Characteristics of a devolved state

by Chigumbu Warikandwa

There are various forms of governments, among them are constitutional democracies where leaders are chosen by the public using laws of universal suffrage, exercised by adult persons of sound mind.

In majority cases, such persons must be in their late teens or above. Though laws differ, the general trend is adult persons carry the responsibility of choosing a few people that represent the majority.

After choosing such representatives, each constitutional democracy chooses how such representatives will exploit the public power bestowed upon them and to what extent such powers can be used. This will answer the question of the topic. What is devolution, is the question in the mind of the reader at this juncture. Scholars have come to a general consensus of this term as, “The transfer or delegation of power to a lower level, especially by central government to local or regional administration.”

The online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia say,  “Devolution is the statutory delegation of powers from the central government of a sovereign state to govern at a subnational level, such as a regional or local level. It is a form of administrative decentralization. Devolved territories have the power to make legislation relevant to the area.”

Devolution is the new Governing path Zimbabwe has chosen to take. This is not a brand new invention in Zimbabwe. In fact, devolution is provided for in the 2013 constitution. President Mnangagwa’s Government, Zanu PF and scores of political parties participating in this month’s election are in unfettered agreement over devolution.   So whichever way the political pendulum will go, Zimbabwe is poised for a devolved form of governance come August 1, 2018.

Under devolution, the devolved territories, which in Zimbabwe’s case may be the ten regional provinces, will have a form of autonomy through which they determine their destiny. With devolution provided for in the constitution, only a constitutional amendment can overthrow a semi-autonomous territory surviving under devolution.

However, devolution ought not to be confused with Federalism though the two are like Siamese twins. The major difference comes in that with Federalism, the central government can diminish, increase or wholly remove the powers of a federal territory with much ease than it would with a devolved state. The chief similarity is that both have some form of leverage over self destiny and both can make laws necessary to their needs. However, such laws ought not to be in any opposition to the laws crafted at central government level.

While about seventy of the 195 countries on earth are moving towards devolution, only twenty-five can be said to have fully devolved. However, no country is identical to another. Degrees of devolution and on what instruments of power differ.

In Zimbabwe’s case, devolved sub-states will be run by provincial councils. These have a responsibility to enact localised laws useful to their needs. Such laws ought to be effective in promoting peace, development and inclusive growth for all citizens in their areas of jurisdiction.

Devolved states have a responsibility to exploit natural resources in their territory, provide social services and infrastructure, tax or levy and to hire personnel necessary for the exploitation of certain tasks. Such responsibilities and rights may as well be increased or decreased by central government through a process of public consensus driven by elected representatives.

Devolution has an advantage in that a localized government can respond more effectively to local concerns and produce adequate results. An example would be that a devolved Manicaland province would enact laws effective in diamond mining, citrus production, tourism, forestry and natural water harvesting better than Matabeleland North. In the same manner, the latter would be more effective in managing affairs surrounding tourism, trophy hunting, ranching, gold mining and specialized timber. On cultural and social matters, devolution of such provinces would see Manicaland dealing with the aspects of child marriages under the apostolic sect movement while Matabeleland North would deal with the conscientious issue of marijuana farming and consumption within the Tonga community. In the same vein, Mashonaland West would deal with matters of tobacco agriculture and its value chain better than any other province. The various legislative inputs of various devolved states would by and large influence the central government laws which houses the national constitution.

Cultural preservation of such communities as the San of Matabeleland North, the Doma and Shangwe of Mashonaland central and the Shangaani of Masvingo is better responded to by localised forms of government better than an umbrella central government. Centralized forms of government are a source of inequalities in development. India is singled out as a strong example in this regard, where there is modern high tech development amid a sea of poverty. Brazil is another contender, with teems of slums in Rio Dejaneiro on one end and world class infrastructure on another end of the country.

 In the United States, the District of Columbia offers an illustration of devolved government. The District is separate from any state, and has with its own laws, court system, Department of Motor Vehicles, public university among other systems of government. 

Back home, Local Authorities show a veiled shadow of a devolved form of governance. Let’s take the Harare City Council as a close example. I shall go to Bulawayo later. The Harare City Council has got its by-laws, made by elected councillors. These laws are in tandem with the national constitution. The council chambers, where full council meetings are held act as the Harare City Council Parliament, councillors as parliamentarians. These laws govern the people of Harare only. The city levies and taxes its residents in the form of rates and bills. All the land in Harare is owned, managed and exploited by the Council and can choose to sell, lease or hire to any third party at its will, in accordance with its laws. Should there be any development that affects the residents of Harare and needing new legislation, the Council will rise to this need. And again, such new legislation does not have to be in contravention to the national constitution.

In the case of Harare, the Council legislated to allow cell phone companies to erect network masts on already erected tower lights. Such legislation was not necessary in 1990 before the advent of cell phones. The Bulawayo City Council in turn, legislated to allow the razing down of infrastructure at Basch Street (Egodini) to pave way for a modern bus terminus. Also, the same Council resolved to sink 77 boreholes in Nyamandlovu to arrest the acute water problems peculiar to the city. In the above scenarios, both councils reacted to situations in their jurisdictions with the necessary actions, that is the beauty of devolution.

As President Mnangagwa pointed out in June in Chegutu, every province must have its own GDP and must strive to attract investment for its own development. In the same vein, such province must as well earn its own livelihood from economic activity within its borders. Every such province must use every economic advantage it has to its fullest advantage. Over and above this, Central Government remains seized with the responsibility to give grants to poorly endowed provinces in order to promote uniform national development.