Service delivery sacrificed on the altar of politics

AS Zimbabwe marches towards general elections, political issues continue to dominate public debate at the expense of other critical matters, particularly social service delivery which has been relegated to the backburner while citizens suffer the consequences.

Report by Herbert Moyo

A research paper done by the United Kingdom Department for International Development on approaches to improving the delivery of social services in difficult environments shows there are various types of situations within which states try to fulfil the needs of citizens.

These include environments in which there is political will, but weak capacity to deliver. In this situation, states may be challenged in their mobilisation of resources for service delivery due to any or several of the following: lack of basic fiscal and monetary building blocks; challenges to the state’s ability to create and maintain institutions and the presence of unstable or weak but legitimate institutions with a commitment to service delivery.

However, despite these weaknesses, such states are considered responsive to service delivery. Malawi and Zambia could be seen as examples of high willingness, but low capacity.

Some countries emerging from conflict may be a subset of this category where the international community seeks to support and strengthen nascent governments. Examples include Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, and Democratic Republic of Congo (although in some cases, the legitimacy of the governments remain contested, which affects the way in which the international community can engage).

There are governments which have low political will, but potentially high capacity to deliver.

In this type are states that may be strong in terms of administrative capacity and institutional presence, but they are unresponsive to the needs of the poor, either because of politics, as in the case of Zimbabwe and possibly Nigeria, for instance, or because a real or perceived external threat diverts the use of resources for other aims that do not tackle service delivery and poverty reduction as in North Korea.

There are also cases of low political will and low capacity to deliver. This type of state may suffer from lack of international recognition or a contested territory, limited administrative capacity for policy development and implementation, and is seen as unresponsive to the needs of certain groups, including the poor.

Southern Sudan, Somalia, and possibly Nepal are often considered as cases in point. Infrastructure has been destroyed, there is mass displacement of people, levels of insecurity are high and the government is contested, thus little or no service delivery.

There are also states with strong political will and capacity to deliver. These states have strong state presence and territory control, some degree of competence in fiscal and monetary policy or a strong administrative capacity and public institutions that are fairly committed to development.

They are good partners for poverty reduction, but may have structural risk factors for state weakness that warrant specific attention.

The research identified Zimbabwe as a state with potentially high capacity to deliver social services, but low political will.

As a result of the preponderance of politics, debate in Zimbabwe has of late largely focused on political reforms that have to be implemented before elections to the detriment of other equally important issues that impact on service delivery and general improvement of ordinary people’s lives.

While politicians haggle over elections, parties and their leaders spend so much time, energy and resources to ensure these political reforms, but no one is talking about service delivery.

No attention is being paid at improving service delivery in sectors such as health, education, housing, water and sanitation as well as job-creation which would uplift the lives of millions of ordinary Zimbabweans who have been hardest hit by the economic meltdown and political crisis mainly between 2000 and 2009.

As a result, ordinary people continue to wallow in poverty and poor service delivery, with unemployment remaining well over 80%, according to many credible estimates.

Not surprisingly, the media has been awash with stories of human suffering ranging from the plight of Ziscosteel workers in Redcliff, who have gone for years unpaid, to urban residents in Harare and Bulawayo who go for months without water or electricity.

While there have been considerable improvements in the education sector, which was at a virtual standstill in 2008 with teacher strikes, unmarked examination papers and shortages of textbooks, the same cannot be said of other sectors of social service delivery and the economy.

As reported in this paper last month, Ziscosteel workers’ poverty and misery is fuelled by the continued closure of the steel-making plant despite the fact that the cash-strapped government found an investor in Essar from India which agreed to pump US$750 million into the company.

However, the deal has not been consummated due to haggling over iron ore deposits and the shareholding structure of New Zim Minerals, formerly Buchwa Iron Ore Mining Company, a subsidiary of Ziscosteel.
Politicians occasionally mention service delivery.

Addressing the MDC-T Midlands north provincial leadership at Torwood Hall in Kwekwe recently, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said the coalition government had put the people first by responding to the issues of education, health and water.

“If one takes a balance sheet, one will see that the MDC in government addressed a lot of critical issues that were bedevilling the nation, and it managed to bring about positive changes such as food on the table, good health delivery, improvement in education and commitment in stabilising the economy though other social indicators that have been negative,” he said.

Tsvangirai’s claims would fail to find takers among the struggling poor.

According to Habakkuk Trust executive director Dumisani Nkomo, “people are still sleeping on floors in Zimbabwe’s main referral hospitals in addition to being required to bring their own medication and bed linen”.

“This is what happens when politicians just make pronouncements in the media without dealing with the real issues,” said Nkomo. “You cannot just say services will be provided for free as some of them claim without working out who will pay for the costs. If patients are going to access free services at hospitals, then the costs must be absorbed by either government or donors, but clearly in this case, there is no one absorbing the costs, hence the failure to implement what has been promised.”

While political reforms to facilitate credible elections continue to take centre-stage, there is still no end in sight to the water woes in Bulawayo and Harare, among other cities.

Writing in a recent book titled Zimbabwe: Mired in Transition, Norbert Musekiwa makes an interesting observation that following the 2008 elections, the results of local council elections were largely unchallenged by all the parties, implying councils are currently governed by representatives that were democratically elected.
“Accordingly, local authorities should provide spaces that nurture democratic transition,” wrote Musekiwa.

But instead of doing that and providing essential services, they have become a haven of corruption and self-aggrandisement.

Political commentator Takura Zhangazha said there was no “grand national vision” that speaks to the needs of the people.

“There seems to be no particular persuasive belief in ideas,” said Zhangazha. “For all their statements, conferences or rallies, the leaders of political parties, including those that are not in the inclusive government, have failed to raise the national discourse to organically and democratically engage levels on issues affecting the lives of our citizens.”

The Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association, which has dedicated itself to championing the rights of ordinary people in the face of exploitation by government and big businesses, said there is lack of transparency in government’s activities and hence no accountability in resource exploitation and service delivery from resultant state revenues.

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