CCDZ unpacks local government issues … calls gvt. expedite the implementation of devolution

 CENTRE for Community Development in Zimbabwe (CCDZ) is a local non-profit organisation established in 2008 mainly to promote citizen participation in governance and empower citizens through rights awareness and promoting dialogue with duty-bearers such as elected Councillors, Members of Parliament and engaging public institutions for better service delivery. 

The Daily News Assistant Editor Maxwell Sibanda spoke to CCSZ director Phillip Pasirayi on a wide ranging interview about his organisation’s association with rural and urban council and, their fight for devolution and engagement with government, in particular Local Government ministry and Parliament of Zimbabwe.

   Q: Six years after the new constitution, which laws in particular would you have liked aligned?

A: We are working with like-minded organisations to lobby for the alignment of local government laws to the Constitution. As you are aware, local government is still governed or regulated through the Rural District Councils Act and Urban Councils Act. These pieces of legislation are ultra-vires the Constitution especially Chapter 14 which is clear on the need to devolve governmental powers and responsibilities to lower tiers such as Local authorities and Provincial Councils. It is now six years after the promulgation of the new Constitution and we were expecting that by now these laws would have been repealed but that is not the case. 

Instead the government continues to use these laws to run local government and there is no appetite on the part of the Executive to have these laws changed to reflect the new constitutional dispensation. 

Q: Why do you think government is taking its time to align these laws?

A: The alignment of local government laws is taking long because politicians crave control and the reason why there is no progress in the alignment of laws and implementation of devolution is the fear of losing control over local government institutions. There is lack of political will to align existing local government laws to the Constitution because they are very key in sustaining the status quo. For instance, if the Provincial and Metropolitan Councils are in place the Ministers of State for Provincial Affairs will no longer be relevant. The alignment of laws and implementation of devolution will result in the establishment of Provincial and Metropolitan Councils. There is resistance to the establishment of these local government structures because the opposition will have control, not only in Harare and Bulawayo but will also be represented in the Provincial Councils. This is a source of discomfort for some people in government who strongly feel that the PMCs must not be established because they will give the opposition control especially in rural areas.

Q: And what interventions have you made so far?

A: In 2017, CCDZ and its partners Harare Residents Trust, the Combined Harare Residents Association, Chitungwiza Residents Trust and Zimbabwe United Residents Association petitioned the Parliament of Zimbabwe urging it to play its constitutional role and ensure urgent alignment of local government laws and establishment of Provincial and Metropolitan Councils. 

Q: Who else have you engaged?

A: In 2018, CCDZ held a devolution policy dialogue which was attended by the Permanent Secretary in the Local Government Ministry George Magosvongwe and representatives from government, civil society, academia and the media. Last week, CCDZ held a briefing session with members of the Parliamentary Local Government Committee to discuss progress in the implementation of devolution. The meeting noted that the political rhetoric on devolution is not matched by action on the ground. The legislation to allow parliamentarians to debate and adopt devolution policy is yet to be tabled in parliament and those elected as Provincial Councillors have not yet taken oath of office. 

Q: What is one of your key demands?

A: One of CCDZ’s key demands is that the proposed Provincial and Metropolitan Councils Bill is urgently tabled in parliament for debate and allow parliamentarians and citizens to make an input. CCDZ is also demanding that once tabled in Parliament the Local Government Portfolio Committee must convene public hearings to gather people’s views on the bill. 

Q: How spread is your organisation, nationwide, do you have branches?

A: CCDZ is operating at a national level. We are currently implementing programmes focusing on citizen engagement and capacity building of local governance structures such as Local authorities in Harare, Marondera, Murewa, Mutoko, Wedza, Goromonzi, Chitungwiza, Kadoma, Chinhoyi, Karoi, Hurungwe, Norton, Kwekwe, Makoni and Mutasa districts. In these areas we have structures known as Community Work Groups made up of people from the local community - men, women, youths, the differently abled and others. These community structures are responsible for community engagement and spearheading community actions on service delivery.

Q: Which other like-minded organisations do you work with, on what programmes?

