Devolution options for Zimbabwe

Abednico Bhebhe

AS the country searches for a solution to its economic and, indeed, governance quagmire, the debate on the implementation of devolution as enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe, Chapter 14 especially, has gained momentum. It takes an insensitive government to ignore these loud and clear voices of reason. Besides, compliance to the Constitution as passed into law in 2013 is long overdue. However, my instalment is not on this overdue process, but on discussing the various forms of devolution that Zimbabwe can choose from whenever the conditions do allow in future. Hopefully, in the near future.

Notably, devolution plays an important role in broadening participation in political, economic and social activities in developing countries. It helps alleviate the bottlenecks in decision-making that are often caused by central government planning and control of important economic and social activities. Devolution can as well cut complex bureaucratic procedures and increase government officials’ sensitivity to local needs and conditions. In Zimbabwe, devolution may create a geographical focus at local level for co-ordinating national, provincial, district, and local programmes more effectively and can provide better opportunities for participation by local communities in decision-making. This could allow greater political representation for diverse political, ethnic, religious and cultural groups in decision-making.

There are four types of devolution which can be implemented jointly for the success of economic turnaround of the country. Drawing distinctions between political, administrative, fiscal and market. Devolution concepts are useful for a quick economic turnaround and political stability which Zimbabwe desperately needs.

Political devolution gives citizens, through their elected representatives, more power in decision-making and more influence in formulating and implementation of policies. The concept gives elected representatives an opportunity to know better their community needs and desires of the constituents.

Administrative devolution is the transfer of responsibility for planning, financial and management of public functions from central government and its agencies to semi-autonomous public authorities or corporations, provincial and local authorities. The three major forms of administration components are de-concentration, delegation and decentralisation, and each has different characteristics.

In de-concentration, decision making authority and financial management responsibilities are redistributed among different levels of central government, while delegation gives responsibilities to local authorities to have discretion in decision-making.

On the other hand, decentralisation transfers authority for decision-making to municipalities to elect their mayors and councillors, raise their own revenues and have an independent authority to make investment decisions.
When it comes to fiscal devolution, the provinces or local authority raise revenue which they have authority to make decisions about when it comes to expenditures. It promotes participation in providing services and infrastructure through monetary or labour contributions, collection of revenues through property or sales taxes.

Finally, market devolution gives economic liberation and market development policies to provinces and local authorities. It allows functions that are primarily the responsibility of government to be carried out by private businesses, community groups, and other non-government organisations. Also, it eases the financing of public sector programmes through capital markets and private organisation participation.

If adopted and properly implemented, all the four forms of devolution could play very important roles on participation in political, economic and socially developing Zimbabwe as a nation. Furthermore, it can increase political stability and national unity by allowing citizens to better control public sector programmes at local community level and allow greater political representation for diverse political, ethnic, religious and cultural groups in decision-making. However, devolution is not a panacea, and worse still if implemented under a Zanu PF government, its negative side effects could be magnified. For example, it may result in the loss of economies of scale and control over the scarce financial resources and distrust between government and the private sector, leading to the undermining of co-operation.

Notwithstanding these potential disadvantages, devolution is already enshrined in the country’s Constitution and should have long been implemented.

Abednico Bhebhe is the MDC-T chairperson. He writes in his personal capacity.