9 January 2013

Zambia: Is Creation of New Districts Economically Beneficial?


THE creation of new districts is one of the major policy measures the current Government has taken towards the attainment of the country's full decentralisation and even distribution of national wealth.

Further, the move is one of the campaign issues President Michael Sata has painstakingly implemented.

To some people in the urban areas, including some opposition officials, the creation of districts is just a mere political pronouncement which should be dismissed with contempt.

After all, the announcements are made without any details and only names are given, thereby leaving everyone astounded.

The people from that school of thought say that the exercise is a mere public relations project aimed at hoodwinking the people in rural areas into believing that the Government cares for them.

Examples of comments abound and all one has to do is to check the media archives for the last 15 months.

The check will reveal headlines like, "HH condemns Sata over new districts, Creation of districts meant to mask President Sata's failure - HH, Miyanda describe creation of districts as reckless governance" and many others.

But these assertions are in sharp contrast to what the people on the ground think but as already alluded to the issue is so remote to some people in towns because they are enjoying high standards of living.

If the manner in which the people of the newly created Luano District in Central Province have responded to the declaration of their area as a district is anything to go by, then the rural dwellers are seeing hope in the policy.

They are seeing a ray of hope because they think the policy will result in the economic development for their area.

But what is economic development? Wikipedia defines it as sustained, concerted actions of policymakers and communities that promote the standard of living and economic health of a specific area.

At an appropriate time, we will subject the current creation of districts to the question of whether or not it contributes to economic development of the new districts as Wikipedia defines development.

For now, we have to look at the mere basic implications of the creation of new districts and I will do that by focusing on Luano.

Last weekend I attended a stakeholders' consultative meeting on the district which was called by the Government for - in the spirit of decentralisation - the local people to chart a way forward on the declaration.

The two main items on the agenda during the meeting held at Old Mkushi were the district boundaries and the district headquarters but I will not go into that.

Instead, let me look at the implications of the creation of the district and hopefully these will help in meeting the current challenges.

Firstly, currently the arrangement is that a district is supposed to be headed by a district commissioner, who will need a decent accommodation, meaning the Government will have to build a house for him.

The area will require offices for the district commissioner and other district heads of department. To achieve that, the Government will have to embark on a construction project, which will create jobs and other opportunities for the local people.

Currently the only Government functionaries at the proposed district headquarters worth mentioning are the Mboroma Police Station, some basic schools and the Old Mkushi Rural Health Centre.

The rural health centre was manned by a retired nurse and a cleaner for quiet sometime due to lack of medical staff.

This, therefore, means that both the police station and the clinic will be substantially updated into district police command and district hospital respectively, in addition to the establishment of district health management offices.

In the education sector, the there is need for a high school in the area and thank God the Government has already started measures to create a boarding high school which is planned for the other side of the Mkushi River.

The school will have to be manned by a reasonable number of teachers and other supporting staff and you can imagine how many jobs that will create.

So far, I have deliberately not talked about the improvement in the actual service delivery and the access to development by the local people.

Then there is the aspect of creating other Government offices and departments which are currently utterly non-existent in the area like the district local council, the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Agriculture and the rest you can think of.

God permitting, next week we will advance the discussion by looking at the expected contribution of these government offices and departments as well as other possible requisites for a fully-fledged district, like an all-weather road linking it to the provincial capital, in this case Kabwe.

By the time we conclude, we will not need to be told whether the creation of new districts is beneficial or not because it will be self-evident.

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