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Nine years later, devolution of power remains pie in the sky

While the central government and multilateral bodies insist that there is progress in the implementation of devolution of power, Civil Society Organisations and political players insist that ten years since it was enshrined in the constitution, it remains a pipe dream for Zimbabweans who voted for it in the 2013 Constitutional referendum.

The concept of devolution and decentralisation entails devolving of power from the central government to the local government level.

It is a transfer of powers, responsibilities, functions and finances to local entities, where the administrative and economic autonomy of local institutions undertake decisions within their jurisdiction, which seem to be disregarded by the government.

Devolution roots started after independence when the black-led government realised that for Zimbabwe to progress, governance and the development ideology had to be premised on socialism and inclusivity.

To realise this, the 1984 Prime Minister’s Directive and the 13 Principles on Decentralisation were designed to correct the governance structure created by the colonial government under Ian Smith.

Smith’s exclusive governance structure was premised on the alienation of the black majority to boost white supremacy within the central government, putting it at the epicentre.

“Therefore, the attainment of independence presented an opportunity for the newly elected Zimbabwean government to correct the inherited colonial imbalances,” said the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD), an economic watchdog.

“Nevertheless, despite ambitions by the Mugabe administration to promote inclusive growth and development through devolution and decentralisation, there was no sufficient commitment and political will from the government’s side. Thus, a smoke screen devolution and decentralisation agenda were created,” ZIMCODD said.

In 2008, the government abolished the post of executive mayor, which had been adopted in 1997 to promote the efficiency of local authorities.

The abolishment of the executive mayor post was classified as a way of maintaining power, as the government interfered in the operations of local authorities, derailing their growth and development.

It was not therefore not surprising that in 2013, eight of 10 provinces in Zimbabwe voted for devolution in the new constitution, so they can have decision-making powers and full responsibility, without control of the central government.

However, devolution is yet to be implemented fully.

United Movement for Devolution (UMD) National Chairperson, Martin Moyo, has insisted there is no devolution in Zimbabwe at the moment.

“Devolution is sharing of power instead of it being concentrated among a few people. Instead, what we hear is the distribution of devolution funds without the actual devolved institutions to handle those funds,” he said.

“No one in the government seems to care if Section 14 of the Constitution is ever implemented. Devolution is not money, it is the power given to provinces and to the people.”

UMD’s political ideology and manifesto are built on devolution.

Moyo said provincial councils were still not constituted yet they were a key requisite to devolution.

“To this day we have not heard of provincial councils meeting or where they meet. We have never seen them,” he noted.

The former Bulawayo mayor cited Kenya is a good example on implementing devolution, as both countries experienced an almost similar political situation.

“Kenya had an inconclusive election in 2007, while ours was in 2008. There was a bloodbath in Kenya that scared many. A delegation of eminent persons was sent to mediate in Kenya led by former Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), Koffi Annan,” he said.

“Koffi sat with both the warring factions of Kenyan political parties and came up with a Government of National Unity (GNU) in 2008 that produced a new constitution of a devolved Kenya. In 2010, that constitution was adopted by the Kenyan parliament as the new supreme law of Kenya.”

Moyo said Kenya worked to put devolved institutions in place, formed county legislatures, and county executives and created all the institutions that were required to manage devolution.

“Today if you go to Kenya, visit any county, the story is one of prosperity, satisfaction and people there are not fighting. All those tribal rivalries and party rivalries had been solved,” he said.

“By contrast, Zimbabwe had an inconclusive election in 2008, there was a very bloody runoff and people were mutilated for political reasons. SADC leaders, who have always been complicit -cooperating with the Zimbabwean regime, realised an intervention was needed and seconded South African president Thabo Mbeki to mediate and what came out of that mediation was a GNU in 2009.”

Moyo acknowledged that the GNU’s biggest achievement was a new constitution for Zimbabwe in 2013, which came up with devolution.

“People said they want a devolved system of governance,” he said.

ZIMCODD concurs with Moyo that the government seems to be engaged in pushing “fictitious economic blueprints, policies and political gimmicks” rather than undertaking “robust institutional reforms and political will” which will lead to complete devolution of power.

“Economic blueprints and policies that do not capture the reality on the ground, are utopian as they do not bring the much-needed development and transformation,” the organisation said.

“This can be exemplified by the Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP) 2018-2020 which sought to bring the much-needed institutional reforms to achieve growth and development.

“Unlike the popular narrative peddled by the government that the TSP was a success, the TSP was not a success as projected by its failure to initiate viable institutional reforms to sustain robust policy implementation.”

ZIMCODD said the tragedy of TSP could be exemplified by its failure as far as devolution and decentralisation are concerned.

“In 2020 September, the Devolution and Decentralisation Policy was launched reflecting positive strides towards institutional reforms as the policy prescribed how the devolution ought to be implemented,” ZIMCODD said.

“However, two years later, devolution and decentralisation remain a pie in the sky with the central government constantly interfering with the local government. The reign of July Moyo at the helm of the Ministry of Local Government has successfully derailed all intended outcomes as prescribed in the Devolution and Decentralisation Policy by making the local government an appendix of the central government.”

This was made worse by the directive by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government that all Town Clerks, Town Secretaries and Chief Executive Officers will receive two Fire Tenders from Belarus on their devolution allocation.

The directive, said ZIMCODD, was a reflection of the “pseudo devolution that exists in Zimbabwe,” as ‘true’ devolution refers to the granting of decision-making powers to local authorities and allowing them to take full responsibility.

Chief Director for Monitoring and Evaluation in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Anderson Chiraya, claimed the government was implementing devolution.

“I think this is one of the most important thematic areas where we are saying development should go to where people are,” he said.

“The main focus is to enhance the participation of people at decision making at their lower levels, as per the Prime Minister’s Directive of 1984. We are saying the ward and village committees have to come back so that people decide on their own at the village level, going up to the ward, district, province then nation.”

Chiraya noted that improved good governance and service delivery at a local level will “maintain Zimbabwe as a civil peaceful state” where communities utilised their competitive advantage.

Although the Chief Director was silent on how that could be achieved, he admits devolution of power would stimulate economic growth, configure government structures at lower levels, and maintain a new culture of public affairs and resources at local government structures.

“We have seen that a lot of local authorities are doing wonders with devolution funds,” he said.

“They have managed to buy graders, drill boreholes, to construct clinics, schools which is only five percent of the total fiscus, what if we are to go to 20 percent there will be wonders, isn’t it?”

UN Communications specialist in Zimbabwe, Sirak Gebrehiwot, said the agency was “rolling with the government’s policy of devolution” by aligning, not only the implementation of projects on the ground but the thinking through and planning.

“What has to be understood is in terms of our operations in the country, although discussion might happen at central government level, the implementation of projects is done at the grassroots level,” he said.

“Projects are implemented by the community at a very devolved level. The government is putting systems and mechanisms on the ground so we cannot be seen to break the government’s policy.”

Gebrehiwot noted the government was also trying to implement these changes.

“(State) Ministers are now titled Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister so the empowerment has started. But the actual work, I stand guided by government officials from their policy but from the UN side we have been devolved for quite some time now,” he said.

The UN spokesperson said a few operational agencies like the World Food Programme were also making strides in that area.

“There are some projects like the Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund where communities are designing their own projects. It’s a US$100 million programme supported by the EU, UK and Sweden, in that programme you can easily see what devolution can do in terms of transforming communities.

“When communities design their own projects in the form of construction, they bring in the private sector, local authorities, civil society and NGOs and of course at the end of the day, you need endorsement as well at the central level. But when the thinking starts from the bottom, it really makes a big difference,” Gebrehiwot said.

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