This past week House of Assembly legislators debated on the modalities around disbursement and usage of devolution funds.
Some important points were raised by Tendai Biti and Allan Markham.
Below is an excerpt of the debate.
HON. MAYIHLOME: Thank you Mr. Speaker Sir. My question is directed to the Minister of Local Government and Public Works and if he is not present, I will …
THE HON. SPEAKER: Order, order! Do not worry about non-present, just proceed.
HON. MAYIHLOME: Thank you Mr. Speaker Sir. My question is directed to the Minister of Local Government and Public Works. Hon. Minister, what measures has Government put in place to ensure that devolution funds are always released to local authorities? The second part is what is Government going to do about those devolution funds for 2020 that were not released to local authorities?
THE DEPUTY MINISTER OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS (HON. CHOMBO): The devolution measures are being put in place to make sure that the devolution funds are released. Devolution funds is a constitutional right and they have to be released as and when but it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance to make sure that they are released on time. Also, there is a law that does not allow a roll-over of devolution funds that have not been disbursed by the end of the year. So whenever the end of the financial year is over, the funds that have not been released are turned to the Ministry of Finance.
HON. MAYIHLOME: The issue of accountability or holding people to account, the Hon. Deputy Minister here is passing the buck, pushing the blame to Ministry of Finance. The communities that we represent want their pound of flesh like in the community that I represent, Umzingwane. They want to know why devolution funds for 2020 were not released and I want the person responsible for ensuring that those funds are released taken to account. Who is going to face that community and explain why those funds were not released because the pound of flesh is desired in my constituency?
HON. CHOMBO: When we talk of accountability it is different from the release of funds. We are accountable for the funds that would have been released by the Ministry of Finance, but as far as being accountable for the money that is yet to be released is, it solely lies within the Ministry of Finance. My Ministry is of course responsible and accountable for those monies that would have been released to the Ministry and also downstream to the local authorities. Before its release, it is entirely the responsibility of Ministry of Finance.
(v) HON. MADZIMURE: My supplementary question is: is it not the responsibility of the Ministry to ensure that all the monies that are due to local authorities are disbursed on time in order to achieve equity in the distribution of funds?
HON. CHOMBO: As I said before, it is a constitutional requirement that we release at least a minimum of 5% of the GDP to the local authorities. However, as I said before, the Ministry of Finance determines who gets what. As soon as that money or funds are released to my Ministry, we make sure that they go downstream to the local authorities, so I stand by what I said.
HON. MARKHAM: My supplementary is on the policy of how projects are identified and my question is specifically which elected officials are consulted when it comes to identifying projects in each constituency or province?
HON. CHOMBO: The identification of projects is done from the community and mind you, these funds are not for consumption but capital expenditure like road maintenance, clinics and boreholes to uplift the livelihood in the community areas.
THE HON. SPEAKER: Hon. Minister, the question is who is responsible for identifying the projects to be funded by the devolution fund in local authorities.
HON. CHOMBO: As I said they come from the community. So when we are drawing up the budgets, the local authorities go around the communities or wards with the councillors and they consult the community to come up with the relevant projects that will uplift their livelihood. So the projects are engineered from the local community on the ground through their wards upwards.
HON. MARKHAM: I do not know one councillor in Harare that has been consulted on the 2020 devolution funds.
THE HON. SPEAKER: That is your responsibility as Member of Parliament to attend council meetings constitutionally and in terms of the local authorities as you are permitted to attend council meetings. So find out from them.
HON. BITI: Mr. Speaker Sir, the questions that Hon. Mayihlome has asked about responsibility and accounting, point even to the question of how those funds are distributed. The Constitution speaks of 5% of the Budget going to provincial governance. The problem that is arising Mr. Speaker Sir, is that we do not have the necessary requisite devolution law. The question to the Hon. Minister is why it has taken you more than eight years to come up with the relevant devolution laws so that the questions of accountability asked by Hon. Mayihlome and Hon. Markham do not arise. Where is the law Hon. Minister?
HON. CHOMBO: Thank you very much Mr. Speaker Sir. I think in one of the Bills that are coming up, there is one for devolution and definitely we are attending to that one.
THE HON. SPEAKER: Thank you. I think the delay is being acknowledged Hon. Biti and that is why the Bill is on its way to this House. The delay obviously is not in the best interest of our good governance as far as the devolution funds are concerned.