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Friday, 13 June 2008

In rich Zambians' palm..

“The disappointing factor is that not many people are coming in to follow the proceedings...Members of the public are supposed to come and contribute through the delegates. They are supposed to ask them questions and ensure that what they desire to see in the constitution is upheld. After all it’s their constitution....If you can have people in urban areas not being interested in following the proceedings of the debates even when it is open to the public, imagine those in rural areas who cannot get to Lusaka. How do they push their views.....?”

National Constitutional Conference (NCC) vice-chairperson Faustina Sinyangwe Faustina bemoaning the lack of public interest in the ongoing National Constitutional Conference (NCC) sittings. The ignorance of some politicians is truly baffling. Of course the people regard this as a lower priority compared to other things. They have no luxury to sit down for a whole day and "debate" issues. Ms Sinyangwe forgets that while she sits there being paid $350 a day just for talking and reading, 70% of our people are living on a hard earned $1 a day. Incidentally, if she's so concerned about people participation in general, she would have had the sense by now to atleast create a website so that the public have accessible information and can contribute through other means. Crucially, Zambians in the diaspora would also have an opportunity to engage in the discussions.

But on a serious point, I think the lack of people participation raises profound questions on whether this constitution will provide the necessary political institutions that will alter the balance of power from few rich urbanite folks who have held Zambia in a grip since independence towards the poor and the voiceless. The truth is that Zambia moved from a One Party State towards a multi-party system that has effectively remained a defacto One Party state. Yes, Zambia's political system on paper is a "multi-party" but the distribution of power within our nation remains very much a one party state. To make matters worse, we are still recycling the same leaders from the past that have often failed us. We have an elite of Zambians that continue to shape our destiny for better or for worse.

Unless this constitution changes the distribution of power and alters the incentives for better leaders to emerge in the future, the nation will remain within its current political equilibrium that has perpetuated continuous under-development. What we need is something from the current process that will alter the balance of power and give the poor a greater say in the development of the nation - not just platitudes, but a real and fundamental shift in dynamics. That is our best hope for incentivising future governments to deliver policies that are more pro-poor and pro-growth in the long term. In that world, they would be no more Ms Sinyangwe wasting poor peoples money on $350 a day sitting without a full consultation... But its still just hope....the richer and more affluent Zambians will make the new constitution....and the same rich and educated Zambians will find ways of making sure that any concessions they make in the new constitution will involve a re-balancing of power in their favour elsewhere. As I said, we are stuck in a political equilibrium...

16 comments:

  1. Cho,

    i'll refer you to one of my earlier post on this issue. As you rightly point out, the so-called ordinary citizens are grappling with the more urgent B&B (bread and butter) issues. They are also fatigued by the meaningless and seemingly endless constitution making process they have been forced to engaged in in the last 15 years.

    http://gndhlovu.blogspot.com/2008/05/constitution-circus.html

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  2. Gersh,

    "And talking about traditional healers and other delegates, there is one who sat on the John Mwanakatwe CRC, on the Willa Mung’omba CRC and now on the NCC.
    Incidentally, he is also one of those that pushed for President Chiluba’s third term attempt, calling all those, particularly his fellow clergy, charging that those who opposed the former president were going against the Bible because it was “God” who wanted Chiluba to “carry on” at State House."


    Whats interesting actually is that its not the constitution that prevented Chiluba's third term..it is people who decided enough was enough...

    The constitution is important but I think ultimately its whether the masses can be mobilised to stand up to tyrants and the political elite. Zimbabwe has a perfectly okay constitution, that does not appear to have helped them.

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  3. Greater powers and budgets for local government would be the answer to the (physical) distance between rural areas and the capital.

    I think that is the solution to many of Africa's governance problems, because of the huge distances involved.

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  4. MrK,

    There's no doubt that one of the reasons why people move to towns is to be near centres "of influence"....

    Rebalancing of powers could certainly help give them a greater say...but how you rebalance also matters...

    You could decentralise only for the same chaps to run things...or worse a chief that is unaccountable and completely moves the area to a worse equilibrium than before...

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  5. Cho,

    You could decentralise only for the same chaps to run things...or worse a chief that is unaccountable and completely moves the area to a worse equilibrium than before...

