By JULIUS PHIRI –
DECENTRALISATION is usually referred to as the transfer of powers from central government to lower levels in a political –administrative and territorial hierarchy.
Decentralisation facilitates fiscal competition between jurisdictions, in particular when households are mobile between sub-national governments.
Decentralisation also enhances competition within municipalities and within regions.
The decentralisation was the transfer of responsibilities, authority, functions as well as power and appropriate resources to provincial, district and sub-district levels.
The process of decentralisation could take in four forms which include deconcentration, devolution, delegation and privatisation.
The deconcentration, this was the transfer of functions and resources to lower level units of the same administrative system while authority over decision making and use of such resources remains with the centre.
This type of decentralisation entails the transfer of some functions performed at the headquarters of the ministry to provincial, district and or sub-district offices while power and authority are retained at the centre.
Devolution is the transfer of some authority, functions and resources by legal and constitutional provisions to thelower levels within formal political structuresand institutionalised by constitutional means.
For example, when the central government transfers some of its power and authority to democratically elected councils, local authorities or regional governments, empowering them by law, to determine local taxes, raise own revenue and decide how to use it under the form of decentralisation, leadership was accountable to the local population through a system of elections.
Delegation is the transfer of functions and resources to a subordinate authority with the capacity to act on behalf of the superior authority without formal transfer of authority in the same structure. An example is when a lower office is assigned to perform some duties or tasks by the higher office.
The lower office would still be required to consult the higher office on the matters that require decision making.
Privatisation is the divestiture of state interests in public enterprises and the subsequent sale of such to the private sector.
In the case of public administration however, privatisation cannot be applied since the local authorities and the related public office cannot be privatised.
The Media Institute of Zambia (MISA) with the support from USAID on February 28 and March 1 this year held a media Local Impact Governance workshop at Eastern Comfort Lodge.
The objective of the workshop was to provide support to the media in Eastern Province to produce and broadcast programmes that raise awareness of sub-national government roles, responsibilities and decision making processes, citizens’ rights or tax payment obligations and private sector regulations.
According to MISA assistant programme officer Margaret Kabuswe, the two days workshop which drew participants from Chipata, Petauke, Katete, Nyimba and Lundazi was mainly to enlighten journalists about the importance of Constituency Development Fund (CDF).
Some of the benefits of decentralisation noted was that the citizenry exercise control over its local affairs and are able to foster meaningful development.
According to Petauke Town Council Secretary Bupe Mutanya who was the main facilitator, in general local government may be said to be the administration of public affairs in each locality by a body of representatives of the community which body possess a considerable amount of responsibility, autonomy and discretionary power.
He said local government was government at local level adding that local government could also be defined as: “The sphere of governance closest to the people, a means through which local aspirations are attained through participative and democratic means”.
In order to respond to people’s aspirations, Mr Mutanya said the local government has the constitutional authority to levy, impose, recover and retain local taxes.
The characteristics of local governments include participation of people in a given locality.
This is accomplished by the election of peoples’ representatives to local government as well as sub structures of governance.
He explained that the local government should be able to exercise formal government powers.
The functions of local authorities could be classified as either mandatory or permissive.
The mandatory or statutory functions were those which a local authority was obliged to perform and permissive or discretionary functions were those over which a local authority exercise discretion or liberty to perform adding that these were merely enabling.
Mr Mutanya said it was also the duty of local authorities to establish a prosperous, orderly and enlightened society because it was the link between Central Government and the citizenry.
It was bound to people in a particular geographic area and to the people who were affected by the problems peculiar to that area.
It provides a forum for greater community participation since it has jurisdiction over fewer people than the central Government and because of this a local authority provides an opportunity to utilise talents, insights and creativity of the local people through councillors and sub-structures.
It was the cornerstone in the structure of democratic political system since it serves as a vehicle for responsible citizenships at local level.
Mr Mutanya said it the local authority was an important training ground for future CentralGovernment leaders.
He said planning was key to the work of local authorities saying it’s the process of facilitation which helpsindividuals or communities to understand the situation in which theywere so that they were able to change it.
It uses experiences of the population to identify appropriatesolutions to real problems.
According to the urban and regional planning Act number of 2015 “Planning means the initiation and management of change in the built, socio economic and natural environment in and across a spectrum of sectors and urban and rural areas.
Budgeting in local authorities’ makes use of what was known as the Output Based Budgeting (OBB) and this type of budgeting focuses on output for the programmes.
The budgeting process in local authorities commences when the Ministry of Finance issues a call circular and the Ministry of Local government and Rural Development issues additional budget guidelines on the level of national support by indicating how much money was likely to be allocated to them as grants during the financial year.
This type was commonly referred to as “Ceilings”
At local authority level this involves assembling a budget management team (budget committee), which becomes responsible for budget preparation.It entails gathering and giving out information which in the main, highlights the local authorities strategic objectives, past performance, current state, specific services being demanded by citizens and internal and external constraints.
MISA Zambia programmes officer Thomas Zulu said the media could influence people at the grassroots as well as decision-makers.
Mr Zulu stated that the media could inform and act as a platform, form opinions, shape perceptions, reinforce belief, prompt action and act as a catalyst in the change process.
“The role of the media is not only to disseminate information but also to help society form opinions and make sound decisions. In democracy governance needs willingness of the people to be governed. That willingness stems from the feeling that it is for their good,” he said.
He said the media could provide information, shape perception and influence.
“It has a stake in doing this. Its survival as an independent entity depends on this. It is also its source of power,” he said.
Mr Zulu said democracy implies participative governance and it was media that informed people about various problems of society, which makes those wielding power on their behalf answerable to them.
He said the media increases people’s access to information and that brings them power and prosperity.
Eastern Province Local Government Officer Alex Bwalya said the media should work hand in hand with the local authorities in highlighting success stories on CDF.
Mr Bwalya said a number of projects were being implemented through CDF in various places which needed to be highlighted by the media.