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Devolution and its benefits for Zim

AS the much-awaited constitutional outreach programme finally kicks-off, one thematic area that looks set to dominate the public hearings is that of systems of governance, particularly the decentralisation of administration and devolution of power from Harare to regions or provinces.

Virtually every party claims to support devolution. Strangely, the main parties, namely Zanu-PF, MDC, MDC-T and Zapu, seem to mean different things by “devolution of power”. This could be due to lack of understanding of what devolution really is, or the usual pretence and lack of sincerity by politicians.

It is clear Zanu PF and MDC-T’s version of devolution as enunciated by their officials and in press reports, is basically not devolution, but some sort of decentralisation or deconcentration of power. Zapu and MDC’s versions of devolution are in my view meaningful, comprehensive, clear and sincere.

The only commonality across the various party positions on systems of governance is that after 130 years of a unitary, centralised state, now is the time to decentralise.

Decentralisation is fundamentally an argument about governance. Decentralisation was sparked by close to 130 years of highly authoritarian rule and centralised governments, starting from the days of Cecil John Rhodes up to date. Generally, it is argued that centralised governments encourage centralised administrative structures which are major obstacles to people’s participation. These administrative structures retain control over decision-making, resource allocation, and the information and knowledge required if people are to play an effective part in development activities.

Similarly, the planning of development programmes and projects is often centralised and planning procedures discourage local involvement. Government planners are invariably a professional group who do not concede their practice to the local level. Most planning takes place in ministries in urban areas and there is rarely any genuine desire to devolve this responsibility effectively to the local level. According to Oakley, a development scholar, indeed it would be argued that in most Third World countries administrative structures are invariably centralised and, by definition, essentially anti-participatory.

It is clear from the ongoing debate that some powerful people in the inclusive government are hostile to the whole notion of reducing central control, devolving decisions to local level and supporting demands made by people for the kinds of radical changes that might be required. Evidence suggests that few governments have willingly devolved bureaucratic controls to the local level.

According to the Human Development Report (1993) decentralisation can take several forms; it might for example be horizontal or vertical. Horizontal decentralisation disperses power among institutions at the same level. For example a government’s spending decisions, rather than being concentrated in an all powerful Finance ministry, might be spread across different ministries.

Vertical decentralisation is more powerful. It allows some of the powers of government to be delegated downwards to low tiers of authority. This vertical decentralisation can itself take three forms. The first one is deconcentration:  this is limited to passing down only administrative discretion to local offices of central government ministries. It involves the transfer of workload and selected administrative or decision-making authority and responsibility from the headquarters to lower field-level officials within central government ministries or public agencies.

“It involves the transfer of authority for specific decision-making, financial and management functions by administrative means to different levels under the same jurisdictional authority of the central government”.
Although it does result in some dispersal of power, few decisions can be taken without reference to the centre.

In the case of Zimbabwe, an example would be the Ministry of Home Affairs, which has de-centralised the issuance of birth and death certificates, passports, identity cards and marriage certificates to provinces and districts, or the issuance of vehicle licence discs at post offices and local authority offices. However, one may still have to go to Harare for some services. In any case, passports are still printed in Harare and the superiors in Harare have final say on any matter.
The other form of de-centralisation is delegation. This involves delegating some authority and decision-making powers to local officials, but central government retains the right to overturn local decisions and can at any time take these powers back. In our case, minister Ignatius Chombo has overturned countless resolutions made by elected councillors in virtually every other local authority. Delegation therefore is the transfer of government decision-making and administrative authority and/or responsibility for carefully spelt out tasks to institutions and organisations that are either under government’s indirect control or semi-independent. Most typically, delegation is by the central government to semi-autonomous organisations not wholly controlled by the government but legally accountable to it.
The third and most important form of decentralisation is devolution. This is the granting of decision-making powers to local authorities and allowing them to take full responsibility, without reference back to central government.
Through devolution,  en-
tral government relinquishes certain functions or creates new units of government that are outside its direct control. Devolution in its purest form has certain fundamental characteristics:
Local units of government are autonomous, independent and clearly perceived as separate levels of government over which central authorities exercise little or no direct control.
Local governments ha-
ve clear and legally
recognised geographical boundaries within which they exercise authority and perform public functions.
Local governments ha-ve corporate status and the power to secure resources to perform their functions.
Devolution implies the need to “develop local governments as institutions” in the sense that they are perceived by local citizens as organisations providing services that satisfy their needs and as governmental units over which they have some influence.
Devolution is an arrangement in which there are reciprocal, mutually beneficial, and coordinate relationships between central and local governments.  
Development scholars argue that decentralisation involves the transfer of authority and power to plan, make decisions and manage resources, from higher to lower levels of the organisational hierarchy, in order to facilitate efficient and effective service delivery. Decentralisation deals with the allocation between centre and periphery of power, authority, and responsibility for political, fiscal, and administrative systems. De-concentration progressively decreases central control and increases local discretion. Devolution is associated with more democratic governance and a means to enact and deepen democratic participation.
Democratic decentralisation may be promoted for a number of reasons; administrative, fiscal, political or others. The justification for the adoption of some form of decentralisation is to promote democratic governance and participatory approaches in development. Among the reasons often given is to bring government closer to people and enhance their participation and interaction with local government officers in the affairs of the locality.
The UNDP (1998) points out that decentralisation or decentralising governance should not be seen as an end in itself; it can be a means for creating more open, responsive, and effective local government and for enhancing representational systems of community-level decision making. By allowing local communities and regional entities to manage their own affairs, and through facilitating closer contact between central and local authorities, effective systems of local governance enable responses to people’s needs and priorities to be heard, thereby ensuring that government interventions meet a variety of social needs.
Having explained what decentralisation and devolution are, I go further to lay bare the form of devolution that Zapu wants. Our party basically wants the country to be divided into five provinces/regions, namely Mashonaland, Masvingo, Midlands, Manicaland and Matabeleland. Each province/region should have its own elected premier/governor and mini-government. The regional governments will have control over natural resources and environmental issues in their areas of jurisdiction. Each province should also have its own parliament/assembly, judiciary system, and revenue raising system.
Zapu believes five provinces as opposed to the current 10 would be viable. We wonder what benefit the division of Matabeleland into North, South and Bulawayo, and Mashonaland into East, West, Central and Harare has helped, except to create five more vacancies for governorship.
Under devolution, there would still be a central government to maintain territorial integrity and control crucial affairs such as defence, national security, foreign affairs, and international trade. Also, we would still sing the same national anthem, fly the same flag, have one head of state and commander-in-chief, one currency, and have one national sports team.
A  National Executive Authority including the president, deputy president, Speaker of the House of Assembly, the prime minister and the elected provincial governors of the five provinces shall run the country.  
The National Executive Authority will be the supreme decision making body of Zimbabwe.  Its duties will be to advise the president on the meaning and implication of old and new legislation before he/she signs it into law; advise the president on all matters of national interest and concern; and advise the president on all senior national government appointments, including appointments of people to constitutionally entrenched institutions.
Opponents of devolution have mischievously misrepresented it as federalism or secession. South Africa, which adopted devolution, is undoubtedly the most prosperous and democratic African state. In fact, secessionist and tribalistic tendencies are stronger in unitary states with strong centralised systems like Zimbabwe.
Methuseli Moyo is the spokesman for Zapu. He can be contacted at methumoyo@yahoo.co.uk.


By Methuseli Moyo

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