Find us on Google+

Monday, 12 February 2007

when glory is not enough....

The recent statement by the President when he arrived at Ndola Airport that he intends to call a gathering of mayors from around the country in a non-partisan way provides an opportunity to open the debate on the role of mayors and local councils in delivering development. A way must be found in which both the local councils and local citizens can hold each other mutually accountable in delivering development. Mayors can do much more than welcoming international leaders and milking election glories. Local citizens can do more than just elect mayors and councillors, and wait for another five years to make a difference.

We have seen around the world, that where mayors have been given 'real responsibility' such as in Rio, London, and New York, they have been responsible for delivering effective policing, provided good and effective transportation and increased local economic growth. Equally local councils which have truly allowed participation from local citizens beyond simple voting of councillors, tend to generate greater and more locally focused development. They tend to meet the immediate needs of the local people in an extraordinary way.

The key phrase is 'real responsibility' because it is at the very heart of effective local governance. Real responsibility entails the local citizens truly being involved in important decision making beyond simple local elections of councillors. A good model is one adopted in much of Brazil and is now being promoted by UN Habitat, called "Participatory Budgeting". To quote Ubitratan de Souza, the man responsible for the invention, Participatory budgeting is "a process of direct, voluntary and universal democracy, where people can debate and decide on public budgets and policy". In short local citizens' participation is not limited to the act of voting to elect local councillors, but citizens also decides on spending priorities and management of the local councils.

The beauty of such a mechanism is that it improves the transparency of local administration and efficiency in local expenditures. It demands increased accountability of local leaders and managers, through the encouragement of local people to participate in decision making and oversight the use of public funds. In short it makes the local council accountable in a new and innovative way, and as a byproduct, it creates a democratic culture within the community and strengths the social fabric.

We have seen that in Latin America, participatory budgeting has helped re-order social priorities and promote social justice. Local citizens go from being simple observers to protagonists in public administration. They become full, active, critical and demanding participants.

The same thing can happen in Zambia, Participatory Budgeting can give local citizens in the poorest parts of our country better opportunities for access to works and services like sanitation, street paving, transportation improvements, and health and educational centres. By participating in the budgeting process, the local people would define their priorities, and in doing so have the chance to significantly improve their quality of life, in a relative short time frame. In addition, they have the possibility to control and monitor the execution of the budget.

Participatory Budgeting goes beyond simple consultation, it would give local Zambians real power to decide how much to spend in their local areas. It would move the idea of development from the centre of Government to rural areas. My plea to the President as he meets the mayors around the country, is that he seriously consider shifting the power to local citizens in a real and vivid way, by giving them a greater say on how money is spent. Give them a seats on the tables of our councils down the land. If the Government is interested in holding local officials responsible and at the same time deepen local democracy, this is the best way to do it. Through Participatory Budgeting the little that we have as a nation will be better spent.


  1. Whilst i agree with you on the benefits of a PB prgram a few questions arise. Would the woman in Samfya even be bothered in this policy-making process let alone be worried about the fiscal responsibility of the govt? and even if the woman in Samfya (you like this Samfya woman ey?) was to be interested, my guess is that she would only be worried about short to medium term 'community projects'...fixing the odd sewer pipe...mending a roof in a school and only focus on that. Once the short-term project is sorted, in my opinion the need for participation as it were would cease on her part. Do the councils even have enough resources to think of incorporating citizens in such policy-making?monthly budget meetings for the woman in samfya would surely seem like a waste of time woulf it not?

    Also, and probably more importanly is whether this delegation of decision-making politically viable. I feel PB would take too long to implement and get to be run smoothly in Zambia and currently there are bigger fish to fry for the ordinary man on the street. Looking at this avenue at this present moment in time may just be a waste of resources? With the antagonostic approach of todays opposition leaders (note i do not mention Sata though he's one of such), would LPM and his friends have the political clout to succesfully engage citizens in PB?Also, with donors funding a third of the budget wouldnt they have a say on the woman in Samfya using 'their' money as it were?

