Decentralisation a sore point

Experts warn against empty promises

27 October 2020 | Politics



Even though the government’s decentralisation campaign seems to have ground to a halt, the wide array of political players contesting next month’s local authority and regional council elections is expected to spur on the urgency of service delivery in rural areas.

The decentralisation programme launched in March 1998 envisaged that certain powers and responsibilities of central government would be devolved to regional councils, but gave no exact timeframe.

According to political commentator Graham Hopwood, the slow implementation of the decentralisation policy can been attributed to the absence of a timeframe and poor cooperation from line ministries.

He also attributes this slow pace to a lack of resources and personnel in the line ministries to make the policy a reality.

According to Hopwood, the powers of regional councils were further watered down when regional governors were appointed centrally rather than being drawn from the elected regional councils. This change came about in 2011.

He adds that the role of regional councils has been debated since their inception in 1993.

The Regional Councils Act states that regional councils are responsible for planning the development of the regions, but otherwise gives them mainly advisory powers.

“The decentralisation policy was given legal force through a series of laws passed in 2000, most notably the Decentralisation Enabling Act. In 2004 the staffing structures of regional councils were expanded and upgraded in anticipation of responsibilities being decentralised. As a result, central government subsidies to regional councils have increased substantially,” Hopwood says.

Big promises

Political commentator Ndumba Kamwanyah points out that decentralisation is at the heart of next month’s election.

He warns, however, that some political parties show great promise but their plans or political manifestos are rather superficial, with little detail on how they plan to change the status quo.

According to him, one of the key challenges for local authorities is a lack of resources to implement programmes.

“I would love to see the political parties coming up with solutions for how these programmes can be implemented urgently. They briefly mention their plans but they lack proper details on how they plan to executive these plans,” he says.

Kamwanyah warns that if such plans are not plotted out, they may turn out to be mere political talking points.

The duties of local councils include providing water, cemeteries, sewerage and drainage, as well as streets and public places.

Local authorities are also responsible for the provision of marketplaces, refuse removal, recreational facilities and the promotion of local tourism.

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