Devolved governance and a decentralised government

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  • posted 5 years ago
  • Zimbabwe's Herald and Chronicle Newspapers of June 26 and 23 respectively variously carried material based on campaign messages attributed to President Mnangagwa on devolution. The messages suggest that if his party wins elections on July 30, 2018 implementation of devolution will ensue. This is refreshing considering the prospects of good governance that a devolved system unleashes.

    While details are decidedly awaited post-election it is critical to highlight that Zimbabwe's version of decentralised governance has been a deconcentrated one where central government has units at every level. These units are involved in planning and implementation of centrally funded activities that would ordinarily be the functions of local governments. Over the years the bulk of the resources disbursed for this work have paradoxically been collected from local sources previously ring-fenced for local governments. The planning, funding and implementation of these activities in a centralised fashion has stalled the development of local governments as viable political institutions of state and effective providers of responsive services. It has also been a main source of weak policy making as national government got immersed more in doing development than reflecting on what works and offering strategic support to service providing and governing institutions accountable to citizens. A crowding-out effect has thus weakened the totality of Zimbabwe's governance actors including the private and civil society sectors.

    During former President Mugabe's time the model created a Harare-centric governance structure and system that gave birth to big men and women subverting local decision making and vandalising local financial and social development institutions. As such, when President (and presidential candidate) Mnangagwa is cited as saying we already have a decentralised government as if that part of organizing how national government works is acceptable, he needs to be quickly reminded otherwise. Relatedly, the promise (again attributed to him) to implement devolution based on creating Provincial Councils headed by Provincial Ministers does not go far enough. ProvincialsCouncils are not the final site for powers to be transferred from national government. They are an important intermediate site but are too far away from the citizen to be responsive, accountable and transparent. Further, in a hollowed-out and cowed public sector bureaucracy substantial capacity development is needed. Fortunately critical pockets of capacity exist at sub-provincial levels and should be tapped more directly.

    Zimbabwe's government tiers (Section 5 of the 2013 Constitution) need real redesigning for devolved functionality. The administrative reach of national government needs to be curtailed. Substantial powers need to be transferred not only to Provincial Councils but to Local Governments and beyond (communities). A transformative redesigning of the state will enable the servant-leadership that President (and presidential candidate) Mnangagwa has been speaking about. The national budget for 2019 has to speak devolution to the point of specifying proprotions of national resources not only directed to sub-national government levels but also spend directly by these levels of government on priorities decided upon in a devolved manner. Accompanying such a framework will be the strategic investments in national and provincial infrastructure that leverages local actions. Institutions like ZINARA, ZINWA and others are clear sites for critical devolution-oriented reforms so that the national development framework becomes empowering to local institutions. At present it is not.

    On our website ( we have a paper that raises questions on whether national government during the last part of the Mugabe government was prepared or preparing for devolution. We argue in the negative in both instances. It will be unhelpful for President (and presidential candidate) Mnangagwa's approach to devolution to be less than far reaching. While acknowledging the importance of his focusing on socio-economic development it must not escape President (and presidential candidate) Mnangagwa that how we develop is as important as the actual priorities we pursue. We need viable and accountable local institutions for sustainable development in Zimbabwe. At present we do not have them because the national 'milk and honey' flowed upwards to Harare (not the City and its Council) but to Munhumutapa and its political citizens. This needs to be reversed and devolution provides a clear framework.

    In summary, devolution does not only end with transferring some powers to sub-national governments. It also involves restructuring inter-governmental relations. National government has to work differently deferring to sub-national governments with which it co-governs . For this, new leaner structures and appropriate cultures are needed. A key disciplining factor is placing as much power including about resources closest to citizens so that we all meaningfully see and build what we died and fought for before and after 1980. Only then will a new dispensation begin to emerge.

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