We hope to shortly review the MMD proposals on Health and Agriculture to ensure that we reviewing the PF and MMD proposals in close proximity. However, its worth sharing the MMD proposals on local government since this is their first key area in the manifesto.
What are the main specific policy proposals?
The specific MMD policy proposals for Local Government can be divided in three areas:
Decentralisation: The main proposal is to implement the approved Decentralisation Implementation Plan (DIP). There’s also a specific commitment to “ensure that chiefs and village headmen play a greater role in development planning and monitoring”.
Local Government: There’s a specific commitment to continue existing generic activities e.g. constructing and rehabilitating municipal infrastructure and supporting councils with grants. More specific is the commitment to designate all districts with viable economic activities as fire authorities.
Chiefs Affairs: The MMD proposes to review the Chiefs Act and Village Registration and Development Act “within the context of the Decentralisation Implementation Plan”. It also proposes to enhance the authority of Chiefs to oversee Village Registration.
What is the rationale?
The MMD does not explicitly define the underlying problems facing local governance. But there are some hints that MMD believes there’s need for greater accountability and transparency at the local level.
There are also some hints that they believe that local governance suffers from a deficit of “institutional, structural and human resource capacities”. In particular, local authorities are believed to lack the capacity to “plan, generate and account for their own resources”.
What is our main assessment?
The MMD has correctly noted the importance of accountability and transparency at the local level. It is also right that this is best seen within a vision of more effective decentralisation. However, their diagnosis is deeply inadequate. There’s no acknowledgement of the structural inefficient nature of local governance. No mention of the rampant corruption that is so systematic in councils. Perhaps much worse is that MMD does not fundamentally recognise the main problem at the local level – the existence of parallel systems. The current framework of local governance consists of a government imposed administrative system and traditional functions. This has created problems particularly for chiefs in remote areas, but it has also led to inefficiencies not just in terms of local government but also in other areas e.g. justice.
As we have previously noted, when the problem identification is inadequate, the policy proposals are nearly always ineffective. This unfortunately is what we find in this area.
The idea of decentralisation is good, but it is unclear how that will resolve the structural problems of accountability and transparency. How one decentralises is equally vital. Literature draws a sharp distinction between "administrative decentralisation", which MMD seems to have in mind, and "fiscal decentralisation" where councils have tax raising and spending powers. The literature supports “fiscal decentralisation” as the way forward, something not on the MMD radar. The other point is that how local people engage also matters. We know for example that "participatory budgeting" is vital for effective community ownership of the development process. MMD speaks of greater people participation, but of what model?
The general commitment to continue constructing and rehabilitating municipal infrastructure is another example of a policy not well thought through. There’s certainly a role for government to help deliver local infrastructure development, but surely the question must be why can’t the councils do it themselves in the first place? The MMD knows the answer to that question and it is not necessarily one to do with lack of skills or zeal. The answer lies the twin enemies generated by central government over the last two decades : lack of effective decentralisation of revenue; and central government debt to local authorities (the so called “parastatal madness” phenomenon). But it also includes lack of legal powers for local authorities to enter into commercially viable arrangements.
Then comes the problems that MMD does not even seem to regard as problems. We might be here all day, but for brevity two are noteworthy. First, poor local planning. There’s poor enforcement of development control policy by local authorities which has led to illegal plot allocation and now acts as hindrance to development. Strong policies are needed to tackle this problem. Secondly, the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) madness. The MMD continues to champion the CDF policy largely as a campaign tool. CDFs are riddled with corruption, distort local spending priorities, confuse the role of MPs and prevent genuine fiscal decentralisation (See – What Is Wrong With CDFs? ).
In general we find the MMD proposals very poor for a party in government with access to a broad range of government experts. The proposals do not indicate a strong commitment to substantially change the status quo. Equally disappointing is that there are no specific plans to bring more innovation at the local level e.g. greater support for municipal bonds; more PPP arrangements involving local authorities; and new local taxes to capture “development gain”.
Zambian Economist is currently reviewing manifestos of leading political parties in Zambia. All posts in this ongoing review can be found at Manifesto Analysis