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Devolution agenda key in attainment of Vision 2030

By Pepukai Chivore

Despite parliamentary approval of ZW$2,663 billion for 2020 transfer to Provincial Councils and Local Authorities (devolution), actual expenditure, as reported in the 2020 Ministry of Finance Annual Economic and Fiscal Report, was only 39% of the budgeted amount. At ZW$ 1,045 billion, devolution expenditure was 1,3% of the ZW$183 billion generated in 2020. The implication is that the constitutional provision in Section 301(3) will remain elusive until the enabling Act of Parliament is enacted.

Five percent of the 2020 revenue is ZW$9,15 billion as this could have gone a long way in addressing service delivery issues in lower tiers of government.  Section 301(3) of the constitution which provides that: “Not less than five per cent of the national revenues raised in any financial year must be allocated to the provinces and local authorities as their share in that year”.

There are, however, inconsistencies on the actual figure of the transfers with Page 78 of the economic and fiscal report indicating transfer to Provincial Councils and Local Authorities of ZW$1,978 billion while a table on the same page indicates disbursements of ZW$1,052 billion. The report indicates that disbursement to local authorities is dependent on readiness to spent, local authorities failed to submit the documentation required.

A budget of US$310 million (parity exchange rate was being used then) was allocated for devolution in the 2019 budget which was revised to ZW$703 million in the 2019 Mid-Year Budget and Review and Supplementary Budget. In 2021, an allocation of ZW$19,5 billion was approved, with authorities urged to prioritise water and sanitation, health services, education and road infrastructure, in view of challenges in these areas. By the end of March 2021, ZW$495,5 million had been disbursed out of a targeted first quarter expenditure of ZW$4,37 billion.

Adopted in 2013 through the new constitution, devolution refers to the transfer of legislative, executive, administrative and financial decision-making authority by central government to Provincial and Metropolitan Councils, as well as local governments that have clear and legally recognised jurisdictions within which they provide public services to constituents to whom they are accountable.

The motivation behind devolution of power to the sub-national structures is to enable a faster, efficient and effective response to challenges of public service delivery, development, democracy as well as the imperative of sustaining national unity and peace. The concept is recognised as one of the Founding Values and Principles to the constitution in Section 3(2)(l), which provides for the devolution and decentralisation of government power and functions to Provincial and Metropolitan Councils. Chapter 14 of the constitution, the only Chapter of the constitution that has a preamble of its own, provides for the establishment of Provincial, Metropolitan and Local Governments.

The modern emphasis of devolution is on economic development. Zimbabwe’s devolution programme is therefore largely founded on the principle of empowering Provincial and Metropolitan Councils to spearhead economic and social development projects in their areas by leveraging on local resources.

Consequently, Provincial and Metropolitan Councils are expected to initiate development programmes for their respective provinces, fully cognisant of the developmental needs of each administrative district and having regard of the resource endowment obtaining in each district.

Zimbabwe’s statistics bureau, ZimStat, has already laid its plans to publish Provincial GDP data, inclusive of monthly data on Provincial Datum Lines, which quantifies poverty income levels for defined persons in a family in each province.

The coming in of the Second Republic vigorously ushered in and marked the beginning of a serious commitment by government towards the implementation of the devolution agenda in line with the constitution. This quest to attain the bottom-up socio-economic development is inspired by international best practise wherein in the region, South Africa emerged as the front runner in the devolution race with Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda following suit. The second Republic promoted the devolution agenda in terms of Section 264(1) of the constitution which provides that: “Whenever appropriate, governmental powers and responsibilities must be devolved to provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities which are competent to carry out those responsibilities efficiently and effectively.”

Despite the presence of such robust constitutional provision, there is still no law to legalise the process of devolution. In the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) paragraph 728 page 181, the need for a legal instrument to ensure accountability for the devolved funds is noted. It states that:

“During the NDS1 period, the following strategies will be implemented:

Formulating and enactment of the necessary legal frameworks to facilitate devolution and decentralisation through:

  • Implementing policies that promote devolution;
  • Effecting necessary constitutional amendments; and
  • Effecting necessary amendments to the already existing legislation in line with the constitution.

The Devolution and Decentralisation Policy, adopted in 2020, also asserts the importance of appropriate amendments to other Acts of Parliament with a view of aligning the spirit of the constitution and other legislated laws to practical realities in pursuance of the devolution agenda.

As such, citizens should push Parliament and overwhelmingly participate in the enactment of the Provincial Councils and Administrative Amendment Bill that is currently under consideration. The Act is expected to clearly define roles, responsibilities and parameters for the three tiers of government to avoid duplication of functions.

While awaiting this important legislation, parliament should, as mandated by Section 299 of the constitution, exercise its oversight over central government and on Provincial and Metropolitan Councils under the administrative architecture of a devolved state.

The point of departure should be to ensure that local authorities have the capacity to spend and should extend to ensuring that not less than 5% of revenues raised, and not projected, in any financial year, are actually disbursed. Such oversight should also extend to how the devolved funds are utilised.

This is important given that the Auditor-General has repeatedly raised concern on recurring observation on weaknesses in local authorities related to governance, accountability, service delivery, revenue collection and debt management. Moreover, parliament has a role to ensure that each province is allocated a fair share of financial resources guided by demographic variables and developmental needs.

  • Chivore is an economist based in Harare. He is an expert in Public Finance Management who writes in his individual capacity. — pchivore@gmail.com. These weekly New Perspectives articles published in the Zimbabwe Independent are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators in Zimbabwe. — kadenge.zes@gmail.com or mobile: +263 772 382 852.

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