A: CCDZ is working with other organisations that are doing similar work. At the local level, we work with Community Based Organisations (CBOs), Residents Associations and churches to mobilise residents to participate in our programmes. These include; Harare Residents Trust, Chinhoyi Residents Association, Berina Kadoma Residents Association, Kwekwe Residents and Ratepayers Association, Chitungwiza Residents Trust, Chitungwiza and Manyame Rural Residents Association, Mutoko Community Youth Initiatives, Zimbabwe Youth in Politics in Kwekwe, Wedza Initiative for Development Trust, Institute for Young Women in Development, Simukai Goromonzi Rural Residents Trust and many others. 

Q: And at national level?

A: At the national level, CCDZ is working with other organisations such as Southern Africa Parliamentary Support Trust, Commonwealth Local Government Forum, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Centre for Applied Legal Research on alignment of local government laws to the Constitution.  CCDZ is also leading a Consortium of NGOs working at the national level to engage government and other policy-makers on political reforms and implementation of the Constitution and alignment of local government laws. This programme is supported by the European Union. 

Q: In terms of your work, which ministry do you usually work with?

A: We work with various government ministries or departments and the level of engagement with any Ministry is determined by the nature or scope of the programme we are implementing at a particular time. Currently we are working closely with the Local Government ministry on the issue of devolution. 

   Q: Your organisation is advocating for devolution; what is devolution?

A: Devolution is about bringing political power and governmental responsibilities closer to the people. It entails the removal of a significant amount of political power from the centre (in this case central government) to the lower tiers of government. It is about bringing government closer to the people, to make government easily accessible and allow communities to determine their development needs and priorities. 

Q: How has been your campaign so far in calling for devolution?

A: CCDZ has intensified its campaign for the implementation of devolution to promote development and the participation and or involvement of citizens in governance and decision-making at the local-level.

Q: Can you give examples of other African countries where devolution has worked?

A: Devolution is being implemented successfully in countries such as South Africa and Kenya but this is not to say that it is smooth and does not have its own challenges. There is no one-size-fits-all as each country has to adopt a devolution model that is informed by its history and development trajectory. The political and economic imperatives of devolution are different from country to country. In our case I think the desire is to deepen our democracy and ensure that government is brought closer to the people and that citizens are given an opportunity to be led by their own people who are well informed about the development challenges in their respective communities and how these can be addressed. 

Q: What is the feeling in the regions about devolution?

A: There are concerns about underdevelopment of regions/provinces and the feeling that some areas are marginalised and lag behind in terms of economic growth. I attended the public hearings convened by COPAC when they were crafting the new Constitution and citizens were clear that the concerns of marginalisation and underdevelopment are real in some regions and the expectation is that these will be addressed through devolution. 

     

Q: Rural councils, what are some of the teething problems they face?

A: It is true most rural councils are facing teething problems especially in this harsh economic environment. To start with, the revenue base is small compared to urban councils. As a result, rural councils are failing to deliver quality social services to their people. Councils are failing to rehabilitate roads on their own without support from central government as well deliver quality water and sanitation services. Rural councils need to broaden their resource base and not just depend on money collected for rates and taxes. The money is not enough to address the colossal service delivery challenges in the communities.  The other challenge in rural areas is the politicization of Council and development issues. Some people in rural areas are of the mistaken view that Councils must serve only the interests of the ruling party. 

Q: You have been working in rural communities, how is the food situation there? Do people have enough food?

A: The food situation in rural areas is dire due to the drought we have experienced this year. Crops and pastures for animals have been affected. The food situation is worse in areas such as Mutoko, Mudzi, Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe, Mbire, Mt Darwin districts and several districts in Masvingo, Matabeleland North and South provinces. There is need for government to assess the food situation and engage the international community and appeal for food aid. The government must also put in place mechanisms to ensure transparency in the distribution of food aid. The Ministry of Public Service and Social Welfare can also work closely with humanitarian agencies such as World Food Programme (WFP), Goal, World Vision, Save the Children and others to start community work schemes, food-for-work programmes to avert hunger and starvation in rural communities. 

Q: How is the rural road network?