  2. Mayors and councillors are as good as the political structure of the country and Zambia is not an exception to this important rule. While I acknowledge the points you made, without the participation of ordinary Zambians,i mean common Zambian folk on the ground. Without them any political, economic or social policy mechanism in Zambia is a no go. The needs of the common citizens have to be balanced with the policy making mechanism in the country. We have seen this approach taken by people in London and New York

  3. Anonymous, you raise some very important points:

    1. On the issue of how to engage the woman in Samfya, its clear that when the issue is explained to the woman she will understand what it means. If someone told her that Government is giving the women in this area a say on where the money will be spent, she will want to take part.

    2. Evidence from Brazil clearly shows that even in the poorest parts, people have embraced the idea of participatory budgeting. It clearly offers incentives to the poor that they cannot reject.

    3. The issue of course is whether other more powerful local interests in Samfya would hijack the process at the expense of the poor woman. Whilst that may be true, I see that as more of an issue on the practical implementation. Properly implemented, the framework provides sufficient checks and balances to ensure that never happens. One way is to create strong "coalitions of the poor"....e.g. women have theirs, fishermen have theirs, etc. These would then provide a vehicle for engaging through Participatory Budgeting.

    4. You speak of bigger fish to fry! What bigger fish to fry is there than trying to realign people's needs with the scarce resource that we have? I AM NOT PROPOSING A GRAND MODEL, that somehow is duplicated exactly everywhere. I am proposing A BROAD FRAMEWORK THAT MATCHES LOCAL NEEDS. The PB is simply a framework by which local people get involved in decision making, how they WANT to operationalise it will depend on local views.

    5. You raise the prospect of PF and others subverting the process and making it antagonistic. I think that misses the point. If anything the Participatory Budgeting process STRENGTHS democracy. It crosses political lines by going straight to individuals. It is not about having local referundums, its about making local people become key stakeholders and key players

  4. I think Participatory Budgeting is a great idea.

    I think we could agree that most of all, there should be budgets to distribute. Therefore, I suggest we both agitate for the direct issuing of upto half the national revenues directly to local government.

  5. Mrk,

    Glad you agree...
    I think it really has enormous advantages....
    On the broader issue of decentralisation of funding, I think 80% and 20% split in favour of local Government would be ideal, but if, and only if, there was PB. Without PB I think it would be worse than the current arrangement. Giving local unaccountable officials greater control of finances would be a bad idea!!

  6. CHO,

    Great, great blog.

    " Giving local unaccountable officials greater control of finances would be a bad idea!! "

    I completely agree. It would be pointless to replace central government corruption, with local government corruption.

    However, even with PB, there is an opportunity to monitor expenses and have democratic accountability.

    If budgets were monitored (by for instance the ZRA) and

    I have my own semi-official manifesto, and I wonder what you make of it. I posted it as a comment to the " Living with a ‘leaking’ bucket… " article.

  7. Mrk, Yes I have seen it thanks...
    And I have commented!

    I broadly agree with the three themes. I have some issues with the economic reform and I have commented on these, and the land reform probably needs to clear on the aim of the policy. Is it redistibution or empowerment or both? Please see my comments there...

  8. My comment again is that a mayor is a party official. My experience in the locla governement system reveals that a mayor elected by councillors belonging to a political party tends to be driven by party wims hence political turmoil has been the order of the day in our councils. Non partisan electoral system for mayors would be a better option, with longer terms of office than the current 2 civic years terms contestable each year.

  9. Anonymous,

    I read your comments as implying that you prefer mayors directly elected by the people. Something I agree with, but for probably different reasons. Unfortunately, the NCC reject this - NCC Discussion Updates (BOZ, Mayoral Elections & Local Councils)
    led by Sinyangwe.


All contributors should follow the basic principles of a productive dialogue: communicate their perspective, ask, comment, respond,and share information and knowledge, but do all this with a positive approach.

This is a friendly website. However, if you feel compelled to comment 'anonymously', you are strongly encouraged to state your location / adopt a unique nick name so that other commentators/readers do not confuse your comments with other individuals also commenting anonymously.