By Tinashe Chigwata
The issue of devolution to the provincial level is perhaps the most controversial one. The place and role of provincial and metropolitan councils have not been settled.
As stated above, the Constitution defines them as a tier of govt that constitutes the provincial tier. The Constitution however doesn’t go further in giving these councils real powers that are usually synonymous with a government – taxing, legislative, and executive powers.
Are provinces authorised to make resource allocation decisions and vary budgets, among other spending decisions? Will provincial and metropolitan councils supervise local govt?
If so, what form of supervision will that be? Is it going to be concurrent supervision with the national govt? All these questions remain unresolved and are a bone of contention.
It is reported in the State media that the ZANU-PF-led government is ‘prepared to cede significant administrative, political, market and fiscal power to provinces’.
If that is the case, such devolution will, among other things, allow provincial and metropolitan councils to plan and implement policies with their own administrative machinery.
It is reported in the State media that each of the ten provinces will be ‘assigned specific economic responsibilities in order to individually contribute to national economic development’.
Its further reported that ‘Harare Metropolitan will be Zim’s ICT nerve centre, while Bulawayo Metropolitan will be the country’s industrial hub.Manicaland province will be the diamond beneficiation centre, with Midlands the iron & steel value-chain beneficiation centre’
The question is: can such economic devolution succeed without, for example, political and administrative devolution?
This question is critical given evidence that devolution is likely to be effective where there is a minimum level of democratic content and administrative autonomy, among other issues.
Moyo and Ncube argue that there are fears that provincial ministers, who are political appointees, may suppress devolution.
The practice of appointing provincial ministers started in President Mugabe’s days, and his successor, ED Mnangagwa has continued with the practice.
The relationship between provincial ministers and chairpersons of provincial and metropolitan councils has not been clarified.
Its feared that these ministers may override decisions made by provincial &metropolitan councils as well as by local authorities even though their role is not specifically provided for in Constitution, particularly with regards to organisation of State at vertical level.
It should however be acknowledged that the President was within his powers to appoint ministers for specific portfolios and areas. Whether the role of centrally appointed provincial ministers can sit well in a devolved form of government remains debatable.
What is not in dispute is that such a role neutralises the checks and balances between the national and provincials governments that a devolved form of government is supposed to offer.
An easier way of resolving this tension is to abolish the position of provincial ministers and reallocate their duties to chairpersons of provincial and metropolitan councils.
Alternatively, the provincial ministers can be elected as chairpersons of provincial and metropolitan councils in their respective provinces.
Other sections of Zimbabwean society, including civil society, political parties & general citizenry, are advocating for provincial and metropolitan councils to be empowered with real law and policy making and implementation powers accompanied by the necessary resources.
This option, if chosen, should be feasible given that the Constitution provides the relevant framework which allows provincial and metropolitan councils to be ‘real’ governments.
What is required is the political will to implement it by, among other things, enacting the relevant laws and policies. There are indications from the ruling party that it is considering amending the Constitution to reform the provincial structure.
The objective of the proposed amendments is not yet clear. Is it about reducing costs associated with implementing a fully-blown provincial structure as previously proposed by the former Minister of Finance, Patrick Chinamasa, when he presented the 2018 national budget?
Or it is about making provincial and metropolitan councils more viable by giving them more powers and resources?
It could also be about making these councils genuine institutions to represent provincial interests by, inter alia, abolishing the requirement that parliamentarians must also be members of provincial and metropolitan councils in their respective provinces.
The debate is not only about the place and role of provinces but also about the number of provinces.
Some are arguing that the current ten provinces provided in the Constitution are too many, especially if they are going to be more than administrative units, as was the case under the previous constitutional order.
The names of the provinces which reflect ethnic undertones have also received attention; there is an argument for the use of neutral names.
The argument is that ethnic based naming of provinces and delineation of respective provincial boundaries can provide a base for political mobilisation on the basis of ethnicity which may exacerbate internal ethnic conflict
Thus, devolution to the provincial level is, unsurprisingly, contested and controversial.