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Decentralization in Zambia's Bureaucracy

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The Decentralisation policy in Zambia has not performed to expected standards in the recent past. This is according to a baseline survey that was conducted by the Southern Africa Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD). The survey was conducted in four target districts namely: Choma, Itezhi-tezhi, Sesheke and Solwezi though the survey was conducted in two of the target districts (Sesheke and Solwezi). Our staffer ALVIN CHIINGA looks at the survey which focused on identifying actual activities, progress and challenges of decentralisation.
ONE of the main aims of the survey was to capture the public’s knowledge, attitudes, practices and perceptions about local governance and decentralisation. This survey took place between February 6 and February 15, 2011.
Among some of the observations of the survey were that decentralisation is not reflected as a priority in most instances. It is also not reflected in the current council plans of action. In fact, the research was informed that councils had been waiting for instructions, directives and resources to begin undertaking activities that have been stated in documents such as the Decentralisation Implementation Plan (DIP).
According to SACCORD, beyond the structural issue, the survey was able to establish considerable levels of uncertainty among local bureaucratic and political elites on the issue of decentralisation.
This was evident in the degree of divergence of perspectives on the subject matter concerning decentralisation among the local leadership elite signifying lack of cohesion on this matter. There are several reasons that could be advanced in relation to this observation.
SACCORD programme officer (Accountability and Good Governance Programme), Michelo Mwango said that the most possible three factors include poor communication among the elites, political differences as well as sheer lack of knowledge and skills on decentralisation.
In addition, the survey also revealed the absence of community engagement on decentralisation. One possible explanation for this outcome could be linked to the strategy embedded in the implementation of the decentralisation policy. The strategy reflects a highly up-bottom approach.
Mrs Mwango said that this observation can be confirmed that neither the Sesheke council nor the Solwezi council, among others, ever organised a community meeting focusing on decentralisation in the past twelve months.
She said that with regard to the aspect of public knowledge, it is very clear that majority of the people have no idea of the responsibilities of the council to the public.
She said there are two important observations that need to be considered with regard to this finding. First, majority of the responses given were the duties related to service provision such as sanitation, infrastructure maintenance and allocation of residential and business premises.
Secondly, she said that common in both Sesheke and Solwezi, the levels of knowledge and awareness are lower among women in comparison to men.
Majority of the respondents in Sesheke for instance had never heard about decentralisation while majority of the respondents in Solwezi had heard about it.
It was also observed in the survey that in terms of public attitudes, the most common response with regard to the performance of the council in both Sesheke and Solwezi swung between very unsatisfactory and average.
In terms of community responses to the council’s poor performance, majority of the respondents explained that members of the public “just” complain amongst themselves. Only a few citizens confronted the council, denounced this poor performance on radio or improvised for the council’s failure.
With regard to public practices, the study established that majority of the members of the public had not interacted with the council in any way in the recent past. The most common responses for not interacting with the council included not knowing how and who to approach, lack of interest, lack of time and lack of motivation with the perception that nothing would change.
Seeking information and progress on applications for land plots, payments for trading licences and market rates, job-seeking and meetings were some of the main reasons why the few remaining respondents had interacted with the councils in the recent past. With regard to public perceptions on decentralisation, majority of those who had heard or know about decentralisation stated that this system of governance was the most appropriate for district development.
These respondents were also able to identify the risks or disadvantages/challenges associated with decentralisation. There were two major outstanding concerns in this regard. The first one related to the capacity of the councils to manage development affairs at local level. The second one related to lack of knowledge and information on decentralisation at community level.
The survey also clearly revealed that the momentous rhetoric exhibited in the adoption and launch of the DIP in 2009 has not resulted in the actual implementation of the decentralisation policy at local level. The status quo has prevailed.
To make matters worse, not even worker or public sensitisation activities are taking place. This strongly brings into question Government’s commitment to genuinely embark upon decentralising the overly centralised system of governance in Zambia by the year 2013.
Mrs Mwango said that in terms of looking forward, the Survey identified several areas of opportunities for the various key stakeholders, namely the government itself, local communities, civil society and the international community.
She also said that a decentralised system of governance is a very important aspect of development.
“It is only through a decentralised system of governance that the citizenry are able to effectively influence and participate in the management of national affairs. The case for decentralisation becomes even stronger in a democratic context,” she said in an interview.
In the case of Zambia, the policy of decentralisation was only adopted in 2002. Of course, the country has been experimenting different models of local governance but within a highly centralised system of bureaucratic and political management.
It was only in 2002 that the Government, under the leadership of the late Levy Patrick Mwanawasa, adopted a comprehensive decentralization policy.
Clearly, various stakeholders have identified decentralisation as both an urgent and most appropriate solution to enhancing both the governance and development systems in Zambia. To a large extent, it is this consensus that propelled Government to come up with specific commitments.
SACCORD strongly believes that, if properly implemented, decentralisation would facilitate the participation of the local communities in the governance of their development affairs. The overall goal of the Decentralisation Policy is to devolve decision-making, authority and functions from the Central Government to lower levels of Government..
The policy was accompanied by an implementation plan for a period of 10 years at the time of adoption in 2002. In 2003, the government established the decentralisation secretariat. The secretariat was mandated with the responsibility of managing the process of decentralising the governance system of Zambia.
In Sesheke, it was established that although the council was mandated to fulfil all the duties and responsibilities stipulated in the statutory and legal provisions of Zambia, the council could only perform certain functions.
Examples of these functions include preparation and hosting of very important persons (VIP) visits, land administration and taxation. The council was unable to fully carry out its mandate due to limitations in terms of finances and human resource.
Some of the stumbling blocks in the council include the fact that staff at the council was highly unqualified. Financial indiscipline was another area of concern.
Other problems include; service delivery, political interference and poor management. This is mainly because the council is overseen by a group of councillors who are not adequately educated. There are only three (retirees) councillors who can be considered literate.
Most of them lack proper understanding of the difference between political and government/public activities. These councillors are also responsible for the frustrations that technocrats in the councils are experiencing.
Unlike in the Sesheke situation, Solwezi has a slightly different scenario. According to the council representatives, Solwezi council’s performance was impressive evident in the good waste management, road maintenance and the town planning programmes.
As aptly put by the council secretary; “The council has transformed Solwezi from a “shanty town” to something close to a “status of a city”.
However, some stakeholders held the view that the council’s potential to attain greater achievements was hindered by limitations such as insufficient funds in comparison to the rising demands, inadequate and inappropriate workforce particularly with the elevation of the town to a municipality.
Some of the areas that need to be worked on in Solwezi include; restructuring of staff where it is cardinal that the council must be decisive – it should bring on board qualified professional workers who can meet the demands of a growing town, particularly a new mining town like Solwezi.
It is believed that this change must also be accompanied with changes in the conditions of service in order to retain and motivate the workforce. Another issue that should be worked on is the clarity of roles and responsibilities.
According to the survey, the council’s mandate must be premised on rules, responsibilities and duties. With regard to the decentralisation policy, Solwezi council was awaiting the DIP and instructions on the way forward after the meeting that was held in Lusaka in 2009.
In other words, at the time the survey was conducted the council had not undertaken any of the activities on decentralisation. The only event that the council engaged over decentralisation related to the district commissioner’s attendance of a meeting on decentralisation in Siavonga in 2009. .
In a similar case of Sesheke, decentralisation is not taking place. More worrying, there appears to be no definite plan as to when these transformative changes will take place.
What the survey brought to the fore just confirms that the implementation of the decentralisation policy in Zambia still needs a lot to be done especially when it comes to rural districts.

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