Devolution via conversational democracy and negotiations

BY SHARON HOFISI

ZIMBABWE’S constitutional democracy allows for liquid democracy, which combines direct and indirect or representative democracy. It also allows for monitoring democracy where oversight institutions and citizen bodies can participate in the governance matrix.

Conversational democracy allows the members of a constitutional society to dialogue when building best ways to ensure the implementation of constitutional values is done transparently, accountably and in a way that democratises and consolidates the gains of democracy in a society.

Whichever way we define or make Zimbabwe’s constitutional democracy durable, it suffices to note that the Constitution provides a normative framework on conversations around good governance. Section 3 (2) (l) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, 2013, provides that devolution and decentralisation of governmental power (and) functions is a tenet of good governance.

Read conjunctively, devolution and decentralisation of government power must be discussed separately in a way that considers the interests, specific needs, resources, and other critical aspects that affect the regions to benefit from such devolution and decentralisation of governmental powers.

This effectively calls for conversational negotiations on how best to fulfil the objectives on devolution, which are laid out in section 164 of the Constitution.

Specifically, the objectives include giving local governance to the people and enhancing their participation in the exercise of powers and decisions of the state; promoting democratic, coherent, transparent and accountable government; preserving and fostering peace, national unity and indivisibility of Zimbabwe; recognising the right of communities to manage their own affairs and development; and ensuring equitable sharing of local and national resources and transferring responsibilities and resources from national government in order to establish a sound financial base for each provincial and metropolitan council and local authority.

Illustratively, the objective on provincial, metropolitan and local authorities is linked well to the tiers of government that are enshrined in section 5 of the Constitution. This makes it critical for all the tiers of the government to be allowed to play a significant role in the implementation of devolution in Zimbabwe.

With the current amendments to devolution-related laws, the role of central government, executive mayors in metropolitan councils, traditional leaders, provincial ministers and other players must be properly explained.

How do we ensure that devolution becomes a reality and is practically implemented as contemplated by the Constitution? We should go beyond democratic and constitutional experimentalism. We must now emboss dialogic democracy.

I note of course that we now have a Zimbabwe devolution campaign and different citizen voices and state functionaries are playing their part. That is fine! In the art of negotiation, when you are face to face with a tough counterpart, it is natural to be competitive.

The Zimbabwe devolution campaign must, however, be considered a vital platform for collaborative decision-making. By being collaborative, we create and claim more value. We become a winning team, together.

Let us not use the negotiation platforms to spark resistance to devolution of powers and responsibilities. We need a joint-fact finding process that provides a better route to value claiming and creation between central government and lower tiers of government.

This helps in correcting misperceptions through jointly generated forecasts that correct faulty perceptions within our society. It is not simple, but it is true: power and responsibilities must be devolved so as to build the mosaic of democracy we cherish.

We have seen the steps taken by the central government, including those by the Cabinet inter-ministerial taskforce. We have witnessed legislative amendments of devolution-related legislation. Noble though they are, we still need to build consensus, solve disputes and improve working relationships between central government representatives and lower tiers of government. This enables us to place restraints on executive interference but promote safeguards on central government intervention in instances where lower tiers may be at variance with the objectives on devolution.

A pertinent question then becomes: Why is conversational democracy or negotiations in the devolution implementation strategy important? Whether you are an established negotiator or a constitutional lover, you will discover the critical relationship between unitary, sovereign and democratic governance in Zimbabwe.

This helps us in agreeing that we cannot, constitutionally, federalise or create autonomous regions in our devolution process. This is why, besides the main preamble in our Constitution, we have a devolution preamble that strictly unitarises the devolution process. Specifically, the preamble shows that devolution of powers and responsibilities must not be used to create breakaway states in Zimbabwe.

However, steep our differences could be, we must promote coherent governance and make Zimbabwe indivisible.

