Rethinking, re-imagining local governance in Zim

Local governance is that sphere of governance where the lowest tiers of government interact with institutions which represent the interests of citizens, such as resident’s groups, business organisations, community interest networks and other related civil society organisations.

By Dumisani Nkomo THIS week I continue on my journey of providing insights into how we can rethink and reimagine Zimbabwe. In this piece I will explore how this can be done in the local governance space to position the country on a trajectory of sustainable socio-economic growth and political stability.

Local governance is that sphere of governance where the lowest tiers of government interact with institutions which represent the interests of citizens, such as resident’s groups, business organisations, community interest networks and other related civil society organisations.

Importance of loca lgovernamce Having defined local governance as that sphere of interaction of policies, decisions and actions that happen at the most basic level of social and political organisation, it is also critical to then show its importance within the realm of economic development and social transformation.

Ishwor Thapha in an article Local Government: Concept, Roles and Importance for Contemporary Society (July 2020), defines local government as a relatively autonomous multi-purpose institution, providing a range of services with tax raising capacity.

Local government is not only important, but imperative to locate local governance in the economic and social evolution of a nation state, especially a developmental state, such as Zimbabwe aspires to be.

Local governance is important in the sustainable economic growth and development of any given polity for the following reasons:

It is that sphere of governance that is close to the people. This is in theory anyway, because geographical proximity may not necessarily translate into actual access.

The local government tier or structure provides essential services to citizens on a day-to-day basis or ideally is meant to provide critical services, such as clean water, sewer reticulation, refuse collection, street lighting, roads and other essential services.

It enables local communities to be in charge of their own affairs.

It is the basis of a thriving democracy as people are able to make decisions about issues that affect their lives on a daily basis.

I would like to argue that in the absence of well-defined local governance architecture, economic growth and social transformation can be stunted.

We must as Zimbabweans rethink and reimagine our local governance landscape, correctly positioning it as an enabler of economic growth and development and ultimately a qualitative improvement in the standards of living of ordinary Zimbabweans and indeed corporate citizens.

Assuming that our collective desire as a nation is a country epitomised by sustainable economic growth, development, access to basic services for citizens and increased incomes leading to quality standard of living, it is imperative to then position local governance in this equation.

Local governance, ease of doing business

Ease of doing business has been a central tenet in policy-making in Zimbabwe for over 20 years. This principle is being increasingly articulated in the government’s 100-day plan [2017-2018] and the National Development Strategy (NDS-1).

Ease of doing business facilitates growth of economies through easier access to permits and licences for investors. Centralisation has inhibited processes and procedures which facilitate ease of doing business and this is largely due to the fact that local tiers of government, such as local government are plagued with a multiplicity of bottlenecks, such as but not limited to:

Lack of enabling laws and legislations especially national tender and procurement processes;

Corruption at local level; and

Lack of capacity

Re-imagining devolution

Our quest for devolution of power to the lower tiers of government namely provincial and local government must take into cognisance that devolution is not an end in itself but a means to an end.

We must rethink or re-imagine why we want devolution and what it will achieve. Section 264 of the Constitution is a great place to start in that it outlines the following devolution imperatives:

To give the powers of local governance to the people;

To promote a democratic, accountable and transparent government;

To recognise the right of communities to manage their own affairs;

To transfer the responsibilities and resources from the national government in order to provide solid provincial economies; and

To ensure equitable sharing of local and national resources.

Indeed, this framework provided by the Constitution is a good place to start in re-imagining devolution as a tool of:

Equitable economic growth;

Community development;

Conflict management;

Citizen participation;

Sound service delivery; and

Effective public administration.

Whilst this is ably amplified in the Government’s Devolution and Decentralisation Policy of July 21, 2020, the desires outlined here are mere wishes in the absence of a legal framework which for example clearly provides a roadmap for:

Giving the powers of local governance to the people. What does this look like? What does this mean? How can we imagine these powers and how will they be manifested in statutes of law?

How will communities manage their own affairs? What does this look like? How will this contribute to economic growth, equity and inclusiveness?

The current legal framework set out in the Urban Councils Act, the Rural District Councils Act, the Traditional Leaders Act, the Provincial and Metropolitan Councils Act and the Regional Town and Country Planning Act are inadequate in delivering these devolution dividends and the broader local governance imperatives.

A new legal framework has to be thought through and formulated, principally an enabling devolution Act.  Also key is aligning other Acts of parliament with the desired decentralised and devolved dispensation. These laws include, but are not limited to the Vehicle Licencing Act, the Environmental Management Act, the Mines and Minerals Act and the Procurement Act.

Rethinking development planning The Traditional Leaders Act and the Rural District Councils Act create a framework for development planning from village to district level.

In theory, development planning begins at village level through the village development committees (Vidcos), which are chaired by village heads and these plans are then taken to the village assembly, which is a broader space chaired by the village head again.

Village plans then proceed to the ward development committee (Wadco), chaired by the councillor before going to the ward assembly, which is chaired by the headman.

Ward plans are then taken to the rural district development committee consisting of line ministries, specific councillors and heads of departments before going to the rural district council.

This development process whilst being fairly good needs to be rethought and the following changes roped in:

Village development committees and assemblies should have elected chairpersons. Once most village heads are male it means virtually almost all Vidcos will be headed by men, which is a clear negation of the leave-no-one-behind principle seeing that women will be excluded.

A clear planning template must be provided for village and ward plans. Currently an individual sitting under a tree can draw up a village plan because there is no template.

Capacity and roles of Vidcos and Wadcos – a lot of village development committees have become appendages of the ruling party instead of being agents of development. Videos and Wadcos must be trained on their roles and responsibilities so that they deliver their development role.

De-dualisation of rural local governance – traditional leaders and councillors are often at loggerheads in the local development planning process because their respective roles are not well understood. This is accentuated by the fact that at district level there is a District Development Coordinator, formerly District Administrator and Chief Executive Officer who again clash a lot of times thus affecting local development.

District budgets must be clearly linked to provincial budgets which should be overseen by provincial councils, with an increased budget vote beyond the current 5% threshold from central government.

  • Nkomo is a writer and development practitioner. He can be contacted on [email protected]