It has been widely and wildly postulated that devolution of power is divisive, unviable economically and impractical in small countries. In this instalment I would like to argue that devolution of power is a system of government which has been implemented successfully in African, European and Asian countries both big and small with tremendous economic as well as developmental dividends.
By Dumisani O. Nkomo
Perhaps it would be helpful to define devolution and differentiate it from other systems of governance. Devolution can be defined as “the statutory delegation of powers from the central government of a state to a sub-regional or local level “.
In the United Kingdom, which has implemented devolution of power for a while devolution is defined as “the statutory granting of powers from the parliament of the UK to the Scottish parliament and the National Assembly of Wales “
Devolution of power is a concept of ensuring that legislative and executive power is shared and distributed to different levels or tiers of government. In South Africa power is devolved at provincial and municipal level to nine provinces and 278 municipalities. The rationale of devolving power to multiple levels of government is to primarily ensure that:
Citizens participate in decision-making through level governance structures
Service delivery is accessible
Government is closer to the people
Greater accountability and transparency in resource and public finance management.
Effective and efficient revenue collection
Other African countries that have embraced devolution of power include Kenya, with its system of devolving power to 47 counties. Constitutions which recognise and affirm devolution include countries such as Uganda , Nigeria [ 1999]. South Africa  and in theory Zimbabwe . Swaziland has its own brand of devolution under it’s Tinkundla system of governance in the country’s five regions. To a large extent devolution has worked very well in Kenya with development being felt in different parts of the country. This is not to say that the system is perfect as nothing before heaven is perfect.
In Europe there exist numerous examples of countries which have embraced devolution of power amongst them the Netherlands, Italy, France, Switzerland, Spain as well as Nordic countries Denmark and Finland. Interestingly, the Netherlands devolves power to two states and two provinces. Denmark with a population of 5,6 million and Finland with a population of 5,4 million are examples of countries which are smaller [population wise] than Zimbabwe, but have well devolved models of governance. The Swiss Canton system is well-documented as a paragon of good governance .
Devolution of power to other tiers or levels or layers of government does not necessarily require constitutional amendments, but may find expression in laws which transfer power to provincial and municipal level governance structures for example. In Zimbabwe Chapter 14 of the constitution already provides a sound constitutional framework for devolution, but what is needed is specific laws which transfer legislative and executive powers to provincial and local government level.
Laws that would need to be aligned to reflect or entrench a devolved model of governance are laws that govern public finance, natural resources , public tenders, civil service employment . Importantly a law regulating the relationship and interrelationship between the different tiers or layers of government has to be put in place in order to ensure that there is no conflict between central government, provincial government and local government, but rather complementarity subsists.
Devolution of power is actually a very mild form of distributing power away from the centre to the margins as systems used in the United States, Canada and Australia are more federal in nature with states having power legislatively, judicially and executively with the Federal governments only dealing with Defence, Homeland Security and international relations. The Zimbabwean model actually envisages devolution with a “unitary system as opposed to a Federal system”. The merits or demerits of a unitary system or a federal system are arguments best reserved for another day and possible another instalment. However it remains very clear that a devolved system of governance would work very well in Zimbabwe in order to address issues of disproportionate and uneven development, lack of citizen participation, deficiency bottom up development and an absence of innovative service delivery .
In South Africa the devolved system of governance has seen the devolved entities self-funding 85% of their costs thus dismissing the notion held by some that devolution of power is expensive.
Devolution of power is a system of government that has worked well in Europe, Africa and Asia. It is a not a perfect model but we can use lessons from Kenya and South Africa to develop a model of devolution which is relevant to and responsive to the Zimbabwean context .In other words we can develop a devolution model made in our own image as Zimbabweans but borrowing from the experiences of other countries.
Dumisani O. Nkomo is the Chief Executive Officer of Habakkuk Trust. He writes here in his personal capacity . He is a thought leader , writer ,content producer.