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Devolution Part 1 - Constitution Watch - Content Series 2/2010
August 19, 2010
power to the provinces [provincialisation] has been debated at some
length in the press recently, and the constitutional outreach programme
has revealed how strongly people feel about the issue. In Matabeleland,
for example, there will probably be little support for a new constitution,
whatever its merits, if it does not confer a considerable measure
of autonomy upon the western provinces. And this feeling is not
confined to Matabeleland: the further one gets from Harare, it seems,
the stronger is the desire for autonomy.
The desire is
easy to understand in the light of the country’s history.
Zimbabwe has always been a centralised state and its governments,
both before and after Independence, have tended to be authoritarian.
The present Constitution
gives barely a nod to the provinces: section 111A allows governors
to be appointed for “any areas” [though only provincial
governors have been appointed] but these governors are appointees
of the central government and their main function is to enforce
the ruling party’s control over the provinces. Local authorities
are mentioned hardly at all in the Constitution.
The demand for
devolution is probably a reaction to the over-centralisation of
the past and the excesses resulting from it. The new constitution
must go some way towards meeting this demand if it is to be acceptable
to the majority of Zimbabweans. But how far should it go? What are
the advantages and drawbacks of devolution and, particularly, of
provincialisation? What are the problems that are likely to be encountered
if power is devolved to the provinces?
to answer these questions, let us see how provincialisation has
been tackled in two draft constitutions that have been put forward
in recent years.
current constitutional proposals
245 of the so-called Kariba
Draft Constitution each of the country’s 10 provinces
would have a provincial council, but the council would not be an
elective body. It would be chaired by the provincial governor who
would be a presidential appointee and an ex officio senator, and
its members would include the members of Parliament whose constituencies
fall within the province, as well as councillors for local authorities
in the province and “other persons” specified in an
Act of Parliament. The functions of provincial councils would be
limited to planning and co-ordinating governmental activities in
In clause 248
local authorities would be established by an Act of Parliament and
their functions - administrative, legislative and fiscal - would
also be conferred on them by Act of Parliament. They would, however,
be elective bodies.
Draft”, therefore, does not go far along the road to devolution
of power: provincial councils would be dominated by members of the
central legislature and their powers would be minimal; local authorities
would be created by the central government and their powers would
also be controlled from the centre. On the other hand, the draft
constitution does state in clause 242:
councils and local authorities must be given as much autonomy as
is compatible with good governance;
must be a principle applying to all levels of local government so
that there is participation by the people and democratic control
The Kariba Draft
also specifies that the state must provide adequate finance to enable
provincial and local authorities to carry out their functions.
constitution produced by the National
Constitutional Assembly would go much further towards provincialisation.
Each of five provinces would have a provincial assembly consisting
of members elected on a system of proportional representation; these
assemblies would have power to legislate on matters of provincial
concern such as planning, tourism, transport, education and health.
They would also have taxing powers. Provincial governments would
be run by provincial governors elected by the assemblies, assisted
by executive councils consisting of members of the assemblies. The
central Parliament would have power to nullify provincial legislation,
though it would need a two-thirds majority of both Houses to do
Under the NCA
draft there would be local authorities for urban and rural areas,
with powers conferred by an Act of Parliament. The draft states
government institutions must be given as much autonomy as is conducive
for the attainment of the objects of local governance.”
And these objects
provide democratic and accountable government for local communities;
promote social and economic development;
provide participation by the people in decision-making.”
The NCA draft
also specifies that an Act of Parliament must make provision for
an equitable distribution of finance between central and provincial
The NCA draft
would go further than the Kariba draft in setting up provincial
governments with real autonomy. In regard to local authorities,
the provisions of both drafts are substantially the same.
it may be noted, gives provincial governments power to supervise
or control local authorities. Their supervision would apparently
be vested in the central government.
of Devolution or Provincialisation
of devolving power may be summarised as follows:
1. Strong local
governments should lead to improved governance and economic development,
at least in theory. This is because:
a. Local politicians
are closer to the people they serve, and are likely to be more responsive
to their wishes.
b. This greater
responsiveness gives people a greater say in the aspects of government
that closely affect them, such as the provision of water, electricity,
education and health care.
delivery of essential services leads to greater productivity.
should lead to a more equitable distribution of national resources
between the provinces.
3. The decentralisation
of power creates separate power-bases within the State and dilutes
the control that can be exercised from the centre. Paradoxically,
this may make the State more resilient and reduce the likelihood
of coups d'état, because seizing power from the central government
does not necessarily bring control over the provinces. In the last
days of the USSR, for example, a coup failed when the coup plotters,
having gained control of the central government, found they could
not control the semi-autonomous republics that made up the State.
On the other hand, it must be remembered that Nigeria, which is
a federal State, has had more than its fair share of coups.
4. More definitely
decentralisation of power makes it less likely that an single political
party can take control of all the power centres of the state and
substitute itself for legitimate government.
and local governments are training-grounds for politicians, giving
them valuable managerial skills which can be employed at national
level for the benefit of the country as a whole.
Too much should
not be made of these advantages. Devolution does not necessarily
lead to good governance, for example. Experience in this country
has shown that local politicians and officials can be just as corrupt
and incompetent as national ones, and just as difficult to get rid
of. In order to improve the quality of government, therefore, devolution
must be accompanied by measures to increase transparency and accountability
- to strengthen democracy, in fact.
has its drawbacks:
1. For a country
with a relatively small population and a small tax base having an
additional tier of government could be unsustainable.
2. It could
create a another cadre of office bearers getting hefty salaries
and perks without giving value for money.
3. It can encourage
regionalism or tribalism. Advancing one’s own province or
even tribe may be acceptable in a provincial politician, but it
is a very serious defect at the national level.
4. It may slow
down the processes of government if provincial authorities have
to be consulted before decisions are taken at the centre.
decisions of the central government may be rendered ineffective
if their implementation is left to provincial authorities.
6. If too much
power is devolved to the regions or provinces, the central government
may not be left with enough power to hold the country together.
One final point
needs to be emphasised: If there is to be any devolution of power
to provinces and local authorities, it must be genuine and effective.
Real powers should be devolved, and the provincial and local governments
must be capable of exercising them. There is no point in giving
a provincial government responsibility for water, for example, if
the water supplies are controlled by a national parastatal body;
no point in giving it power to draw up plans if it cannot implement
them. Devolution cannot be achieved simply by mentioning provincial
and local authorities in the Constitution and passing the necessary
legislation. There must be a proper transfer of financial and managerial
resources from the central government to the provincial and local
authorities to enable them to exercise their devolved functions
and to continue exercising them.
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