Government commitment to devolution remains questionable

Beaven Dhliwayo

Zimbabwe still needs to fine-tune the management of the devolution funds to increase their
impact, whilst recipient local authorities need to have investment-ready projects so that the
received funds can be quickly deployed to counter the effects of the hyperinflation
environment in the country.

Authorities have been deliberately delaying the disbursement of the funds to local authorities
which leads to the diversion and abuse of the funds.

Executive Director, of Transparency International Zimbabwe, Tafadzwa Chikumbu said an
example of the usage of devolution funds, which touches us as an organization relates to the
diversion by the government in July 2022, of devolution funds earmarked for the development
of the Harare Metropolitan area, in order to pay for three months’ worth of arrears to
Georgenix B.V.

“We take the opportunity to reiterate our perspective in terms of implications of the usage of
these funds in this manner, on transparency, accountability, and integrity. Firstly, we observe
that the views of elected representatives of the residents of Harare were deliberately
overlooked, considering the poor justification of, and unsustainable cost of the project. Ideally,
such projects should be dealt with in line with the principle of self-governance of local
authorities guaranteed by section 276 of the constitution on “Functions of local authorities,”
said Chikumbu.

“The fact that the prioritization and implementation of the Pomona Project were led by the
Ministry of Local Government Public Works and National Housing demonstrates that ratepayers
are not taking a lead in defining and approving priorities, and indeed resources allocated in
pursuance of these priorities.

“Where development projects do not include citizen consultation
and participation, the intended objectives are unlikely to be met, with the likelihood that
vulnerable segments of society face the negative impacts disproportionately.”
Secondly, Chikumbu said, in this example, there was no transparency and accountability in the
manner in which the devolution funds were spent.

“Stakeholders raised alarm with the excessive amounts involved in that deal. Before the
devolution funds were spent to clear the debt, we highlighted concerns with the poor
operational integrity of the project since no mechanism existed to verify the agreed amount of
waste deposited at the Pomona dump site by the service provider. This creates the risk that the
council may be paying more, whilst less than the agreed amount of waste is delivered. This
violates the principles of good financial management.

“Closely linked to matters of good financial management is the issue of public debt
management. The fact that the state is the guarantor of this project, to the extent of using funds earmarked for devolution creates a contingent liability whereby debts incurred by
publicly owned entities and local authorities are guaranteed by the central government.
Liabilities contracted in this manner threaten the national debt sustainability of the country,
which is already in a dismal state,” he said.

Chikumbu also said that the implication is that local authorities are not able to account for
ratepayers who elected them on matters of expenditure of their rates, whilst the expenditure
of the devolution funds was unlikely to fall in line with ratepayers’ original priorities for them.
“We reiterate the need for transparency and accountability in financial matters, as well as the
need to spend public funds transparently, prudently, economically, and effectively in line with
Section 298 of the constitution on principles of public financial management.

“Furthermore, the contraction of public debt (including contingent liabilities) is governed by the
law and should be approved by the legislature. Third, the project did not go through
competitive bidding in line with the tenets of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public
Assets Act [Chapter 22:23] in particular section 31 on competitive bidding, as well as section
315 of the constitution on “Procurement and other governmental contracts.” The implication is
the payment of excessive amounts using devolution funds, which could have been averted if
principles of transparent public procurement and financial management were followed.

Chikumbu noted that as a recap, the constitution in section 264 demands that governmental
powers and responsibilities be devolved to provincial and metropolitan councils and local
authorities which are competent to carry out those responsibilities efficiently and effectively.
Furthermore, the National Devolution and Decentralization Policy (NDDP) was launched by the
government in August 2020 with pomp and fanfare and elevated expectations among citizens.

“We however note with disappointment that the provincial councils which are part of the
architecture necessary for devolution are not yet constituted. Various pressure groups have
approached the courts in recent years seeking an order to compel key ministries, to enact laws
that are necessary to realize constitutional provisions on enacting devolution laws. Ironically,
other laws which do not necessarily promote national development are moving on a ‘faster
track’ in the legislature.”

Going forward Chikumbu said there is a tendency to look to other countries for best practices
which should not a problem in principle.

However, he said, the common challenge observed in the relationship between the governor
and the governed in our society is that the former accuses the latter of pursuing a ‘foreign
agenda’ as if Zimbabweans are unable to reflect on and decide on their own priorities.
“In this regard, where the issue of devolution funds is concerned, we must look inwardly by
respecting and adhering to our own constitutional principles and the good laws cited above.
This includes the government urgently establishing a legal framework for implementing

devolution as guaranteed by the constitution. If this approach is followed through, with the
meaningful participation of citizens we are able to guarantee transparency and accountability in
the usage of devolution funds.”

He added that organized civil society must use every opportunity to demand that the
constitution of the country be respected and implemented, as well as calling for the passing of
laws to realize devolution.

Combined Harare Resident Association (CHRA) Acting Director Ruben Akili, said Zimbabwe has a
lot to learn regarding the concept of devolution before we even talk about the funds.
“The framework in which the devolution funds are being utilized is contrary to the devolution
as provided in Chapter 14 of the Constitution. This is because the Minister now decides where
and how the funds are supposed to be used. The local authority has of late been playing an
observer role.

“I give an example of the issue of the Belarus fire tenders where the Minister of Local
Government gave a proclamation that all local authorities must purchase fire tenders for
US$464 296 using their devolution.

“When you look at Chapter 14 of the Constitution means that the communities are being
removed from the matrix of making decisions. The decisions are now being made by the
Minister.

“We also look at the issue where they agreed to use devolution funds to pay for the Pomona
deal without consulting the residents. Those are the challenges we are facing. So, before we
start to see how Harare is using its devolution funds, we need to understand the current system
is flawed. The good thing is that the government has made a commitment to implement
devolution and there is a need to show political will.

“The devolution that is being used is far away from the provisions in Chapter 14 of the
Constitution. So, when we look at the devolution funds allocated to the City of Harare versus
the disbursement remains questionable. This year they were allocated about ZWL 1.2 billion
and when you look at the disbursements which have been done are minimal. On that alone,
there are more questions than answers.

From the last meetings we had with the local authority, communities have also talked through the budget consultations that the council should use the funds on health infrastructure and purchasing of refuse trucks which are crucial. But again, you will notice that HCC has no funds to provide the services.

There is a clinic being built in Mabvuku but because of the failure to disburse the funds, we have not seen any progress at the Clinic. If decisions are meant from the center, it is the residents that suffer because those in power are far away from the people. Akili said that Zimbabwe has a lot to learn from countries such as South Africa and Kenya.

“In those countries Councils make decisions. The bad thing is that in Zimbabwe we do not have
Metropolitan councils which are provided for in the Constitution. This is another gap we have.

“It has been implemented in South Africa and has worked, though it may appear costly it has
managed to bring results in terms of citizens’ participation, transparency, accountability, and
ensuring responsiveness in terms of how services are provided to the people. Even in terms of
revenue generation, when such is devolved you realize that communities will begin to realize
the results of devolution.

“The decisions around mining for example need the community voice where citizens know and
make decisions on how their minerals are mined and how the resources are being used.”

The story is published under the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ)
Investigative Journalism Fund.

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