Devolution brings development closer to communities

The devolution programme being implemented by the Second Republic has become one of the anchors of development because it is concerned with the uplifting of grassroots.

Devolution in Zimbabwe has become part of the many ideas being implemented by the Government to promote good governance through transparency and accountability of resources. 

The development concept encourages citizens to participate in the advancement of good governance as it provides an opportunity for them to take part in development at their local levels. 

The devolution programme in Zimbabwe as it is being implemented now, can be traced to the Zimbabwe Constitution Amendment (No. 20) Act 2013. 

This constitutional provision that defined devolution was being acted upon with hesitance since it was promulgated in 2013 until it was accelerated with the coming in of the Second Republic in 2017.

The Second Republic started allocating budgets to local authorities for funding devolution, with the programme receiving $2,93 billion in the 2020 national budget, $19,5 billion in 2021, $42 billion in 2022 and $195 billion this year.

These budget allocations signal a new approach to the implementation of the devolution concept in Zimbabwe.

The budget allocations were supported by the Zimbabwe Constitution Amendment (No.20) Act 2013, which came up with the outline for devolution and decentralisation of powers and responsibilities from the Central Government to the lower structures of governance. 

According to the constitutional amendment: “Whenever appropriate, governmental powers and responsibilities must be devolved to provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities to carry out these responsibilities efficiently and effectively”.

 The three tiers of Government created by Section 264(1) of the constitutional amendment are: national Government, provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities.

In this case, the provincial and metropolitan councils and the local authorities are the lower structures vested with the responsibility to implement devolution at the local level. 

Yet, this is not the first attempt at devolution and decentralisation in Zimbabwe.

The concept has been practiced since independence through activities by Government ministries like that of health, home affairs, local government and education.

Some of the responsibilities were delegated to communities at the lowest levels through government-owned entities that provide services like electricity, water and telecommunications.

Another form of devolution was practiced through the creation of development committees at the local level like the ward, village, district and province. 

The ward and village development committees led efforts to develop the local areas by identifying projects and encouraging people to work together in cooperatives to uplift their lives through the production of various goods. 

These local committees were part of the post-independence reforms in the early 1980s meant to bring the previously marginalised populations into the mainstream development trajectory. 

These newly created local committees were tasked with identifying development priorities, and planning and implementing some projects.  

All in all, Zimbabwe already had some devolution exercised through local authorities in the form of urban councils and rural district councils established to provide services to a heterogeneous citizenry in geographically defined and demarcated areas of jurisdiction.

Yet these efforts, although helpful to development, did not bring the desired effects of uplifting people out of poverty.

This perhaps explains why the Government had to insert a provision for devolution in the 2013 constitutional amendment in a bid to give a new approach to the development concept.

This new provision changed the way the concept is being implemented, giving it more impetus and relevance to bring development to the doorstep of communities.

According to the Devolution and Decentralisation Policy of 2020, the objectives of devolution are to facilitate the democratic participation of people in making decisions that will affect them and to promote good governance.

 The policy also aims to maintain Zimbabwe as a single peaceful State, enhance citizens’ participation in the management of local affairs and development, provide a mechanism for resource sharing and enable fiscal capacitation of the lower tiers of government. 

The gist of devolution as espoused by the Devolution and Decentralisation Policy of 2020 is to empower local tiers of government for them to make decisions on development that previously required authorisation from the head offices mainly located in the capital, Harare. 

The policy envisages that devolving such decision-making will enable the low tiers of government to respond to issues of development and service delivery much faster than the previous arrangement where a long protocol was to be followed before approval and implementation. 

The Devolution and Decentralisation Policy summaries the objectives of devolution in Zimbabwe as follows: 

(a) to give powers of local governance to the people and enhance their participation in the exercise of the powers of the State and in making decisions on issues affecting them. 

(b) to promote democratic, effective, transparent, accountable and coherent government in Zimbabwe.

(c) to preserve and foster peace, national unity, and indivisibility of Zimbabwe as a sovereign State

(d) to provide recognition of the right of communities to manage their own affairs and to further their own development

(e) to encourage and ensure the equitable sharing of local and national resources

(f) to transfer local fiscal responsibilities and resources from the national government to sub-national entities in order to establish a sound financial base for each provincial and metropolitan council and local authorities in rural areas.

This type of devolution as envisaged in the 2013 constitutional amendment still takes into consideration the existence of the sub-district levels of ward and village development committees.

It also takes into consideration stakeholders such as political leaders like councillors, chiefs and other traditional leaders and local leaders. 

It is expected that through devolution, each province and local authority will transform itself into an investment and economic hub with its own Gross Domestic Product (GDP). 

The concept of job creation runs through the devolution concept, through various means including the value addition and beneficiation of natural resources, especially minerals, at the local level. 

This results in the establishment of industries at a very low level of governance.

The formation of the structures that drive the devolution process in Zimbabwe is enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment No. 20 Act of 2013.

 Metropolitan councils will be formed in Harare and Bulawayo, with the mayors being chairpersons of the council.

The Constitution requires that provincial metropolitan councils make economic development possible in their provinces. 

They are responsible for planning and implementing social and economic development activities, coordinating and implementing government programmes, planning and implementing conservation measures and improving and managing natural resources. 

Other functions of provincial metropolitan councils are to promote tourism and the development of tourism facilities, to monitor and evaluate the use of resources in its provinces, to perform any other functions, including legal functions that may be assigned or assigned by the council under the Act or by-law.

On the other hand, local authorities are mandated by the Constitution to represent and manage the affairs of people in urban and rural areas of Zimbabwe, depending on where they live. 

Zimbabwe has 93 local authorities made up of 32 urban and 61 rural councils. City councils are made up of five city councils, 11 municipalities, 13 towns, three councils and local boards. 

With regard to financial support for transfers, the Constitution requires equitable sharing of resources between spheres of government where financial resources are transferred from national government to provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities. 

Section 301 (1) of the Constitution directs Parliament to enact legislation that provides for conditional and unconditional grants to provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities.

 The Constitution requires the allocation of not less than five percent of national revenue collected in any financial year to provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities. This is in addition to the other types of grants the national government may allocate to provinces and local governments from time to time. 

The Ministry of Finance, Economic Development and Investment Promotion has set a formula that guides the allocation of financial resources to the different areas which has three key components – the human profile, the poverty profile and the quality of infrastructure and scarcity. 

This money is meant to start development projects in council areas, but in the end, councils are expected to be independent and accountable for their Gross Domestic Product. 

Provinces will be required to consolidate and monitor the development of those GDP figures in the relevant areas with the technical assistance of the relevant government institutions. The national GDP will then be allocated at the provincial level for competitive purposes.


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