REPORT ON THE DEVOLUTION INDABA

  1. Introduction: A Devolution Indaba was held on 11-12 December 2019, at a Harare hotel. The two day meeting was attended by 50 participants drawn from the City of Harare departments, councillors and Members of Parliament, as well as residents’ leaders. The main objectives for the workshop included enhancing participants’ understanding of what devolution really entailed, its different dynamics, identifying key actors, picking out the key challenges faced in trying to influence and implement it and coming up with possible practical solutions and action priorities.  Participants to this important indaba recommended that to intensify lobbying and advocacy on devolution, the HRT shall submit a petition to Parliament requesting that the Government implements devolution in line with the Constitution, and dialogue must continuously be pursued among different stakeholders and the Government, among other key resolutions. There was a call for civil society organisations to establish a vibrant and multi-stakeholder coalition to advance the lobby and advocacy on devolution, and be the recognised voice that articulates and champions citizens’ perspectives on devolution. The report unpacks these issues, starting with the definition, identifying the challenges noted in its implementation and provides the possible solutions which were raised during the workshop.
  • Critical Expectations: The facilitator Absalom Masendeke asked all participants to jot down their expectations on pieces of paper. Initially, he asked participants to discuss in pairs, and then one would make the presentation. Participants expected to come out of the workshop with a clear understanding of the definition of devolution, the key actors and their different roles. They also expected to leave the conference knowing what it is all about, whether it is about power or resources. It was also noted that there are diverse interpretations of the concept from different groups. Academics, the government and citizens all seem to interpret devolution differently. There is therefore need to compromise, align these divergent views and come up with a common goal.  
  • Conceptualising and Defining Devolution: Devolution is a highly contested and complicated concept. A number of varying definitions were provided by the participants. However, from the varying definitions, some common ideas emerged. It was then agreed that devolution involves the transfer of power and authority from the central government to local government authorities. However, when put into the Zimbabwean context, it has not been clear what it has entailed so far, what it should entail for it to be meaningful to Zimbabweans and the key actors supposed to be involved. Devolution is provided for in the Zimbabwe Constitution, and Chapter 14 specifically talks about devolution of government powers within the local government sphere. 
  • Group Discussions: Participants were drawn into four groups where they deliberated on what the experience was on implementation of devolution, highlighting what it should entail for it to be meaningful to Zimbabweans, and who should be the key actors involved and why they are important.  
    • The experience on its implementation so far: All four groups came to the agreement that devolution has entailed nothing so far, and has had no impact whatsoever to the Zimbabwean citizenry. The groups emphasised the point that the government has just set up some structures, but the citizens have not yet been consulted. Most of them are not even aware that the government has started setting up structures and has disbursed some funds to local authorities meant for devolution, in terms of Section 301 (3) of the Constitution. It has also lacked impact because only one government ministry is focusing on its implementation- the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works. This is regardless of the fact that other ministries also have functions that need to be devolved.  
    • What devolution should entail for it to be meaningful to Zimbabweans: The four groups agreed that power needs to be devolved, with decision making being brought down to provincial and district level. There should be autonomy and independent decision making on use of local resources. Local residents should be engaged by the district officers before decisions are made. A one size fits all approach will not work, each province or district has its own unique needs, which need different solutions from the next one. Therefore, endogenous development should be promoted. Each district has to develop from within, as residents know their daily problems better than anyone else outside their community. The Central Government does not have to prescribe similar solutions to provinces with diverse problems, and different cultures as well. Thus, autonomy and citizen engagement should be central to the devolution process.      
    • Key actors: The groups concurred that the citizens are the most important actors because devolution is mostly about them. Through participation, devolution aims at empowering the general citizenry, making them key and recognised players in local districts and national development. Technocrats or academics should also play a key role in the implementation of devolution. One of the problems we face as a nation is that policy making is in the hands of politicians. Some of them are not educated and trained enough to craft sound policies. This brings the need to engage technocrats with sound knowledge on developmental issues. They might know how best to implement devolution. Public servants, from both central and local government structures are key players as well. Central government holds the key. Central government officials should be willing to relinquish power and authority, while local government authorities should be willing to use the devolved authority and power in an accountable and transparent manner.   

DAY Two- 12 December 2019

  • Challenges faced in the implementation of devolution in Zimbabwe and their possible solutions.

Participants to the Devolution Indaba were placed in four groups to discuss the key challenges being faced in the implementation of devolution in Zimbabwe. They were also supposed to come up with recommendations and possible solutions. The report now highlights the identified challenges, and the key issues related to them;

  • Lack of a clear framework: The proper implementation of devolution in Zimbabwe seems to be stalling because it does not have a clear and proper framework to follow. There is no supporting legislation or a clear legal framework for devolution in Zimbabwe, except for its recognition as a governance principle in the Constitution. Section 265 (3) states that: “An Act of Parliament must provide appropriate mechanisms and procedures to facilitate co-ordination between central government, provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities.” Despite this key provision, nothing much has happened in terms of enacting an enabling law. As a result, participants agreed that there is need for lobbying with Parliament for alignment of appropriate acts. An alternative devolution bill can also be crafted and be presented in this current Parliament. 

