Resetting the service delivery agenda

RATHER than the contentious July 2013 general elections resolving questions of political legitimacy and setting Zimbabwe on a path of transition to democracy and economic recovery, the situation has become even murkier.

The Failed States Index of 2014, compiled by the Fund for Peace, clearly shows that the deep-seated fissures among the elite, demographic pressures, state illegitimacy and bad human rights record, are the main factors contributing towards Zimbabwe’s poor ranking (third), only better than Sudan and Somalia.

The ruling elite has intensified factionalism, as different players stake their dice to capture and retain “party-state” power, especially in the face of President Robert Mugabe’s advanced age and ill-health.

On the other hand, the opposition and civil society, critical in driving the democratisation agenda in Zimbabwe in the two decades between 1990 and 2010, has also been fractured. Ultimately, these divisions among the ruling elite in Zimbabwe have had a definitive impact on public service delivery.

The ordinary citizens are the forgotten element in the manoeuvres by the elite for power and influence and there is minimal pressure on the ruling class to deliver and fullfil their promises.

State institutions, especially the public media, seem to have been cornered by one faction whose interest is to entrench its self-serving agenda. In the ensuing melee, citizens are the collateral damage, as an “authoritarian nationalist state” looks securely entrenched.

Political analysts who have interrogated the impact of the divisions in the Zimbabwe body politic have confined their efforts as to who might emerge triumphant and have largely eschewed the immediate impact on public service delivery. It is important to focus on service delivery as it helps focus on the state and how it is positioned to produce and distribute public goods and services.

From central government to local government, the deterioration in service delivery is pervasive as a result of corruption. Zimbabwe is ranked 157 out of 177 countries on the Corruption Perception Index for 2013, according to Transparency International.

Similarly, according to the World Bank, Zimbabwe’s economic indicators continue to show an economy in contraction; company closures are quickening, public debt is out of control and gross national income per capita collapsed from a high of over US$1 000 in the 1980s to just US$345 in 2013.

Improving service delivery requires a new praxis (translating an idea into action), a more flexible approach, which builds off existing processes. It is therefore remarkable that service delivery relies on the manipulation of state power and networks for the furtherance of citizens’ progress through development and resource allocation.

As the process of re-engaging with the changed political economy structures emerge, there is need for an intellectual and people-based process in Zimbabwe where service delivery is deliberately reframed and broadened to include reducing poverty from the current high levels of 75%, eliminating the worsening inequality and reducing unemployment (and under-employment) currently pegged at about 90%.

It is therefore obvious that we need to relook at our understanding of service delivery and to broaden our definition of public accountability to include economic development and citizens’ welfare beyond the collection of litter in our communities, availability of clean water and education for our children and health care at affordable costs.

To achieve this, a new praxis and a new understanding of the role of political dynamics and power contestation at political party level as well as at a national level must be adopted. Clearly, a party in turmoil, as is the case with Zanu PF, cannot be expected to meet citizens’ expectations.

It is common knowledge the government’s latest economic blueprint, ZimAsset, and the indigenisation programme have suffered from political illegitimacy, as the designing processes were highly bureaucratic in nature and lacked participation by the broad citizenry. As such, the fate of both policies seems sealed.

Evidence has already begun to emerge of a ruling elite intending to entrench its network into the economy and guarantee its reproduction as an economic and political class at the expense of the masses.

The collapse of service delivery systems in Zimbabwe is not just a function of deepening patronage and its discernible vices; it is now in the depth and extensive divisions that have been heightening in the pre and post-Zanu PF December congress periods.

Where in the past suspicions of factionalism retarded progress, today it is the open and evident divisions within the bureaucracy and state security operating along party factional lines that has choked service delivery, collapsing central administration and strangling government institutions from fulfilling well established mandates.

To avoid total collapse and to secure renewal, Zimbabwe needs new debates and robust exchanges anchored on consensus building and revitalised relationship reconstruction aimed at re-asserting our national priorities.

To begin with, the genuine national dialogue on the national question — that of substantive democracy — centred on the creation of equal opportunities for all Zimbabweans, must replace the language of hate and its divisive tendencies.

Engendering equal opportunities for all Zimbabweans will restore national confidence and individual pride therefore resetting the country towards a new path for economic growth and prosperity, where “together we will find a fit”.

Unfortunately, the ruling Zanu PF government has failed to rise to the occasion. Competition for power and influence, illicit accumulation and even asset stripping and sectarian conflict over party-state domination has diverted the party’s attention from service delivery.

Organised, sustained and intelligently mobilised pressure from outside the party-state complex, a process requiring a resetting of the national agenda underpinned by a renewed drive, informed by renewed thinking, especially for those outside the state — labour, students, women, human rights organisations, residents associations and civil society coalitions — is central to the solution.

Shonhe is a public policy analyst based in Harare.

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