According to the Oxford Dictionary of Geography, devolution is the transfer of powers from a central government to local units. The Oxford Dictionary of Politics says it is the grant of power by an upper level of government to a lower one.
Devolution therefore refers to the distribution of authority to make decisions and to take action by local governments independently of central administrative oversight. Central governments might retain overall legal control and the authority to alter local government powers. Within those boundaries, devolution exists if local entities have substantial authority to hire, fire, tax, contract, expend, invest, plan, set priorities, and deliver the services they choose. In essence therefore a devolved government remains constitutionally subordinate to the government which gave it its power and which could in principle revoke it.
The preamble to Chapter 14 of the draft constitution of Zimbabwe states that whereas it is desirable to ensure the preservation of national unity, ensure democratic participation in government by all and to ensure the equitable allocation of national resources and the determination of the development priorities within their areas by all, there must be devolution of power and responsibilities to lower tiers of government in Zimbabwe.
According to the draft, whenever appropriate, governmental powers and responsibilities must be devolved to provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities that are competent to carry out those responsibilities efficiently and effectively.
Devolution will through provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities give powers of local governance to the people and will enhance their participation in the exercise of the powers of the State and in making decisions affecting them.
Devolution will also promote democratic, effective, transparent, accountable and coherent governance of Zimbabwe as a whole. It will preserve and foster the peace, national unity and indivisibility of Zimbabwe.
Devolution will further recognise the right of communities to manage their own affairs and to further their development while also ensuring the equitable sharing of local and national resources and the transfer of responsibilities and resources from the national government in order to establish a sound financial base for each provincial and metropolitan council and local authority.
The provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities will have to be effective, transparent, accountable and institutionally coherent and only perform those functions conferred on them by the Constitution or an Act of Parliament without assuming the powers of another tier of government, preserve the peace, national unity and indivisibility of Zimbabwe; secure the public welfare; and ensure the fair and equitable representation of people within their areas of jurisdiction.
All members of local authorities must be elected by registered voters within the areas for which the local authorities are established. An Act of Parliament must provide appropriate mechanisms and procedures to facilitate co-ordination of central government, provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities.
The country will be divided into 10 provinces namely
Bulawayo Metropolitan Province;
Harare Metropolitan Province;
Matabeleland South; and
And they shall have provincial councils except the metropolitan provinces which will have metropolitan councils whose composition is specified by the constitution.
The constitution also makes provision for urban and rural local authorities to represent and manage the affairs of people in urban and rural areas throughout Zimbabwe. Urban local authorities are managed by councils composed of councillors elected by registered voters in the urban areas concerned and presided over by elected mayors or chairpersons, by whatever name called.
Different classes of local authorities may be established for different urban areas, and two or more different urban areas may be placed under the management of a single local authority.
Different classes of local authorities may be established for different rural areas, and two or more different areas may be placed under the management of a single local authority.
Devolution of Power recognises the need for people in different communities to make decisions that affect their day to day operations and it goes hand in hand with democratisation of the State. Democracy as espoused by Abraham Lincoln is the rule of the people, by the people and for the people. It therefore means that all who are affected by a decision should have the chance to participate in the making of that decision either directly or through chosen representatives and thus the will of the majority should prevail.
In Zimbabwe for instance should civil society remain strong, close knit and inclusive, devolution and therefore democracy may not produce adverse results when decisions are taken by the majority because the minority interests will be taken into account on the basis of the strength of the civil society and the prevailing democratic culture.
It is therefore necessary to have a devolved system of governance to ensure that those who are affected by a decision get a fair chance to participate in the decision making process. Some quarters of society may question why it is now necessary to have a devolved system of government in Zimbabwe. The basic idea is to make the public responsible members of the community. Citizens understand their own problems and there is no reason why they should be dependent upon and be controlled by central government and therefore wait for other people at the centre to act on their behalf.
Devolution can also be seen as one way to avoid ethnic unrest where an ethnic group in a country may have feelings of marginalisation. Devolution creates a system of governance, aimed at being more responsive, relevant, transparent, and accountable, and to be a bridge across the divide between the state and civil society.
Zimbabwe has gone through serious economic challenges especially before 2009 due to Zanu PF mismanagement which forced government to reduce the services it provided. Although the private sector can take care of some, most social services are better funded and provided for at a local government level which necessitates devolution.
It does not take or need a rocket scientist to know that highly centralized and top-down service delivery is cumbersome, inflexible, adapts slowly to new information and is prone to political abuse as Zimbabwe has seen with Ignatius Chombo interfering with city councils throughout the country.
Devolution also creates a political environment in which power to access political, economical and social resources is distributed between the central government and lower levels of government. Devolution makes politics less threatening and encourages joint problem solving. The MDC as a socio-democratic party believes that devolution creates a fairer political ground, protecting both individual as well as group human rights. It establishes checks and balances to central power which has been abused over the years by Zanu PF and avoids winner-take-all political competition as well as preventing political violence among rival groups.
Use of violence and coercion have been Zanu PF's hallmark for the past three decades and the MDC recognises the fact that this should not be allowed under any government and that devolution will help deter a state's internal use of coercive power against political opposition through formal recognition of the legitimacy of ethno-regional claims to power. With such recognition there will then be no need to resort to violence and or secessionist activities.
It is clear that Zimbabwe stands to benefit from devolution. It gives people the power to make their own decisions, decisions which affect their lives and those of future generations. It also means that communities will benefit from the natural resources found in their particular areas. Devolution is democracy being practiced at the lowest level of society. This is what the MDC believes in and is for. Together let's take a giant leap towards the last mile for real transformation.