Another key concern raised during the indaba was the apparent disregard of public participation in devolution by the Government. It was shared that the Government has been disbursing devolution funds in line with Section 301(3) of the Constitution which specifies that in each financial year, at least five percent of the annual budget should be allocated to local authorities, provincial and metropolitan councils as part of their share in that financial year. However, there is no formula to guide the ongoing disbursements of funds. Further, there is not yet a guiding law that enables citizens’ genuine participation. What is most worrying is that it was reported that local authorities are merely being told by Central Government on where and how to utilise the disbursed funds, thus compromising on the principles of devolution.

  • Lack of political will: This has been one of the major hindrances to the implementation of devolution in Zimbabwe.  Party politics are taking precedence over developmental issues. Political parties need to embrace the process through Parliament. There is also need for establishing efficiency within councils to instil confidence in the government. For the government to be willing to provide the required funding to local councils, the councils must demonstrate transparency and accountability in their operations. Activism and advocacy from the citizens can also pressure the government into taking action. All advocacy must be evidence drive, participants argued.
    • Authorities’ resistance to relinquish power: Some authorities in central government are unwilling to hand over power to those in local government structures. Due to fear of losing power and access to resources, some individuals in central government are slowing down the implementation of devolution. Aggressive lobbying and activism can pressure the government into taking action. Civil Society Organisations can also play an important role in pressuring the government into implementing devolution. 
    • Lack of knowledge for the citizenry: Devolution is lacking in terms of publicity. It was noted that most citizens are not aware or knowledgeable of devolution. They need to be educated through awareness programs, mainly through the media. To provide wide coverage, all forms of media should be utilised. Devolution campaigns targeting communities should also be intensified, through programs like roadshows. Public information factsheets on devolution can also be created. Educating the citizenry empowers them to take ownership of devolution, and not wait for the government to take the initiative. However, sometimes residents are to blame. They are ignorant. They do not read materials available from different organisations, including from the Government on devolution. Some documents on devolution are available but no one is paying attention to them. It was suggested that the HRT and other CSOs and key stakeholders should take a leading role in ensuring that more residents become enlightened on the concept of devolution, its impacts on people’s lives, including the benefits to be derived from the implementation of devolution.
    • Different interests from key stakeholders: key stakeholder groups hold different interests and perspectives on the concept of devolution and its implementation. Some groups are concerned with power and authority issues whilst others believe that it is about natural and financial resources. Therefore, there is need for aligning stakeholder goals through genuine and sincere dialogue. All stakeholders should lobby and advocate for a broader and genuine political dialogue, which will see stakeholders from all political parties and non-partisan groups converging on common goals.
    • Poor citizen engagement: Devolving power and authority involves the engagement of citizens or community residents in issues relating to the development of their areas. Citizen participation is central to the concept of devolution. There are different needs for different districts, hence the need for engaging residents in each district so that each group’s unique problems are addressed. However, most citizens are not even aware of devolution programs, showing that they are not being engaged as required. Whilst much emphasis is being put on citizen engagement, there is no clear framework on how the citizens should participate. This framework should be crafted before they are successfully engaged. But in order for that framework to emerge, there is need to involve the citizens all the way without excluding them.
    • Weak civil society: It was noted that our civil society is weak. Compromised people are taking leadership and consequently, citizens lose faith in Civil Society Organisations. CSOs are also not pushing hard enough for the implementation of devolution. They have been weak in reaching out to and educating the citizens as well. Therefore, there is need for building a coalition of Civil Society Organisations on Devolution. The views of most civil society organisations are being influenced both by who funds and supports their work, or if they have the resources to make submissions to Parliament or to the Media. Participants decried the lack of seriousness on the part of civil society to consistently pursue the devolution agenda and see it through.
  • Conclusion: The workshop showed that devolution in Zimbabwe is a highly contested and complicated process. A clear framework, with clear timelines and benchmarks does not exist. This needs to be solved. In general, for devolution to become a reality, there is significant need for citizen awareness and engagement, and also a convergence of ideas from the various key stakeholders to be involved in its implementation. There is no lead agency responsible for the implementation of devolution. The Ministry of Local Government and Public Works cannot be the only one that is talking about it. All Government ministries have functions and roles which have to be devolved to lower tiers of government, provincial or local, thus devolution is not a ministerial responsibility but a collective agenda which must be undertaken in a transparent and accountable manner.

Authored by Nigel Kwenda

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *