‘Devolution requires electoral reforms’

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Maxwell Sibanda


DEVOLUTION on its own is inadequate to deliver enhanced electoral participation, hence it should be implemented together with a host of other electoral reforms that include provincial councils which have not yet been constituted, analysts contend.

These sentiments came out of a virtual discussion hosted by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network at the weekend under the theme “Devolution: a governance illusion or a real catalyst for electoral reform”, whose objective was to discuss the framework of devolution in Zimbabwe and its role in promoting democratic electoral participation in the country.

The panellists lamented that the devolution framework does not directly push for the representation of different groups in governance and electoral participation.

They also raised concerns that the legislative framework on devolution does not guarantee gender representation, mostly with reference to women participation in governance.

The results of an effective devolution system, according to the panellists, would be good governance, swift delivery of goods and services, creation of jobs, eradication of poverty, increased women representation in decision making positions starting at local level and the ending of corruption in local government.

Devolution was adopted as a key component of the Constitution in 2013 and is recognised as one of the founding values and principles to the supreme law.

It is meant to empower provincial government councils to spearhead economic and social development projects in their areas by leveraging on local resources.

Lawyer, partner and director at AfriConsult Firm, Thabani Mnyama, said the ideal model for devolution is one that makes electoral participation easier.

“While the Zimbabwean model as described in Chapter 14 of the Constitution is ideal, it is the implementation that is problematic; the provisions clearly capture the will of the people,” he said.

Social commentator Effie Ncube believes if devolution is implemented to the fullest with a view to ensuring equitable sharing of resources, it can promote regional integration.

He said while devolution should deliver good governance and create jobs, the problem is that it is not being implemented properly.

“If people have a sense that there is fairness in the conduct of State affairs and that their region is not being left out of development, there is reduced incentive for secessionist aspirations. There is still a lot to be done; we need reforms to ensure all political actors play a part as other regions are  complaining,” Ncube said.

Ncube, however, felt that political parties are an extension of society, so the impetus is to reform society first, in order to do away with the belief that women cannot be good leaders.

“Political parties have completely failed women and the girl child when it comes to the devolution matrix.”

ICOD Zimbabwe director Talent Maphosa said there is very limited understanding of what devolution is and what shape it is supposed to take.

She agreed with the other panellists that the concept of devolution is very complex and as such, many citizens do not fully understand it.

“The cause of this confusion is the lack of political will which has led to the lack of implementation of the concept. The complications hindering the process are compounded by the unwillingness to share power and also the failure to share resources,” she said.

“Party lists must have a balanced number of men and women on the selection of candidates for election, from the local level,” she added.

Maphosa said the trajectory on devolution in Zimbabwe is not taking the country in the right direction because the Zimbabwean system thrives on rhetoric, “talking and not acting. As a result of this, it is difficult to have faith in the concept”.

Community Development Projects Coordinator with Silveira House, Alois Madhekeni said devolution as it is on paper promotes electoral representation of the people at the local level and also allows for the electorate to participate and have a say in what should be done in their communities, including how funds and local resources should be used.

“While devolution enhances multi-party democracy, the problem is with the alternative. Before independence councils were run by a few elites, just individuals from the community who had no political allegiance.

“After independence, it changed to include political parties; while there is nothing wrong with political parties, it is the political culture that is the problem. We have to improve the quality of our democracy,” he said.

Madhekeni added that an ideal devolution model would be one that creates sub-national entities with functions that matter.

“The problem with the current situation is that only money is being transferred to the lower levels, and not real power.”

He echoed the same sentiments raised by other panellists noting that devolution, on paper, is quite different from the one being implemented which creates confusion on understanding it.

After the question and answer session with the panellists, the meeting was opened to the floor and several recommendations were given to improve the devolution framework.

Tunisia was cited as one of the best examples from where Zimbabwe can draw lessons on devolution; the need for local authorities to run their own elections was also cited as an important reform and; there is a need to introduce proportional representation at local government level, and urge political parties to adopt mechanisms that guarantee 50/50 representation of women in politics.

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