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Sunday, 18 November 2007

A View From Outside - Part 3: Decentralisation

The third extract from David Simon's report on Zambia , focuses on his fascinating observations on Zambia's struggle to decentralise effectively:

The government has espoused decentralization with respect to decision making, but it is not yet clear whether the financial resources to make it effective from a governance perspective will be allocated. For many rural Zambians, traditional rulers remain the usual recourse for addressing public grievances and needs. Despite the institutionalization of the House of Chiefs—a body of twenty-seven traditional rulers limited to advisory powers—traditional leadership is, at best, awkwardly integrated with the other elements of constitutional government in Zambia. The formal state is unwilling and politically unable to actively provide incentives for good government by traditional rulers. For their part, citizens may be wary of further institutionalizing traditional leaders, since for many the cost of doing so—potentially forgoing accountability with respect to private matters (i.e. dispute resolution)— is seen as greater than the benefit of increased accountability on public matters. Thus, the quality of local leadership in terms of responsiveness and the provision of public goods is uneven.
Therein lies the heart of Zambia's problems. The problem at the moment is that Chiefs look after the people but they are not properly integrated in the system of local government. Crucially they no financial or budgetary responsibility. Everyone in the village runs to the chief for land and food. One of the great travesties of colonialism is that it reduced these institutions that served the people so well to an irrelevant spectator. The current framework of local governance has continued that approach and no wonder we find delivering local development (of whatever shape) such a challenge – we are constantly working with two systems (government imposed system and traditional functions). A way must be found where Chiefs can become meaningful - this requires both creative thinking and political will. I discusss this issue at lengthen in A cultural approch to Zambia's development.

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