to councillors, mayors, and officials from local authorities at the just ended inaugural Local Government Investment Conference in Victoria Falls.
He accused councils of using rate payers’ money to pay legal costs emanating from in-house squabbles where councillors and management deliberately suspend each other. This affects service delivery as revenue that is supposed to develop capital projects is redirected to legal costs when those suspended seek legal recourse.
“Councillors can jump to suspend members but according to the new regulations, they should take responsibility when the matter spills to the courts.
“Ratepayers’ money can’t be used to foot legal costs,” said Eng Mlilo. He said every councillor who moves a motion or seconds for legal action should be responsible for costs that ensue, adding that it was better for one to recuse themselves from such council meetings.
“People should understand that there is not going to be fun anymore. If you make a mistake, accountability will go to all of you who participated than to use ratepayers’ money. You go legal, you tend to lose personally because no ratepayers’ money will pay legal fees,” Eng Mlilo said. Under the new regulations, local authorities are mandated to submit to the parent ministry minutes of every council meeting for consideration. “Whatever you discuss in council, it is advisable that you pass on the minutes to the ministry so that it rescinds some things that wouldn’t be legally right. The problem is that you want to hide your activities,” Eng Mlilo said said. The Permanent Secretary encouraged councils to fill vacant posts that are manned by acting officers with substantive officers saying that would help build investor confidence. In terms of budgets, Eng Mlilo warned councils against seeking to alter the approved frameworks so that they could channel substantive amounts to salaries. A number of councils have in the past struggled to have their budgets approved by the Government owing to failure to meet the 70:30 percent service delivery/salaries ratio. Eng Mlilo’s warning comes at a time when municipalities such as Harare and Victoria Falls have been dragged to court by individuals within the local authority ranks. In Victoria Falls, the municipality owes close to $800, 000 in legal fees emanating from a case where the local authority failed to honour recommendations of a job evaluation which recommended reduction of allowances for top managers. In Harare, the Town Clerk/Mayor saga in which Mayor Councillor Bernard Manyenyeni suspended Mr James Mushore who had been appointed Town Clerk also spilled to the courts. — @ ncubeleon
Engineer George Mlilo