A: This is one area that requires urgent government intervention. The roads in rural areas are in a sorry state. CCDZ is working in rural remote areas such as Kanyemba in the Zambezi Valley. The stretch of the road from Mahuwe to Kanyemba in Mbire District requires urgent government attention. We are talking about more than 200km of gravel road and about 3 narrow bridges that have claimed many lives. It is a good thing that government has classified Mbire district including Kanyemba a development priority. There is now need to mobilise resources for tarring of Kanyemba road to open up the district for investment and development. The area is lagging behind in terms of development because of poor or non-existent infrastructure. The government needs to spearhead a vigorous development programme so that the area can catch up with the rest of the country. Our appeal to the Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Joel Biggie Matiza and his Deputy Advocate Fortune Chasi is that the Mahuwe to Kanyemba road should be prioritised even ahead of other road projects. I challenge them to travel to Kanyemba by road to understand the challenges that the people of Kanyemba and transporters are experiencing. The Kanyemba road is important and shortest link to Zambia. 

Q: Which other infrastructure do you think needs urgent attention?

A: There is also need for government to prioritise building other infrastructure such as schools, clinics and community recreation centres. The government can also embark on agriculture and tourism projects in Kanyemba taking advantage of the Zambezi River. 

The issue of energy in rural areas also needs to be addressed urgently. The government through the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) has tried but there is still more work to be done. For sustainability it might be necessary to invest in solar energy.  It is actually a luxury to see electricity infrastructure in most areas. 

Q: How has the Transitional Stabilisation Programme fared?

A: The Transitional Stabilisation Programme will only bear fruits if social services such as education, health, water, and sanitation and energy provision in rural remote areas such as Kanyemba are prioritised. This is also the other reason why CCDZ and its partners are pushing for speed implementation of devolution to promote economic development and access to services by locals. 

Q: How often do you engage councils and over what issues?

A: We are working with Councils to build their capacity as duty-bearers to be able to deliver better services to residents, in line with their obligations. There is an elaborate training programme for Councillors and Council heads focusing on topics such as: local government and the constitution, leadership, local governance legal framework in Zimbabwe, local governance and human rights, gender responsive budgeting, the rights-based approach to service delivery and project management. These training sessions are meant to equip Councillors to play their role and represent residents effectively. CCDZ is also engaging councils to consult with and involve residents in the decision-making process through publicizing Council meetings and inviting Residents Associations and residents to attend these important meetings as well as Councillors holding feedback meetings in their wards. Our understanding is that dialogue between Councils and residents is important to identify service delivery challenges in these communities and how to address them. CCDZ is creating these platforms for dialogue between Councils and residents to address service delivery challenges in the communities. 

   Q: How is your relationship as CCDZ with mayors and councillors around the country, do you sometimes engage them?

A: As CCDZ we have a good working relationship with Mayors and councillors and in the towns and districts where we operate but in some instances we have been denied access by gate-keepers who think our work is political and we have been labelled as “agents of regime change”. To mitigate this CCDZ has continued to conduct professional and non-partisan programmes aimed at empowering both Councils so that they are able to deliver on their mandate as well as working with residents across towns and districts where we operate so that they can engage the authorities and demand better services.  We engage Councils on their role and obligations on service delivery.    

Q: Are you happy with most council budgets being produced?

A: There is a huge improvement in the manner in which Council budgets are now being formulated. Councils are now consulting widely with residents in the wards. This was not the case before whereby budget making was a preserve of Council elites. But our concern is that although Councils have been widely consulting residents on budget formulation, in some instances the views of residents are not included in the final budgets. In such cases consultations are just being done as protocol. 

Q: Has there been any advocacy over these budgets?

A: There has been a lot of advocacy by CCDZ and resident associations. These organisations have done tremendous work in pushing Councils to consult with residents when they come up with their budgets. Council budgets should be reflective of residents’ issues, interests and priorities. Some organisations such as Zimbabwe Women Resource Centre and Network and Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association have also worked with Councils on gender responsive budgeting. This work is important because service delivery issues affect women and men differently and this should be reflected in Council budgets. 

Q: MDC has been controlling councils, are you happy as an organisation with their work?

