Devolution and Sound Public Finance Management: Chicken and Egg Relationship
Stakeholders (academia, local authorities, civil society) in Gweru, Shurugwi, Vungu and Kwekwe convened at the second Public Finance Management (PFM) Reform Indaba, which interrogated the implications of devolution to the management of public funds especially by local authorities. The legal framework that guides operations of local government include the National Constitution of Zimbabwe; the Public Finance Management Act, Urban Councils Act; Rural District Councils Act; Traditional Leaders Act; and the Provincials Council and Administration Act, Chapter 29:11.
Of these frameworks, the Constitution of Zimbabwe is the supreme law to which all other pieces of legislation should speak. However, there is need for these laws to be aligned to the Constitution to ensure harmony, coordination and effectiveness in the manner local authorities run their business, especially management of public resources. Cognisant of the high level of corruption in Zimbabwe’s government departments, as annually reported by the Office of the Auditor General, misuse of public resources is widespread as these departments perennially fail to account for the resources allocated to them.
Lack of transparency and accountability in the management of public finances has, to a greater extent, contributed to the push for devolution by various stakeholders who feel that the “Central Government must of necessity nurture a conducive environment that enables local authorities to optimally tap into the local resources, material, capital and human. Furthermore, central government should deploy such resources at its disposal to bolster local authorities; provided there is an enabling fiscal framework”.
Based on this background and context, the stakeholders attending the Gweru PFM Reform Indaba reiterated the following key advocacy issues around public finance management in the context of devolution:-
· The greatest hindrance to Zimbabwe’s progress in the management of public finances is lack of commitment by political leadership. ;
· There is therefore need for the citizens to exercise their social accountability role and resist government complacency in abusing public funds;
· Issues of public finance management and devolution are technical for citizens to easily grasp. Civil society should therefore embark on an intensive awareness campaign so that when devolution is rolled out , citizens act from an informed perspective to defend their social and economic rights;
· The knitted corruption in Zimbabwe, if not addressed, will be a headwind against the implementation of devolution;
· There must be commitment to sound public finance management before devolution is implemented;
· Other sentiments, however, indicated that devolution is a means to sound public finance management;
· The chicken and egg relationship between public finance management and devolution calls upon the rights holders and duty bearers to have multi-stakeholder engagements on what they deem fit for their particular area;
· It is critical for the implementing authorities to implement devolution gradually rather than full-throttle in order to give enough room for process tracking, monitoring and evaluation to allow for remedies;
· For devolution to be effective in delivering social services to the public, citizens should actively demand for accountability;
· Devolution comes with threats to political power, hence citizens should be ready to deal with resistance to the implementation of devolution;
· To plug leakages in public finance management stringent penalties by enacting laws and ensuring that public officials abide by these laws.
· Arresting abusers of public funds put them in jail until justice is brought to tax payers’ money;
· Institute mechanisms for asset recovery in cases where abuse of public funds is proven before the law.
 N. Machingauta 2010), Local Government Reform in Zimbabwe: A Policy Dialogue.