Community Involvement Key to Use of Devolution Funds

An expert on local governance has said communities must be involved as much as possible in the whole process pertaining to devolution funds. Mr Thembelani Dube who is also a development practitioner with a particular interest in monitoring and evaluation said this during an online presentation on devolution funds that was hosted by Gender Accountability for Peace and Security (GAPS) in Bulawayo.

Dube kick started his submission by invoking the Constitution of Zimbabwe, Chapter 14 in particular, that focuses on democratic participation in governance by all citizens. He said the aim of devolution is to to try and reduce the gap between the man on the street and the government. “Chapter 14 entails participation of local communities in the determination of development priorities within their means.

According to the Constitution, communities must actively participate from the first stage of problem identification up to implementation and closure of that project,” he said.

A participant only identified as Marie concurred with Dube while asserting that the veil of secrecy in the handling of devolution funds should be done away with. Marie said “There is need for transparency around devolution funds. The secrecy around them should be addressed so that communities can be involved”

Dube called for a bottom-up approach as he stressed the need for communities and not bureaucrats, to decide how devolution funds should be used as well as the projects to be undertaken. He added that projects that benefit the majority must be given preference.

“The funds or projects must be influenced by decisions taken by the people. It must not be a situation whereby those in offices sit down and craft what is to be done for communities. It must be a bottom-up approach.

Citizens must have come up with programs they want implemented in their communities. Those issues must all be listed and the ones that benefit the majority must be prioritized,” said Dube.

Dube decried the misuse of devolution funds as he underscored the importance of allowing communities to manage their own affairs in furtherance of development. He said “in most cases, devolution funds are used for things that are not of benefit to the masses.”

According to Dube, the citizens of Zimbabwe are the “owners” of devolution funds since the funds are raised through taxes. He further contended that all programs that are to be funded using these funds must be decided by communities.

“It is very important for public officials to go to their respective wards, identify together with the people priority areas that need to be funded.Funds must be channeled towards listed projects rather than having a situation whereby funds arrive and then public officials decide what communities need,” said Dube.

Another participant who did not disclose their identity buttressed Dube’s point by saying efforts to secure desirable devolution will remain futile as long as government and not citizens call the shots. They said, “Without the citizen driven legal framework we will be chasing a pale shadow of the devolution we want. Does the current bureaucratic standing allow for the devolution we want-which should respond to the needs of all Zimbabweans and not government?”

He also emphasized that projects must be visible and that funds must address challenges faced by communities such as water, infrastructure,education and health care.

“Devolution funds are meant to fund capital projects in order to assist the poorest in terms of service delivery. The funds must be seen to be working to the layman on the street. It must not be just figures that are presented in a hotel. Projects must be seen.The funds must not be used for running costs, paying salaries or be given as perks,” he said.

Dube warned local authorities to desist from mixing devolution funds with other funds such as revenue collected in order to enhance accountability and avoid abuse of funds by officials. He said, “Local authorities must not mix devolution funds with other funds they generate. There must be a separate account for easy monitoring and evaluation of those funds.”

Concerning monitoring and evaluation, the expert advised that transfer of funds be done through the formal banking system so that it is easy to audit the funds.

Dube stressed that, “the first people to monitor and state whether funds have been used effectively and correctly are the communities themselves when they see their suggestions being implemented.”

He bemoaned the exclusion of communities in rural areas as he stated that they should actively participate in the whole devolution process.

“Communities in rural areas have never been involved…People must be kept on the loop so that they are able to tell if the project they wanted done has been completed.

Office bearers have a tendency to bypass and ignore the electorate but when monitoring and evaluation comes, people will say the truth. This is avoidable if they are constantly engaged and their suggestions implemented,” he said.

Dube also advised that funds must be released timeously to curtail the effects of the inflationary environment. He added that when funds are realesed, timelines should be set.

“If timelines are not given, those with access to the bank accounts have a chance to divert the funds. Project managers should be able to tell when the project should be completed and what should be seen as the outcome,” said Dube.

Source: Community Podium

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