A: I think it’s a wrong premise to start from to categorise Councils as either MDC or Zanu PF. I think political partisanship is one of the key challenges stalling development in our country. We should have city-fathers and mothers who are ready to serve their country, their people and communities without the political labels “MDC” or “Zanu PF”. These don’t help us much as a country. We need to elevate our politics including at the local level to a point whereby our public officials – Councillors, Members of Parliament and others are guided by the common interest not political partisan interests.

Q: And how do you engage with political parties?

A: CCDZ works with both Zanu PF and MDC councillors to enhance their capacity so that they better represent the interests of their people.  Generally, the performance of Councils has been poor countrywide as they are failing to provide basic social services such as water, roads, health and sanitation services. However, there has been an attempt to blame MDC run councils for political expediency but not acknowledge the macro-economic challenges that are affecting all Councils and affecting their capacity to deliver better services to the citizenry. 

Q: If you were to be Minister of Local Government today, what would be some of your priorities in terms of community development?

A: I will immediately hit the ground running. I have the credentials and experience to run the Local government portfolio. If I am to take over today I will immediately embark on a national tour with directors from my ministry to engage stakeholders such as government, residents, community based organisations, business, councils, traditional authorities and others in every corner of the country on their concerns regarding local government. I will do this to ensure that my ministry adopts a comprehensive programme of action and local government blueprint that is reflective of the interests of all stakeholders. I will also engage Parliament to understand the concerns of legislators regarding local government laws that need to be aligned to the Constitution. My ministry will convene provincial multi-stakeholder sessions to be attended by all political parties, non-state actors, government, business, interest groups, traditional leaders and others to discuss about the implementation of devolution. The discussions on devolution will seek to agree on the nature of devolution required for our country in line with the Constitution, the structure and composition of Provincial and Metropolitan Councils, mandate of these important local government institutions, their relationship with central government and other tiers of government and funding issues. I will agree with the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Local Government on the timeline for crafting the Provincial and Metropolitan Councils Bill and when it will be brought to parliament for debate and adoption.  I will make sure to implement devolution and establish Provincial Councils in my first 100 days in office. I will also work closely with the office of the Auditor-General and Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) and the Land Commission to investigate cases of corruption in the allocation of land as well as award of tenders by local councils. I will work closely with Local councils to ensure that modern standards of urban planning are followed and that informal, unplanned urban settlements such as Nyatsime in Chitungwiza, Harare South and Harare North housing schemes are re-planned and proper services such as roads, water, and sanitation are provided to residents. 

Are parliamentarians doing enough when it comes to pushing local governance issues?

The parliamentarians are not doing enough to push for local governance reforms. Recently we had a briefing session with members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Local Government to discuss about devolution. I think there is serious lack of capacity by some legislators to perform their constitutional duties. We realised that most MPs do not understand what is meant by devolution, the economic and political benefits of devolution and the form and structure it should take in our context. We also realised most of the members of the portfolio committee are new and do not fully understand their oversight role as parliamentarians. CCDZ will continue to engage the parliamentarians and build their capacity so that they can effectively perform their constitutional duties. 

You have a vision as CCDZ, what is it?

CCDZ’s vision is to see communities that are built on the values of equality, justice, participation, inclusivity, transparency and accountability. Such communities are empowered and all citizens regardless of colour, creed, political affiliation, religion, gender have full and enjoy full citizenship and are part of the nation for development and prosperity.  

Q: Anything you might want to add?

A: I want to end by calling on all Zimbabweans to join the CCDZ campaign for local government reforms and the immediate implementation of devolution. I wish to reiterate that it is now six years after the promulgation of the Zimbabwe constitution and provisions on local government and devolution in Chapter 14 have not yet been implemented. There is lack of political will to implement devolution. Political rhetoric is not matched by action on the ground. I call upon President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Minister July Moyo, Parliament of Zimbabwe and other policy-makers to play their role and expedite the implementation of devolution. Further delay is an affront to democratic practice and serious lack of respect for our Constitution. Just to remind us all that one of the reasons that was given by Zanu PF to justify the ouster of former president Robert Mugabe was his refusal or reluctance to implement devolution and establish Provincial and Metropolitan Councils. 

Lastly, I urge us all to strive to make our country a better place

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