By Tinashe Chigwata
The Constitution also requires devolution to the local level. However, the current debates on devolution in Zimbabwe are significantly and unfairly related to the provincial and metropolitan councils as opposed to local authorities.
It is as if local authorities are already exercising exclusive devolved powers or that they do not require such powers, which is not the case. It may be because there is a lack of clarity of what devolution to local authorities would entail.
Is it about resources or about widening the discretionary powers of local authorities or both? Others believe that local authorities are no more than agencies of the national government charged with service delivery.
This entails that national govt can willy-nilly take back powers and responsibilities assigned to local authorities. Yet the Constitution provides that every local authority, urban or rural, has the right to govern its area and affairs with ‘all’ the necessary powers to do.
The ‘right’ terminology, which is not used in reference to any other tiers of government, suggests that, under the new constitutional order, local authorities are more than extensions of the national government.
They are a level of government that should make and implement policies and laws, as well as make expenditure decisions independently of the national government.
Calls for devolution to communities for locally-driven development
There are calls for devolution to go beyond the provincial and local govt levels to communities themselves.
This is an interesting angle that resonates with the principle of subsidiarity which requires that governmental functions be exercised at the lowest level unless there is a convincing case for them to be exercised at a higher level.
It is based on the premise that governmental powers belong to the people and that only when the people are not in a position to exercise those powers for the public good should they be assumed by the appropriate level of government.
If properly designed and implemented devolution may bring an ‘“economic dividend” that accrues to regions or territories that are perceived to be disadvantaged by centralised models of development’.
Thus, devolution has the potential to address concerns regarding marginalisation common in provinces, such as Bulawayo, Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South and Manicaland.
If provinces, local authorities and communities are adequately empowered through devolution, then policy competition, policy experimentation and policy innovation that usually come with development benefits may take root.