New perspectives: Towards a more democratic informal economy governance

Mbare Musika market

This opinion contribution is a follow up to the conversations that were initiated by the Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (Viset) under the Informal Economy Dialogue Guidance Framework (IEDGF).

The IEDGF was anchored on the following themes and talking points:

  1. Access to profitable markets vs formalisation
  2. Exploring alternative policy interventions that encourage the growth of MSMEs
  3. Formalising the Informal Economy: Provision of safety nets for informal workers
  4. Proposed interventions on the inclusion of the Informal Economy into the mainstream economy
  5. Devolution as an opportunity for the informal sector inclusion — Participating in legislation process at local authority level

The opinion contribution seeks to make a critical analysis of the Regional, Town and Country Planning Act (Chapter 29:12) (the Act), regulations made under it including the broader legal, policy framework in order to make a case for amendments.

The aim is to make the legal and policy framework user friendly and receptive to the integration of the informal economy into the national economy.

In this day we live in, the informal economy has become a crucial factor in economic development, particularly in developing and emerging countries as it offers significant jobs and income generation opportunities.

Therefore, policy frameworks and strategies aimed at the informal economy must be developed.

The planning authorities have an impact towards the promotion of informal economy.

This discussion will, therefore, analyse the extent to which the Regional Town and Country Act and other legislation promote the informal sector and will further propose amendments to the Act.

A case study on good practices in other countries on how the informal economy has been integrated in the economy will also be done for comparative and persuasive purposes

The Act and the legal environment make provision on how to deal with health issues associated with informal economy fraternity.

This is largely through by-laws like Statutory Instrument (SI) 159/2014 Harare (Vendors) By-laws. Furthermore, as strength, the Act has the provision for delegation of power which is some form of decentralization.

It’s a good starting point. However, there are more weaknesses than strengths in the legal and policy framework. For instance the Act itself is timeworn, having been promulgated before independence when the population was small and formal employment opportunities were plenty. Thus it is outdated as a lot of changes have happened on various fronts.

It is a weakness that the Act itself is not supported by a dynamic policy framework which is easy to amend and can be duration specific.

The current environment presents an opportunity for the informal economy to develop innovative, inclusive and supportive policies. For one the Constitution demands devolution and decentralisation of the system of governance and the Act has to align itself with the constitution.

The government is realising the need to tap into the benefits of informal economy through taxes.

This creates an external opportunity to push the case and agenda for decriminalisation of vending and amendment of the Act and related laws.

There is a political threat from the government’s perception of informal economy workers as oppositional.

This is because most informal economy workers are people who would have failed to find formal work and blame the government for that.

The effect on policy proposals and amendment of the Act proposals is that they will be rejected without satisfactory justification.

Section 264 of the constitution of Zimbabwe promotes a decentralized system for urban and rural local government. It promotes devolution of governmental powers and responsibilities to provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities such that;

  • Powers of local government are given to the people and enhance their participation in the exercise of the powers of the state and in making decisions affecting them.
  • To recognise the right of communities to manage their own affairs and to further their development.
  • To ensure the equitable sharing of local and national resources.      

The management and planning of cities are governed by the Regional Town and Country Planning Act, the Urban Councils Act, the Rural Councils Act.

To what extent do these acts recognise the provisions of section 264 of the constitution in ensuring a decentralised system and promoting inclusivity and devolution of power to the public particularly those in the informal economy, is an issue of imperative importance.

The Urban Councils Act and the Regional Town and Country Planning Act are some of the pieces of legislation that guide the day to day management of urban councils and land use planning and management respectively in urban areas.

The Act provides for the establishment of regional planning councils and their mandate in part II, section 3-9.

The composition of the Regional Council is left as a ministerial task without guidelines on pressure groups or civic associations that need to be represented such that at the end of the day there is usually no representation of the informal sector in the planning of towns.

The minister has the discretion on who to appoint to the regional planning council.

There is need to amend this provision so that it sets out the requirements for people who can be appointed including those representing certain groups such as informal economy workers.

Section 4 of the Act must be amended by the deletion of subparagraph 4 which leaves members of the council at the mercy of the minister.

The power given to the minister to fire and appoint a member should be limited and there should be a board that oversees his actions and a set of grounds that justify dismissal.

Section 4 (5) of the Act gives the regional council the discretion to appoint a committee which will perform some of its functions in terms of the Act.

The appointment of the committee should be made mandatory and must set out who qualify for appointment into the committee.

There must be a set procedure for the appointment so that appointments become open to all interested groups or persons. In that way it opens a chance for representatives of informal economy workers hence inclusivity in the planning system.

In the preparation of the regional plan, the council has the discretion on who to consult or the minister may direct, and civic participation only becomes an issue at the stage of putting the draft regional plan on public exhibit.

One wonders then for whom the regional plan will be prepared for.

The planning system affects everyone and therefore there should be consultation of all interested persons at the planning stage.

This will enable the involvement of the representatives of those in the informal sector if consultation is open to everyone at the planning stage.

The consultation process should be made more binding in terms of the recommendations made by those consulted especially if they represent a sizable sector of the population. That is democracy.

Samuel Wadzai is the executive director Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation

Feedback: Email address: [email protected]

These weekly articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe. Email- [email protected] and Mobile No. +263 772 382 852

Related Topics