MILLIONS of United States dollars under the devolution funds are exposed to looting by government hawks who are brazenly violating the constitution and undermining public procurement processes, a new report reveals.
The report by the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (Zimcodd) titled Unpacking the Devolution and Decentralisation Policy in Zimbabwe, says that central government’s interference has created a smokescreen devolution autonomy while exposing an unwillingness to implement the devolution drive.
In recent weeks, Local Government minister July Moyo has been under fire for wanting to unconstitutionally use close to US$1 billion to pay for services not agreed to by local authorities, including the emotive US$400 million Pomona waste-to-energy deal and the forcing of both urban and rural local authorities to buy fire engines from Belarus at inflated prices and without floating a tender.
The report said the continuous interference of central government in the development affairs of local authorities undermines the concept of devolution as prescribed in the devolution policy and coupled with the derailment of national growth and development.
“It has also undermined public procurement as prescribed in the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act [Chapter 22:23]. Procurement principles such as transparency and competitive bidding in tender processes are overlooked to advance the interest of individuals,” the report reads.
On the move by the government to pay Geogenix BV using the devolution money against council’s will, Zimcodd says the tender process for the deal was suspiciously ringfenced by Moyo who may have positioned himself and allies to personally benefit.
The report says the problem is that there was no competitive bidding process before the tender was given to Geogenix BV.
“If tenders are awarded to incompetent organisations, they have a potential of siphoning public funds, thereby undermining service delivery, accountability and transparency mechanisms”, the report says.
“The diretive by the permanent secretary in the ministry of Local Government that all town clerks, town secretaries and chief executive officers will receive two fire tenders from Belarus on their devolution allocation is a reflection of the pseudo-devolution that exists in Zimbabwe.
“This is because devolution refers to the granting of decision-making powers to local authorities and allowing them to take full responsibility, without reference back to central government. Through devolution, central government relinquishes certain functions or creates new units of government that are outside its direct control.”
The report said devolution in the context of Zimbabwe was different from the inclusive and people-centred approach suggested by the devolution policy.
“In all the dimensions, citizens tend to suffer the most yet they are the driving force of legitimate authority. They are the custodian of social contract and the government and local authorities have a fiduciary responsibility to create an inclusive and consultative system,” the report reads.
The report said the fire tender issue was a case study of how the local authorities and citizens are alienated in development discourse as the government directive forcing local authorities to purchase fire engines was in violation of the principles of needs-based purchase that sustains good governance.
“It takes away the development opportunity of local authorities by disregarding endogenous service delivery needs and super-imposes exogenous preferences that do not capture the demands on the ground. Some local authorities have fire tenders, thus the additional two are of no use.” “Although the government claims to prioritise devolution, the disbursement of devolution funds does not project government’s sincerity,” the report reads.
“A good example is that of 2021 where ZW$19.5 billion allocated to devolution and decentralisation was not only short of the prescribed 5% of the National Budget, but also only 32% of the ZW$19.5 billion was disbursed to provincial councils and local authorities by the end of September 2021 at a time when the 2022 National Budget was prepared. This stalled projects undertaken by local authorities as slightly above ZW$13 billion remained outstanding at the end of September 2021.”
“The ZW$19.5 billion being meagre in an inflationary environment could not meaningfully support capital intensive projects such as road construction and refurbishment of water processing plants.”
“Devolution remains a myth in Zimbabwe as the government’s sincerity in implementing it remains questionable. Evidence shows deliberate inaction in the formulation of the Devolution Act that is supposed to be the implementing driving force. The continuous interference of the government in the management and operations of local authorities particularly those led by the opposition undermines devolution efforts.”