Government has justified the recent targeted arrests of MDC-Alliance (MDC-A) councilors as part of measures to rein in on errant activities being perpetrated in most urban authorities across the country.
In an interview with 263Chat earlier this week, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Nick Mangwana said government is not happy with the opposition-led local authorities, mainly in Harare and Chitungwiza which has seen land appropriation scandals unearthed in recent months.
“It goes without saying that there is a lot of poor service delivery in councils, all urban councils so to speak so if you have poor service delivery in the council and on the other side you have a lot of corruption, you have a lot of land deals where land is being parceled out to people, to land barons and so forth, it’s a recipe for disaster,”
“So government is certainly not happy with that. That’s why action is being taken to clean up the council so that the people that live in urban areas should not live like people in rural areas,” said Mangwana.
In a space of four months, two Harare Mayors have been arrested on similar allegations of abuse of office linked to selling of housing stands.
Firstly, it was Herbert Gomba who was arrested in July this year whose matter is still pending at the courts then followed his successor, Jacob Mafume who was arrested last month and is still in remand.
In November, Chitungwiza Mayor, Lovemore Maiko was also arrested and charged with criminal abuse of office on allegations that he demoted a senior manager at the local authority and appointed his friend to the post.
Yesterday, police besieged a Chitungwiza full council meeting and arrested all councilors including journalists covering the event under unclear circumstances.
Although journalists and the majority of councilors were later freed around 6 pm, this publication understands there are a few that remained in custody of the police.
“The question is; is there corruption in councils, yes. Is land being parceled out on corrupt grounds? Yes! Is there poor service delivery in councils? Yes! So you are ticking yes. And should government do something or nothing? I think we all raise our hands and say government should do something and is government right now doing something? Yes,” said Mangwana.
Nevertheless, concerns have been raised over the manner in which the arrests are being executed which is characterized by police in riot gear storming in council meetings and pouncing on everyone including journalists.
This has been strongly condemned by rights defenders, including the Media Institute of Southern Africa which advocates for freedom of journalists.
But the rampant corruption is not limited to local authorities alone, with central government also accused of gross malpractices, an insinuation even President Emmerson Mnangagwa has also conceded.
However, some quarters are concerned that the appetite in which law enforcement authorities exude when arresting opposition councilors seems much dampened when it comes to government officials accused of corruption.