Devolution confusion - marginalised communities lose out

Devolution confusion - marginalised communities lose out
Published: 24 May 2019 (160 Views)
Concern has arisen amongst some marginalised rural communities in Southern Zimbabwe about the slow implementation of the devolution process and how it was rushed to line up the pockets of a few ruling Zanu-PF officials who are in charge of the more than ten administrative district in the restive country.

The concerns stem from the fact that the Military led government is moving the process at a snail space at the expense of some opposition parties and marginalized communities, supposedly major beneficiaries of the programme. By not implementing devolution the ruling party wants to maintain its grip and instill fear as well as marginalized the se communities.

There are several contradictory views emerging from differentcommunity, political, economic and societal circles on the issue of devolution and how it should be implemented. The first bone of contention is the meaning of devolution.

The 2013 Constitution mentions the word devolution about five times but nowhere does it define its meaning. The meaning of devolution is therefore subject to interpretation.

Various persons in Zimbabwe have tried to define devolution. Some define devolution as the delegation of governmental powers and responsibilities to subnational governments.

This is wrong as devolution is not the same as delegation.Devolution is also perceived as nothing more than giving decision makers stationed at provincial and local administrative levels the authority to make decisions while primary accountability remains with the centre.

This is essentially deconcentration which is not synonymous with devolution. The Constitution also requires devolution to the local level. However, the current debates on devolution in Zimbabwe are significantly and unfairly titled to the provincial and metropolitan councils as opposed to local authorities. It is as if local authorities are already exercising exclusive devolved powers which is not the case.

It may be because there is lack of clarity of what devolution to local authorities would entail. Is it about resources or about widening the discretionary powers of local authorities or both? Others, especially in government and ruling party circles, believe that local authorities are not more than agencies of the national government charged with service delivery.

This entails that the national government can take back powers and responsibilities assigned to local authorities willy-nilly. Yet the Constitution provides that every local authority, urban or rural, have the right to govern its area and affairs with ‘all' the necessary powers to do.

Analysts said the ‘right' terminology, which is not used inreference to any other tiers of government, suggests that, under the new constitutional order, local authorities are more than extensions of the national government. They are a level of government that should make and implement policies and laws as well as make expenditure decisions independent of the national government.

For the process to be fair there are calls for devolution to go beyond the provincial and local government levels to communities themselves. This is an interesting angle that resonates with the principle of subsidiarity which requires that governmental functions be exercised at the lowest level unless there is a convincing case for them to be exercised at a higher level.

It is based on the premise that governmental power belongs to the people and only when the people are not in a position to exercise those powers for the public good that such powers should be assumed by the appropriate government.

If properly designed and implemented devolution may bring ‘"economic dividend" that accrues to regions or territories that are perceived to be disadvantaged by centralised models of development' Thus, devolution has no potential to address sentiments of marginalisation common in Bulawayo, Matabeleland North and South, Midlands and Manicalandprovinces. If provinces, local authorities and communities areadequately empowered through devolution; policy competition, policy experimentation and policy innovation that usually comes with development benefits may take root.

Researchers and political analysts suggest that the ‘effectiveness of any system of decentralisation depends as much on its design as it does on the political will of the government and the readiness of its political andadministrative officials to implement it'.

The post-Mugabe period have been characterised by a relative different tone to the issue of devolution particularly in the ruling party circles.In the run up to the 2018 harmonisedelections, almost all political parties, including President Emmerson Mnangagwa led ZANU-PF campaigned partly on the basis of devolution.[84] <#_ftn84> When the re-election ofPresident Emmerson Mnangagwa was certified by the Constitutional Court,the new administration did not waste time to proclaim the decision to implement devolution.

The Junta administration declared the birth of the ‘Second Republic' under which the state will be organised on basis ofdevolution.On the official opening of the first session of the Ninth Parliament on 18 September 2018, President Mnangagwa declared that the ‘constitutionally enshrined provisions of devolution of government powers and responsibilities will be implemented'. However there is great concern amonst some political parties that nothing has happened so far.]

