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Mthuli: The anti-devolution face

Opinion & Analysis
Finance minister Mthuli Ncube played another trick on the citizens or he was merely being used by the Executive to deliver the bad news.

THE Zanu PF administration is against devolution and its actions of late confirm that its agreement to devolution clauses were just to get the new Constitution passed.

The inclusive government of 2009 to 2013, after the disputed 2008 presidential polls, had a task to produce a new governing charter for Zimbabwe. It should be remembered that the process was nominally led by Parliament and was being driven by the Executive — the principals.

Parliament, at the time, consisted of Zanu PF and two factions of the opposition MDC party — one led by Morgan Tsvangirai and the other by Welshman Ncube. The MDCs had a 10-seat majority in Parliament and for the first time Zanu PF experienced what it feels like to be in opposition or running a minority government.

Minority governments are a phenomenon of the Westminster parliamentary system. Zanu PF was a minority in Parliament, but the President was from the party. It meant that the party had to build consensus on any policy decisions before they were announced.

The constitutional review process was done in the spirit of the triumvirate, Zanu PF and the two MDC formations. It is clear and supported by multiple independent and reliable sources that the two big parties in the coalition — Zanu PF and Tsvangirai-led MDC were not keen on devolution. The Ncube-led MDC was the only one seriously concerned about devolution.

There are a number of reasons why the parties took these positions. Zanu PF and Tsvangirai-led MDC had the potential to win a national election and thus form a strong central government. Meanwhile, the Ncube-led MDC was more of a provincial/regional political entity and its success could only be seen in the area they were likely to win, hence it needed some power to control the affairs in areas it won elections.

It is now 11 years after Zanu PF won the 2013 elections, the first after the adoption of the new Constitution. However, it seems it has deliberately refused to implement the devolution clauses in the Constitution for selfish reasons. Firstly, Zanu PF is now a rural party and elections since 2000 have proved that. And secondly, urban areas are the engine of economic growth and allowing them to be controlled by the opposition will expose them to being poor administrators.

Zanu PF is politically lucky that the main opposition — successor to Tsvangirai-led MDC — is also anti-devolution and has incompetent councils that have become champions of corruption and mismanagement. No one is seriously considering implementing devolution in the letter and spirit of the Constitution, except maybe David Coltart the Bulawayo mayor. And it is no coincidence he was a senior member of the Ncube-led MDC.

It is clear that no one has the appetite for devolution among those in the political ring, except a few voices from civil society which deal with constitutionalism. Then we turn to this week’s event that seems to be the final nail into the devolution question.

Finance minister Mthuli Ncube played another trick on the citizens or he was merely being used by the Executive to deliver the bad news.

After Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting the following statement was issued: “Cabinet considered and approved the draft Zimbabwe Inter-Governmental Fiscal Transfers Administrative Manual as presented by the Minister of Finance, Economic Development and Investment Promotion, Honourable Professor Mthuli Ncube,” before adding: “The nation is informed that Inter-Governmental Fiscal Transfers from central to lower tiers of government are provided for under Section 301 of the Constitution. These transfers are meant to support the devolution of powers and responsibilities, with not less than 5% of national revenues raised in any financial year being allocated to provinces and local authorities.”

Did Ncube deliberately misquote the section?

Section 301(1) reads: “An Act of Parliament must provide for the equitable allocation of capital grants between provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities; and any other allocations to provinces and local authorities, and any conditions on which those allocations may be made.”

For the avoidance of doubt, a manual is not an Act of Parliament as envisaged in the Constitution. So, a question arises: Why is Ncube reluctant to bring to Parliament a Bill to address the issue of Section 301?

A short answer to the question is: Zanu PF is not genuine on devolution and has never been. It still wants the all-powerful central government to be the only player in national and developmental politics.

This is not the first time Ncube has dribbled Parliament. In the Finance Act of 2018, Ncube pulled the same trick. He amended the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act to abolish the National Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Board that controlled the Indigenisation Fund. The Fund was transferred to the Finance ministry.

Ncube is playing the prince in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Cabinet. He is untouchable and can even effect changes to Acts of Parliament that do not fall under his purview. In other words, he is a super-minister.

The time is now to stop this nonsense. Either the Zanu PF regime enacts a law as required by the Constitution on devolution or they can resort to their default position and repeal the sections of the Constitution which deal with devolution. They cannot continue to pick and choose which laws to obey.

The onus is now on all progressive MPs and civil society to demand the full implementation of the 2013 Constitution, particularly on devolution. Zanu PF cannot continue to decide which areas to develop at its whim and the expected political fortunes they can derive from the areas they develop. Local people should determine their development as the Constitution dictates.

Someone has to put a stop to this. Probably, starting with the MPs squaring up to Ncube to explain this hogwash. Or someone has to take him to the court and have him compelled to bring the Devolution Bill to Parliament. Or better still Parliament refusing to pass a vote for devolution funds until a Bill is passed on the same.

  • Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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