    There would have to be accountability and transparancy.

    Which is where the constitution could step in. If local councils for instance were constitutionally obligated to publish all their financial information in a monthly basis or have their share of national revenues withheld, that would be a direct incentive toward transparancy.

    As long as there is a legal obligation to be open and there are direct consequences when that requirement is not met, I don't see how local government would have to be more corrupt than central government. In fact, that principle should hold for all government, including the ministries.

    Transparancy and accountability should be major goals of governance.

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  6. There's no doubt that one of the reasons why people move to towns is to be near centres "of influence"....

    Mainly people would move to cities to have access to more services and opportunities (education, jobs, healthcare, etc.).

    However, there is a tendency for ministries to try and be as close to the center of power as possible. The closer they can be physically to State House, the more power they can exert. Internationally, you can measure the power of a ministry by the distance it has from President or the Monarch. :)

    The remedy to that urbanisation is to have services available in the rural areas. The remedy to the concentration of power around the head of state is to constitutionally decree the amount of power that must rest with for instance local government, but also parliament and the civil service.

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  7. MrK,

    There would have to be accountability and transparancy.
    and
    Transparancy and accountability should be major goals of governance.

    Aren't they ? I mean doesn't the current government of Zambia claim that transparency is one of its goals ? Are there any anti-transparency politicians (gov or opposition) ?

    That's why I keep getting confused about the way you argue about decentralization and then counter the claim about local governments being potentially as corrupt or incompetent.

    Transparency is a lot harder to enact that decentralization, I think history is proof of that. And I'll even argue that transparency is a lot easier to enact in centralized state than in decentralized states. Because once power has redistributed, you'll have more people clinging to it.

    So here's a friendly advice: argue for transparency and disclosure before or at least at the same time as you're arguing for decentralization to avoid making it seem like transparency is just an after-thought.

    That not only would have a bigger impact but also reflect what your views better (my impression is that you value the two equally).


    However, there is a tendency for ministries to try and be as close to the center of power as possible. The closer they can be physically to State House, the more power they can exert.

    You have to separate the Ministry from its activities.
    A big part of government is coordination so it is important that not only the people who coordinate within the ministries be close to each other (in the same building) but also that ministries be physically close to each other (in the capital).
    Now the issue is when their services are concentrated in the capital. The army headquarters in the capital ? ok. All the army bases in the capital ? What for ? The ministry of agriculture in the capital ? Ok. All the extension services, the researchers, the offices where you file for subsidies in the capital ? What for ?

    One good idea would be mandate the central government to have offices in each local government. One single building where one can access all government services (from birth certificate to more complicated stuff).

    That shouldn't prevent the local governments to be assigned powers and function that they'd do better, of course. But be careful about coordination.

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  8. MrK

    ”As long as there is a legal obligation to be open and there are direct consequences when that requirement is not met, I don't see how local government would have to be more corrupt than central government. In fact, that principle should hold for all government, including the ministries”.

    I think it’s a little more complicated for two reasons:

    1. Transparency is pointless unless the locals can use the “transparency”. For example if all the information was published but the people could not read, what good is that?

    2. Central government can sometimes be held more accountable because interest groups can mobilize better to effect change. The issue of “critical mass” is important.

    As you know I am very pro- decentralization, but I am conscious that unless it is done properly it can sometime lead to worse outcomes. In short, I think the debate is about what real and effective decentralization looks like, rather than whether it is desirable or not.

    Random,

    ”One good idea would be mandate the central government to have offices in each local government. One single building where one can access all government services (from birth certificate to more complicated stuff).”
    Wouldn’t that be too expensive?

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  9. As you know I am very pro- decentralization, but I am conscious that unless it is done properly it can sometime lead to worse outcomes. In short, I think the debate is about what real and effective decentralization looks like, rather than whether it is desirable or not.

    ^^^^ I wish I would have written the same thing. I also back those 2 objections.


    ”One good idea would be mandate the central government to have offices in each local government. One single building where one can access all government services (from birth certificate to more complicated stuff).”
    
Wouldn’t that be too expensive?


    Depends on how you do it.

    For instance, most people need basic clerical services: filling their taxes, getting a birth certificate, file a complain, registering documents.

