THERE is need to depoliticise the decentralisation process and place it into the people domain, says
development analyst and system explorer Lewis Mwape.
In a Sunday lecture “Decentralisation… A Missed Opportunity for Zambia”, Mwape said there was a big knowledge gap within and outside government system and this has largely affected citizens’ participation in the devolution process at local level.
He said world over, decentralisation had been a means of delivering social and economic services to local citizens.
Mwape said dcentralisation was a quick way of developing a country as there was more accountability and transparency in the service delivery system and the development processes.
“Could this be the main reason the decentralisation policy has remained on paper for a long time in Zambia? Poor and slow implementation of the decentralisation policy is a missed opportunity for Zambia. Zambia’s decentralisation policy implementation is one of the policies that has been exchanging hands with political regimes in almost its raw stage, with some level of what each passing political regime would call ‘progress’,” he said.
He said politicians had held the devolution process at ransom and citizens seems to have accepted the status quo of usual excuse of weak capacities in local authorities.
Mwape said citizens must demand for an effective and speedy devolution process without existing political sensitivity to lose power and control over public resource.
“This has been a source of weakening local governance system so that local authorities become more dependent on the ‘grace’ of central government, mainly for resources, policy and legislations. In this case, central government develops weak local governance policies and legislations that deprive local authorities of power and opportunities to move from crawling to walking and to ultimately running!” he said.
“We have treated devolution like eating a mango… that is…we all know that at the centre of the fruit, there is a hard seed…which needs to be thrown away! So what is this hard good seed that we have been avoiding? It is the transfer of power and accompanying resources from central government to local authorities as a strategy to improve service delivery.”
Mwape said what had been observed was that each political regime was convinced that devolution of central government to local authorities would be a better approach to deliver social and economic services to the people; but politicians seem to have spotted some political power related risks.
He said this was to a larger extent what had delayed the implementation of the decentralisation policy.
Mwape said it was important to acknowledge that the current political regime had made a number of initiatives and issued a number of progressive cabinet circulars, prominently Cabinet Circular No. 10 of 2014.
“But like any other political regime, local government is one of the least funded ministries in the country; with a good share of abuse of public resources, especially the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and other locally generated resources within the jurisdictions of local councils,” he said.
“As a country, we opted for decentralisation by ‘devolution’. This meant that we needed a legal backing to effectively implement the devolution process of the selected sectors to the local authorities. This has been a big challenge as there was need to harmonise a number of legislations that were in conflict to each other.”
Mwape said after amending the Republican Constitution in 2016, the country introduced a democratic principle of electing the council chairpersons and mayors by a popular vote in which citizens have to vote for council chairpersons/mayors.
He said political systems had maintained their political controls by maintaining the office of district commissioners at district level.
“Which I call Centralisation of Decentralisation (CoD). …under this concept (CoD), we must also question the role of Local Government Commission (LGC),” he said.
“There is need to depoliticise the decentralisation process and place it into the people domain. There is a big knowledge gap within and outside government system and this has largely affected citizens’ participation in the devolution process at local level! We must move from good political manifestos to implementation.”
He said there was need to move to empowering the local authorities and local governance structures to meet the local citizens’ needs.
“Until this is done, the decentralisation policy will remain one of Zambia’s good policy papers for decades to come. Citizens Act Now!” said Mwape.