Legislation to facilitate devolution spearheaded

The Inter-Ministerial Taskforce on the Alignment of Legislation to the Constitution (IMT) working with the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works held a write-shop (drafting workshop) on the alignment of the Rural District Councils Act [Chapter 29:13] and the Urban Councils Act [Chapter 29:15] with the Constitution of Zimbabwe. The IMT is supported by the Centre for Applied Legal Research (CALR) & the Delegation of the European Union to Zimbabwe (EU). CALR offers technical support to the IMT, whilst the EU offers financial support

Chaired by the Drafting Division of the Attorney General Office, the write-shop was held in Kadoma from the 22nd to the 25th of March 2021.

The writeshop was attended by representatives from the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works, members of the IMT, as well as representatives from local municipalities and residents associations such as the Harare Residents Association (CHRA). Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) present included Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) and DanChurchAID.

The write-shop spearheaded the devolution mandate as inscribed in the Constitution. Since Zimbabwe is a unitary state, the emphasis for Zimbabwe’s devolution agenda is based on economic development as political power rests with the central government.

Devolution Explained

Devolution refers to the transfer of power by a central government to local or regional administrations. It brings decision making closer to the people. In Zimbabwe’s context, devolution is aimed at channeling some of the central government powers to lower levels of government.

The coming into force of the 2013 Constitution established three tiers of government in Zimbabwe. These are the central government; provincial authorities and the local authorities. The provincial level of government is made up of provincial and metropolitan councils. There will be eight provincial councils (Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland West, Manicaland, Masvingo, Midlands, Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South) and two metropolitan councils namely, Bulawayo and Harare.

The local tier of government comprises of the local authorities composed of urban and rural district councils. The composition of local government structures as set out in section 274 and 275 of the Constitution makes provision for two categories of the local authority: urban local authorities, for urban areas; and rural local authorities, for rural areas. These will be governed by democratically elected councilors.

What the IMT & the Ministry intend to achieve

During the write-shop in Kadoma, the IMT and invited stakeholders reviewed draft Bills for the Rural District Councils and Urban Councils Act, with a view of coming up with Bills that are in line with the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

Discussions centered on the transfer of certain powers from the central government to the lower levels of government. As mentioned, Zimbabwe seeks to have a three-tier system of government.

Some of the proposed delegated powers to the councils include:

  • the administration of their allocated budgets;
  • powers to make their by-laws and having authority to modify them;
  • having delegated powers to manage water supply and water management; and
  • Powers to help ensure service delivery.

The lower levels of government will, by law, be required to disseminate information about their meetings, accounts and procurement processes to the public through several media channels including internet-based platforms. This will ensure accountability and transparency

Steps taken by the IMT to achieve devolution

The IMT working with the Ministry Local Government and Public Works developed two Draft Bills; the Urban Councils Amendment Bill and the Rural and District Councils Amendment Bill. These were drafted in line with the constitutional requirements for devolution set in chapter 14 and section 264 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

The IMT also held a write-shop to facilitate peer-review of legislation falling under the purview of the local government ministry

 What is the role of Central Government?

Zimbabwe is a unitary state and the central government retains political power. Economic power is given to the lower tiers by the central government which has oversight.

The tiers of government remain subordinate to the government in Harare; so local units exercising devolved powers are not at the same level as the central government.

Significance of Devolution

Devolution promotes the creation of home-grown or locally-based policies which speak to the needs of the people they are meant to serve. Governance is therefore drawing closer to the people who become more actively involved in key decision-making.

Having opportunities to meet councillors who set the agenda for an area or community is beneficial as the people can effectively engage with them on a face-to-face basis. Their concerns can be addressed with less bureaucracy and red tape.

Devolution promotes accountability, fosters national unity by recognizing diversity, enhances citizen participation in governance as the central government gives powers of self-governance to the people.