The 2019 national budget presented by the Minister responsible of finance on 22 November also speaks to devolution and the operationalisation of provincial councils.The national government has committed to allocate an estimated US$310 million to provincial councils in the 2019 financial year as part of the five percent which provincial and local governments are entitled to in each financial year. It is not clear whether the omission of metropolitan councils was deliberate or they are factored in this allocation. The Minister indicated that the actual allocations to provinces will require cabinet approval to ensure that these allocations ‘target addressing pockets of marginalisation in Provinces andDistricts'.

Political analysts have questioned the rationale for requiring such approval? This requirement is without a doubt an indication that development priorities at the provincial level will determined nationally since the cabinet can veto provincial prioritisations.

This however does not augur well with the principle of devolution, which entails diffusing policy making and implementation, including expenditure decisions to the subnational level. Thus, it is not clear whether theMnangagwa's government is sure of the nature of devolution it seeks to implement and how to implement it.

There is no doubt that the 2013 Constitution positions devolution as one of the potential solutions to the challenges of development, democracy and peace in Zimbabwe.

The question of how to implement devolution is perhaps one of the most critical given that a significant number of provisions on devolution are ambiguous. Given this lack of clarity, the solution to effective implementation lies in mining on the constitutional intent to devolveand avoid over centralisation of power. This will involve, among other things, going beyond the literal meaning of constitutional provisions to looking into spirit of the Constitution.

Devolution cannot succeed without the national government and in some cases, provincial governments supervising the activities of lower governments. Executive or administrative intervention into sub-national or local government is the most intrusive form of supervision. Whether or not this instrument can co-exist with local discretion in a system of multi-level government can only be assessed with reference to the checks and balances that surround this instrument and how much legal strength they are afforded.

The arbitrary removal of sub-national or local elected officials or take-over of sub-national or local functions will underminethe multi-level government system. Important questions therefore are what are the criteria for intervention? Does the system provide for review of an intervention by an independent institution? If the limits and extent of supervision are adequately defined and acknowledged in policy and law, particularly the higher law, it does not only protect the autonomy of sub-national or local government but also clarifies the role of the national government.

Thus, if a devolved form of government is to work well in Zimbabwe, there is need to balance the requirement for supervision and the need for local autonomy.

The devolution debate is not complete without addressing the question of how the devolved units whether at provincial or local levels will engage

with each other as well as with the national government. Oncegovernmental powers, responsibilities and resources have been devolved it does not mean that governments organisedat various or within the same level will have to operate independent of each other at all times.

The 2013 Constitution is pregnant with intent to devolve governmental powers, responsibilities and resources to the provincial and local levels. While the intent is there, there are no corresponding hard rules on devolution that cuts across the political, administrative and fiscal aspects of decentralisation.

A significant number of provisions on devolution are ambiguous and incapable of being self-enforcing. Devolution is about power and resources. It is about sharing the national pie and ensuring that citizens have a stake in issues thatdirectly affect them. Naturally, human beings do not want to part with power and resources. Hence, those in control or in charge will always have a tendency to protect their power and positions and undermine any efforts to share resources.

A political culture that values the idea of final authority for certain issues/institutions in light of ‘national interests' as well as self-interests among leaders, as has been the case in Zimbabwe for long, does not make the situation any easier.

According to political analysts from the MDC Alliance half-baked adevolution programme is just a waste of time and resources. Thus, the design of the devolution programme is always important, as much as its implementation.

"Whether this requires constitutional or/and legislative reforms is something that can only be determined once a vision for devolution in Zimbabwe has been set by a participatory and consensus driven process," said the political analyst.

For views and comments please write

Makho Precious,l write my personal opinions as a free spirit standing for human rights and space in society

- MakhoPrecious Moyo


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