Local authorities are not only the main drivers of the New Dawn administration’s rapid economic transformation agenda.
They are the actual vehicles that can move citizens’ livelihoods from the current despair to a future full of hope.
Currently, Local Government is among the key ministries giving hope to the majority of citizens in this country in terms of bettering their lifestyles.
Therefore, it is just normal that expectations from the citizens are quite high.
However, for councils to move at the same speed with the expectations of the New Dawn administration and the Zambian citizens at large,there are a number of administrative matters that need to be urgently dealt with.
As a matter of urgency, councils must be given leeway to make certain decisions quickly at local level unlike always waiting for Lusaka to decide on their behalf before moving.
Council budgets must be approved by the ministry in Lusaka, no contest about that, and therefore,it must be left to them to implement the contents of those budgets.
The current situation where councils require approval from Lusaka even when they want to procure two realms of paper, which are already budgeted for and approved, will not help councils to move forward at the speed everyone is expecting.
The current situation in councils is like a vehicle whose tires are kept in Lusaka and each time councils want to move, they have to request for authority to use their tires from Lusaka and usually it takes ages if that approval comes at all.
My hope lies in the newly appointed Local Government and Rural Development permanent secretary to give practical experience, counsel and advise to the minister.
Mr Wisdom Bwalya, a former town clerk who worked in Mazabuka, Ndola and Chipata councils, should take his vast knowledge and practical experience pertaining to the dynamics of Local Government administration, to help address pertinent issues.
Do not use that position to fix your colleagues.
Instead, help them to deliver.
After all, credit will come to you.
The second issue that requires urgent attention is the current form of the Zambia Public Procurement Act, Public Finance Management Act, and the CDF guidelines.
In my view, these pieces of legislations were designed to cure issues to do with accountability, transparency,value for money, compliance levels and individual responsibility; but not timely delivery of goods,works and services.
These are good pieces of legislation, but they are not suitable to meet the aspiration of the New Dawn administration.
CDF guidelines, for example, were redefined by the PF administration to fix the opposition and today, the PF is in the opposition crying foul!
Before any works,goods or services are implemented, local authorities are obliged to comply with all of these pieces of laws.
Here is an example of how these laws are not helping in speedy delivery of services by the councils: if a community needs desks for the Government school in award, the CDF guidelines require the community to convene and resolve to apply to the Constituency Development Committee (CDC) of the CDF through the Ward Developed Committee (WDC), proposing to have desks at that selected school.
The CDC, whose dominant figure is the area MP, convenes a meeting to scrutinize all proposed project submissions from WDCs.
This CDC has the authority to sift through the list of proposals and come up with a final list.
This final list is submitted to the council for two main reasons: first, to allow council technocrats to carry out both desk and field appraisals on the proposed projects and make recommendations; secondly, these projects are submitted to the Local Government and Rural Development minister for final approval.
Once the minister approves this project to supply school desks, the council picks up another piece of legislation, which is the Zambia Public Procurement (ZPP) Act, which requires a minimum of 21 days to advertise to the public for the supply of school desks.
After that, the procurement committee sits to receive a bid opening report and the chairperson appoints an adhoc evaluation committee to carry out the evaluation process in accordance with the ZPP Act.
The evaluation committee makes recommendations on the best evaluated bidder in a report to the procurement committee for a possible contract award.
Before an award is communicated, procurement peruses through the Market Price Index (MPI) to check compliance with Government recommended prices on desks in that region.
If the price of desks is neither captured in this MPI or it’s not among a reflection of the obtaining market prices, the council writes to ZPPA in Lusaka for guidance and waits for the response.
Once the council receives a favourable response, the ZPP Act requires a minimum of seven days public advert of the selected bidder in case there is any objection from the public, after which an award to supply school desks is now communicated to the best evaluated bidder.
This is only on a single project which takes a minimum of four months for this process to be exhausted.
This means the council is remaining with eight months to hand over those desks.
Our local carpenter probably would say, for me to comply with the quality requirement, depending on the quantity,I would need eight weeks to make these desks.
This leaves the council with six months.
Remember that more often, CDF funding may be disbursed in February or March to comply with Ministry of Finance procedures.
This leaves four months to deliver desks.
At the end,these long awaited desks will finally be delivered in September or October!
Now this is just an example of a single and simple contract to supply school desks.
What more on complex infrastructural projects that require more than three adhoc committees to do different stages of evaluations?
This is one of the main reasons why citizens have been crying for a decentralized way of delivering services to the communities.
This means communities through their elected officials, with the guidance of technocrats at their local authorities, can make speedy decisions that can enable quicker delivery of services to them.
This is how developed countries have managed to be where they are.
Secondly, these decisions are localized, unlike a situation where a single person from Lusaka makes decisions for the entire 116 councils in the country.
If that person makes an error of judgement, that error costs the entire 116 councils.
But in a decentralized decision making set up, only one council that makes an error of judgement will be affected and it is cheaper to rectify that error!
In Zambia, we are grappling with only 116 councils.
In Germany, for example, there are more than 5,200 municipalities and all of them are fully decentralized!!!
Finally, I hope the New Dawn administration will not only end at appointing Mr Wisdom Bwalya as Local Government and Rural Development permanent secretary, but also look around for more qualified town clerks, council secretaries and directors to sit on the Local Government Service Commission.
President Hakainde Hichilema, trust me, you will get what you deserve from the councils.
I am convinced beyond reasonable doubt that councils can deliver with your full support.
Provincial vice youth treasurer,