Predictably, conversational democracy allows academics, devolution practitioners, central and lower tier government functionaries, development partners and other stakeholders to notch a shared vision for local and national development in Zimbabwe.

Those who lead discussions on devolution must also be prepared to make critical interventions in dispensing myths and misconceptions around the form of our devolution. This includes dealing properly with concerns on the likely roles of provincial ministers, provincial development coordinators, executive mayors, devolution working groups and so forth.

We should not only think of conversational negotiations as they relate to alternative dispute-resolution mechanisms. I use conversational negotiation here to explain how negotiators can sometimes intervene when collective decision-making breaks down.

This is why multi-stakeholder engagements on devolution will doubtlessly serve as negotiating tools on making devolution a reality.

Conversational negotiations enable stakeholders to deal with the elephant-in-the-room issues collaboratively. After all, not all democratic players are created equal. Our Constitution allows for some Orwellian democratic moments. This is why the central government must, in appropriate instances, devolve power and responsibilities.

Such Orwellian powers are enshrined in section 241 (1) of our Constitution. Essentially, while the tier-system contemplated in section 5 of the Constitution creates a state with broad shoulders, there is a two-way feedback tenor which is dependent on the appropriateness of devolution of power and responsibilities.

When or when not to make devolution of power and responsibilities a reality is a question all stakeholders must ask themselves when pitching their conversations.

In this article, drawn from negotiation argumentation, I am avoiding legalese and offering negotiation-intoned tips for when and when not, to drive a particular agenda on unitarised forms of devolution.

With Zimbabwe having crafted the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) which fundamentally seeks to promote human development; and a Vision 2030 which is aimed at ensuring that Zimbabwe attains middle-income status, the devolution conversations must also be developmental.

This way we can effectively publicise economic needs of various communities. This will enable communities to participate effectively in answering the question on how many provinces should have devolved powers and responsibilities.

While section 267 of the Constitution can be used to devolve such powers and responsibilities to provinces and districts, there is a need for clarity on the fixed boundaries envisaged by the Constitution. We need certainty on how many provinces will be divided into districts and how many provincial and district boundaries will be altered in the manner envisaged in section 267 (1) and (2) of the Constitution.

At the implementation level, we have seen the involvement of Parliament in seeking clarity from Local Government deputy minister Marian Chombo over her ministry’s failure to release funds allocated towards devolution in terms of section 301 (3) of the Constitution.

This is critical in terms of section 119 (2) of the Constitution which gives Parliament the power to ensure that the provisions of the Constitution are upheld and that the state and all its institutions and agencies of government at every level act constitutionally and in the national interest.

The deputy minister demonstrated that the funds are there, but a legislative framework to ensure the funds are transparently channelled towards devolution is needed.

This in a sense indicated political will on the part of the Executive and Parliament must thus innovate urgently on ensuring there is a law that allows the general populace to participate meaningfully in shaping the tenor of the laws that bear on the practical implementation of devolution in Zimbabwe.

I must laud the print media for embossing a culture of soliciting comments from academics and devolution practitioners. This allows for the implementation of devolution through the lens of both caucus and non-caucus models of practice, and consider the role of law and practice in making devolution a reality.

In this way, nuanced arguments have been proffered on how the Provincial Councils and Administration Amendment Bill has to be scrutinised thoroughly to ensure that central government is not given wide powers that stall the implementation of the constitutional provisions on devolution. The critical issues from the Bill are those that relate to the duplication of roles and functions of the provincial ministers and provincial developmental coordinators. Quintessentially, conversational democracy must equip Zimbabweans to faithfully avoid adopting a tenor of development that impoverishes since it is not development at all.

From the perspective of the African human rights system and other international frameworks, we also need to use devolution to genuinely deal with the problems and challenges on resource-induced displacements such as Chingwizi, Marange, Chiadzwa and recently, the Shangaani people in Chiredzi.

Hofisi is a transformative transitional justice practitioner, normative influencer and disruptive thinker.