    You may not need to have specialized clercs for each ministry/department handling the simpliest task. Especially since the demand may vary (between department and over time).

    Having some "generalist" clercs handling those tasks may be a good idea. Instead of having 1 clerc for birth certificates, one for FRA stuff, why not train them both to do both and let them handle it depending on the demand ? After all, some services are seasonal. I bet there is more demand for FRA services around harvest time and more for others at other time.

    A centralized government extension may enable such small economies.

    But of course, investments will have to be made in trainning, information technologies, transportation of key documents etc..

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  10. Cho,

    I think it’s a little more complicated for two reasons:

    1. Transparency is pointless unless the locals can use the “transparency”. For example if all the information was published but the people could not read, what good is that?


    I'm sure every council would have at least someone who could read? Also, information has a habit of making the rounds. As long as it is out there, it can find it's way to press offices, civil society organisations, etc. who would have someone with the relevant expertise.

    2. Central government can sometimes be held more accountable because interest groups can mobilize better to effect change. The issue of “critical mass” is important.

    I wouldn't completely disagree with that, but village committees, farmers organisations and the like can easily access and interpret government information too. It wouldn't be just the villagers. And perhaps we shouldn't underestimate the amount of expertise that the locals have either.



    Random,

    There would have to be accountability and transparancy.
    Transparancy and accountability should be major goals of governance.


    Aren't they ? I mean doesn't the current government of Zambia claim that transparency is one of its goals ? Are there any anti-transparency politicians (gov or opposition) ?


    They may claim whatever they want, but very little is actually being done to make government more transparant. Look at the whole issue of the NCC and the level of control the ruling party wanted to maintain over the rewriting of the constitution. And the lack of public input, as well as the high sitting fees paid to the carefully selected attendants. Turn NCC into a people's tool

    Look at the lack of computerisation at even the ministerial level, leading to government information being locked away in files, which civil servants can then hide behind to deny information to the public. Or even apparently deny information to their own ministers.

    Look at the footdragging over the Freedom Of Information Bill.

    I wouldn't say the government at one level or another was very enthusiastic about transparancy.

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  11. Yes Mrk, there isn't much being done. And that is the point.

    Enacting transparency is hard. Politicians, public servants don't really like it. No matter what they claim.

    You can't just make it happen by decree. It takes time, a big demand, a lot of care is designing the right incentive structure. And even then as soon as a new system is in place, whatever one is trying to prevent by making things transparent would use other backdoor channels.

    That's why saying "there would have to transparency" is like saying "you would have to win the lottery".

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  12. Random,

    I wouldn't go as far as saying that achieving transparancy is more difficult than decentralization though.

    Decentralization of functions and budgets requires the presence of expertise at the local level.

    For instance, if education, healthcare, policing and public amenities became the obligations of local councils, there would have to be administrators, accountants and comptrollers, etc. at every council.

    Some of it would be simply re-assigning personnel from being state employees to council employees, in the case of teachers, police officers, etc.

    However, it would also require an expansion of services on the local level.

    What we really need to see, is a change in government emphasis from administration to service delivery to ordinary citizens. Instead of having 29 or 30 ministries, and $386 million (2004 budget) going to 'personal emoluments' of civil servants and ministers, we should be employing more doctors, nurses, teachers, police officers, etc.

    For instance, does Zambia really need a $23 million ministry of Technology and Vocational Training?

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  13. I wouldn't go as far as saying that achieving transparancy is more difficult than decentralization though.

    Politically, it is.

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  14. MrK,

    It might for you to explain your vision of EFFECTIVE decentralisation. I mean a decentralisation that works for everyone.

    Happy to turn it into a "guest blog" if you response is lengthy. It may help focus the discussion.

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  15. Cho,

    Let's talk about what already exists, namely the National Decentralisation Plan (NDP).

    There is an overview of the National Decentralisation Plan (NPD) at this website.

    There are 72 district councils, which on average themselves generate of $321,000 (see link).

    If they received half of the national revenues of $1.7 billion (2004), or $850 million, they would on average receive $11 million.

    Just decentralizing national revenues that way would increase their incomes from $321k to $11mn.

    In the past I have argued for a lot more local councils, but let's leave that aside for a moment. District councils could also simply have branch offices, where people could pick up paperwork, licenses, etc.

