The nexus between devolution and effective public finance management system
There is a strong link between a strong public finance management (PFM) system and the success of a devolved system of government. PFM which is generally defined as the science and art of budgeting, spending and accounting for public funds is the most fundamental element of public sector reform that Zimbabwe needs if it is to succeed economically. PFM not only helps to ensure that there are clearly defined and well applied rules and processes for managing public resources but provides citizens with the information they need to evaluate revenue generation and expenditure. Devolution is usually understood as the assignment of public functions to sub-national governments. On the 15th of May 2019, ZIMCODD held a PFM Reform Indaba in Mutare whose objective was to establish the link between an effective PFM system and an effectively devolved state.
Devolution of governmental powers and resources has always been a contested subject in Zimbabwe. The controversies that sorrounded the adoption of devolution hindered efforts to implement it since 2013, when the new Constitution of Zimbabwe was adopted. The incumbent government signaled intentions to implement devolution during the 2018-2022 tenure, with the Minister of Finance and Economic Development (in accordance with the Constitution) already allocating 5% of the national budget towards facilitating the implementation of devolution. The process and nature of devolution to be implemented remains unclear. While the 2013 Constitution is not a perfect document that entrenches all the necessary aspects of an effective devolution programme, it does provide the starting point towards the establishment of a decentralized government.
What is required in particular is for national officials (both political and administrative) to commit to devolution process that respects the rules of the law. Importantly, if devolution is to succeed it should be a nationally shared objective supported by both those with and without power. Devolution should be seen as a necessary vehicle towards a deepened democracy, locally driven development, improved public service delivery and national cohesion.
For devolution to be fruitful in Zimbabwe, there is need for an effective PFM system anchored on transparency and accountability. The elements of sub national PFM, including basic accounting and reporting, cash management, procurement, debt management, internal control and audit and external audit and performance evaluation immediately become the center of discussion. PFM reforms are thus essential for the desired outcomes of devolution because since the reforms ensure managerial efficiency, transparency and accountability by the government departments. In autonomy for the local authorities remain critical. Unlike the South African Constitution (1996) and the Kenyan Constitution (2010), the Constitution of Zimbabwe (2013) is not clear on the powers and functions of local government. Therefore, there is need for Constitutional amendment to ensure that the autonomy and powers of sub national governments are well spelt out. However, political will remains incredible in the implementation of devolution.
The PFM Reform Indaba exhibited a growing citizens’ appetite for open access to local government information. This includes not only on how local authorities generate and spend their own resources, but also on how they have used funds transferred from central government. Such information will allow citizens to determine the extent to which local authorities’ development plans and annual budgets are implemented and to enhance accountability. These are some of the issues that the new PFM Act should address towards a successful implementation of devolution.
Citizen agency in Zimbabwe on effective PFM and devolution system is gathering momentum and through the PFM Reform Indabas, ZIMCODD is providing a platform for citizens to voice their concerns and aspirations as the country is bracing towards devolution.