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Full devolution in Zimbabwe will Stimulate Economic Growth

(The Southern African Times) – Before the Second Republic in Zimbabwe, devolution was a term legislated and then bandied about without meaningful implementation. It was mainly only visible in terms of policy debates, law reform and organisational arrangements without, however, corresponding tangible moves on the ground.

The new dispensation, while also managing to arrest runaway inflation and the galloping foreign currency exchange rate, among other economic successes, has simultaneously been seen to provide explicit impetus for economic devolution implementation. The designation of Bulawayo as one of the areas that the Government designated for the implementation of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) comes to mind. This will likely unlock the potential the economy has through harnessing in situ efficient management type. Yet, more can still, be done.

Decentralisation generally refers to the transfer of powers from the central government to lower levels in a political-administrative and territorial hierarchy. The term decentralisation is used to cover a broad range of transfers of the “locus of decision making” from central government to regional, municipal or local governments.

Administrative decentralisation is where different levels of government authority to administer resources and matters are delegated to lower, often ministerial and local based leaders. Legal authority often backs this transfer and in Zimbabwe it is enshrined in the constitution. Administrative power in this set up is “devolved” downwards, hence “devolution.”

Zimbabwe’s devolution programme is largely founded on the principle of empowering provincial government structures to spearhead economic and social development projects in their areas by leveraging on local resources. The emphasis is on economic development and not political power, which remains in the hands of central government, under the country’s unitary state structure.

The legal framework for this is recognised in Chapter 14 of the 2013 Constitution which provides for provincial and local governments. It is the only Chapter of the Constitution that has a preamble of its own.

Full implementation has however been found wanting.

Each administrative enclave in the country has some form of economic advantage which can be leveraged for thatparticular local community’s direct benefit. To pick but one sector, timber is quite a pertinent example. Several wards in Manicaland, Matabeleland North and parts of Matabeleland South provinces plant and harvest industry grade timber.

Lupane harvests the very much sought teakwood timber. However, there is no significant beneficiation of this timber into consumable products happening in their area of production. All is shipped elsewhere for that. Significantly, it is the locals who mainly bear the brunt of environmental degradation and pollution without drawing many corresponding benefits.

The same can be said for all other main sectors of the economy. The primary sector extracting raw materials, like mining and even fishing can be supported in situ. But are should be a diamond hub. The mining, sorting, polishing of the gem and even auction house and subsequent storage should be supported within the area. It should be common reason that jewellery and diamond ornaments industries are located in Mutare. The same can be replicated for fish processing plants in Binga, as much as Victoria Falls is currently being supported on everything tourism. Regretably, this is not the case for  diamonds and indeed all other minerals.

Why would Hwange Colliery Company need to be headquartered in Harare when the coal they mine is processed and marketed in Hwange? The Zimbabwe Power Company, which consumes the majority of that coal generating electricity, is located in Hwange too anyway.

Granted, the company has done the most for the local community among private players employing a sizable number and erecting hospitals, housing and other infrastructure. Be that as it may, I dare to imagine what more could the community have benefited were the company’s executives located in Hwange. Would they too use the muddy water occasionally gushing from local water taps there without intervention?

The government does not necessarily need to avail funds to stimulate this devolution impetus. Incentives and punishments can be employed and let market forces shake industry players around the country as they seek to benefit or avoid detriment. For instance, tax rebates and reliefs can be offered for industries setting up in areas of primary input source akin to Special Economic Zones. A special tax can be introduced for sector players who move business elsewhere same as we treat externalisation of foreign currency out of the country because ultimately the same communities will eventually cry to the government for help with jobs, development, health and the like.

Global trends at present are that service and tertiary concerned businesses which predominantly offer intangible goods and services to consumers are located in the capitals and/or biggest cities. These consists of retail, tourism, banking, entertainment and  I.T. services among others. While the extractive, heavy and engineering sectors are located nearest to their main input.

Zimbabwe should make it the norm that tertiary and service sectors, along with the quaternary sector (knowledge economy, education, research and development), are what dominates administrative cities. Natural competition in the wards as they attract businesses will ensue each ward endeavours to have the highest per capita income in Zimbabwe. Something that can be achieved on the basis of devolution and which substantially stimulates and speeds uniform development across the whole country.

Apart from this economic devolution that we allude to, administrative devolution should be implemented fully as this too has economic impact. From the citizens’ side it really boggles the mind why 40 years after independence every liquor store owner in Zimbabwe has to travel to the capital Harare for something as mundane as a Liquor Licence.

Why does every transporter in the country need to travel to the capital or to Bulawayo, the second largest city, to get a Route Authority Permit? All these are unnecessary taxes on the Small to Medium Scale Entrepreneurs (SME).

These examples set in the economic realm have had an effect on other sectors of the nation as well. We will pick sports and the arts for analogy. People know to succeed in these, one has to be in the capital. This is patently wrong.

It is an understated, though very insightful occurrence, that we get a football fan in, for example, Gweru who has never watched the national football team live as all the team’s games are played in Harare!

This is a very real economic problem as it deprives the Gweru community of matchday revenues, both formally and informally. It also discourages infrastructure development as local leaders fail to prioritise sports infrastructure which is known to spur economic development.

Economic development, on the basis of devolution, is spelt out by the Zimbabwe National Constitution’s Chapter 14 which espouses free enterprise and economic success through divesting from traditional administrative centres to the rest of the country. Ward-communities should look be identified with, and henceforth benefit from, their local resources being exploited by commercial entrepreneurs. This set up has been proven everywhere to be the catalyst for expedient and uniform economic development.

A lot has been done as it is and it has to be acknowledged as this will be a foundation for more to continue to be done. The hard legal and administrative ground work is also thankfully in place. Now let us fully implement.

Admire Maparadza Dube Is The Southern African Times Head of department for Money Markets Analysis section. He has over 17 years experience in this sector covering FMCGS, Agribusiness, Banks and a Tax Authority in four countries spread over three continents.

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