    From the link:

    1.What functions are assigned to Local governments?

    Under the National Decentralisation Policy (NDP) the number of functions to be devolved including among others,

    primary health care,
    primary and basic education,
    disaster management,
    water and sanitation,
    rehabilitation, maintenance and construction of feeder roads, management and conservation of natural and wildlife resources,
    solid waste,
    environmental services,
    land allocation and utilization,
    trade and business licensing,
    agricultural extension services,
    community police and community prison services,
    youth and juvenile delinquency, and
    coordination of decentralized structures.



    In other words, nothing that can be done with $321k.

    And basically an expended version of my education-healthcare-security-amenities. They have thrown in roads as well, which might explain why roads are in such a poor state. And environmental services, like roads, could best be coordinated by a national organisation, in my opinion.

    It might for you to explain your vision of EFFECTIVE decentralisation. I mean a decentralisation that works for everyone.

    Please define 'everyone'. The civil servants who benefit from the present setup are not going to like it, but in the long run, they are most likely going to be redeployed to the expanded district councils. Also, this amount of money and services in the districts is going to stimulate commerce, so they might leave the civil service and enter business.


    Random,

    There are many obstacles to both decentralisation and transparancy, but if you want to argue that transparancy is more difficult to achieve than decentralisation, please feel free. Keeping in mind, that as an ultimate sanction, the Constitution gives the president the right to dissolve any ministry and create any new ministry, sidestepping any minstry's objections with the ultimate sanction.

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  16. MrK,

    ”Let's talk about what already exists, namely the National Decentralisation Plan (NDP). There is an overview of the National Decentralisation Plan (NPD) at this website.”

    This is being superseded by the Decentralisation Implementation Plan. The two OECD reports describe the situation as it stands better.

    Zambia Economic Outlook 2007 :

    ”The Decentralisation Implementation Plan (DIP) was adopted in February 2006 but is not being implemented and government and stakeholders have yet to agree on how to finance it. A memorandum of understanding has been signed with donors and a consensus on the costing and modality – a Decentralisation Trust Fund – should be reached in early 2007.The DIP addresses both fiscal and sectoral devolution in public health, water, and education, where fiscal devolution is clearly the biggest challenge. In the past, local councils have been heavily underfunded and in an ad hoc manner - Zambia’s local councils are among the least funded in Africa at about 2 per cent of the national budget compared to an average of 15 per cent. They have no constitutional right to generate revenue and have severely limited capacity. The government is still undecided where the Department of Decentralisation should be housed. There are proposals to bring it closer to central government, for example in the Cabinet Office. However, it seems that many stakeholders prefer that the Ministry of Local Government and Housing oversee the implementation of the policy and house the secretariat.

    Zambia Economic Outlook 2008 :

    Although a newdecentralisation policywas launched in 2004, the Decentralisation Implementation Plan (DIP) presented to cabinet in March 2007 had not been approved by the end of that year.The DIP provides for the devolution of functions and prescribes the financial and human resources at different levels of government. It is thus politically sensitive as it reduces the political control of the central ministries. The government appears to be pursuing a strategy aimed at building capacity at the country’s 72 district councils before implementing the devolution of functions. Because of the delay in implementation, only a small fraction of transfers budgeted for local governments were disbursed
    in 2007. In future, allocations for the councils will be made according to a formula that takes into account the availability of services, the local population and levels of poverty. Some taxes will also fall under the direct control of the councils, enhancing local ownership.


    Properly implemented, the DIP looks sensible. I also think the fact that government has been slow to implement it probably underlines its true value! Have you looked into the DIP and see how it relates to your plan?
    Neo’s recent article on Chiefs and car loans also points to the DIP as the right avenue for addressing how we bring chiefs on board. I agree, especially that the Village and Registration Act (1971) specifically gives chiefs specific responsibilities at the local level, including sitting on local district councils and maintaining public order. But more on this in a future blog post.

    ”Please define 'everyone'. The civil servants who benefit from the present setup are not going to like it, but in the long run, they are most likely going to be redeployed to the expanded district councils. Also, this amount of money and services in the districts is going to stimulate commerce, so they might leave the civil service and enter business. “

    I meant the common man.

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