Why Local Governance Is Important
Local governance is that level of governance that is closest to the people as it relates to structures, institutions and processes of local government which happen at a local level within the geographical vicinity of residents. In theory citizens are thus able to affectively influence local governance more effectively than national governance because this is a level of where their voices can be heard and development processes influenced. The local elected leader [ideally] is accessible because he or she is domiciled in a ward which is one of the smallest units of governance. However admittedly there are a number of challenges which need to be addressed if Zimbabwe is to enjoy a robust local governance framework epitomized by citizen participation, responsive local institutions, good service delivery, accountability and transparency.
There are at least 8 challenges which need to be addressed in order to ensure that the country has a vibrant local governance architecture. Namely this includes but is not limited to over centralization, corruption, dual governance structures, narrow revenue bases, politicization of development structures, securitization of local governance, questionable calibre of elected leaders and ultimately a congenital incapacity to deliver services and facilitate development.
Urban governance continues to suffer the indignity of interference from central government especially in issues of budget ratification and appointments of key officials. There is an urgent need for the country to move towards the devolved dispensation of government envisaged in chapter 14 of the constitution. The government argues on its part that local authorities cannot be given a blank cheque as this can lead to corruption and inefficiency as evidenced in local authorities in Hfrare and Chitungwiza . They argue that Zimbabwe is too small for governmental authority to be devolved to local authorities and provincial governments. I would like to argue that relatively small countries such as Swaziland with a population of 1,5 million have a commendable devolved system of governance. Whilst I am opposed to the dictatorial tendencies of the monarchy, Swaziland has a commendable Tinkundla system of governance in which five regions enjoy sufficient devolved powers. Regions such as Shiselweni which is one of the poorest in Swaziland have thus managed to develop incredibly in the past ten years due to this form of devolution.
The power of the minister of local government and that of his peer in rural affairs have to be curtailed in order to facilitate decentralization of administration duties and devolution of power in decision making. A framework that gives local authorities more teeth has to be developed to this end.
Narrow Revenue Bases
Most local authorities both rural and urban have very narrow revenue bases resulting in limited budgets which culminate in poor service delivery. The 2017 budget for Bulawayo for example is about U.S105, 455 million. Manchester United paid about U.S120 million to sign French international Paul Pogba which means the budget for the entire city is less than what a football club spent on one player Local authorities have over relied on rates and levies charged on residents for years but in a country where the bulk of the populace in unemployed this has seen the authorities at loggerheads with its residents. In urban areas this has resulted in in water disconnections for defaulting residents and in some cases attachment of property which has affected vulnerable sections of the community. Local authorities have to broaden their revenue bases by creating a framework for sustainable Local Economic Development [L.E.D ]. Most local authorities own buildings, land and other assets which can be leveraged to facilitate opening up of alternative revenue streams.
In rural areas there are unique challenges which pertain to local governance which includes issues of dual governance structures, securitization of local governance, dysfunctional governance structures and politicization of traditional structures.
Dual Governance Structures
At District level the rural district councils are headed by chief executive offices who are appointed by the councils whilst there also district administrators. The district administrators who were inherited from the colonial governance system to preside over the affairs of natives remain a subject of contention as there are numerous clashes between district administrators and Chief Executive Officers. Most of the time the respective personalities play a moderating role in minimizing or maximizing conflicts due to an apparent dualization of power. The D.A presides over the District Development Committee, co ordinates activities of various line ministries, supervises/works with traditional leaders whilst the C.E.O is the heads of the local authority secretariat. These two offices overlap and thus there is need to rationalize this anomaly. One solution is to totally scrap the office of the D.A. As a country we do not have the resources to maintain a bloated wage bill.
In a normal country the security forces and or intelligence apparatus have no role whatsoever in development processes. Actually the constitution states that their primary role is to defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country. As such they have no business in issues of dip tanks, sewers and rates for tuck shops. However in Zimbabwe the head of the police, army, intelligence and prisons at district level have and are part of the local governance infrastructure. This is a clear impediment on development and a manifest diversion from their key functions of keeping the country safe from insurgents.
Dysfunctional Development Structures
Zimbabwe has a brilliant development framework for rural development but unfortunately the frame does not work. Development as envisaged by the Traditional Leaders Act and the Rural District Councils Act begins as village level through Village Development Committees which are supposed to develop village plans. These plans then cascade upwards to Ward Development Committees chaired by councillors and then the Ward Assembly chaired by the headmen or headwomen. Unfortunately most of these development structures are dysfunctional and fail to develop village and ward plans. Subsequently top down decision-making prevails. There is a need to depoliticize these structures and to enhance their planning capacities so that they can deliver their mandate of facilitating development. VIDCOS are not and should not be the commissariat of political parties but the development arms of localities.
Other problems such as conflicting roles of traditional and elected leaders, the size of the wards are also issues that affect local governance and service delivery. Issues of corruption, misplaced priorities, poor quality of councillors and an inadequate policy and legislative framework are issues a I will cover in other instalments.
Dumisani Nkomo is the Chief Executive Officer of Habakkuk Trust, Spokesperson of the Crisis Coalition in Zimbabwe, Social Entrepreneur, Opinion Leader, Film Producer
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