THE issuance of Circular Number 10 of 2014 by Cabinet Office has effectively operationalised the implementation of Zambiaâ€™s decentralisation process.
This means that the devolution of earmarked functions and their matching resources from government ministries to municipalities need to begin in earnest.
According to the circular, Zambiaâ€™s decentralisation will be implemented in three phases between 2015 and 2017. The first phase began on January 1, 2015, and saw the devolution of seven government functions from selected ministries to the councils.
The second phase to begin in 2016 will devolve four more government functions to municipalities.
The third and last phase to begin in 2017 will see the remaining functions being completely given to the councils.
Central government will be responsible for policy-making and quality assurance supervision for all municipalities. Other functions to remain with government will include defence and national security and running of higher end institutions such as national hospitals, universities and airports, among others.
The first phase has seen the administration of primary schools, clinics, social welfare and agricultural extension services, disaster management and urban planning among others being run by municipalities.
All functions will now be supervised by town clerks and council secretaries.
According the Zambian Decentralisation Secretariat, there are four types of decentralisation of functions and resources which include de-concentration, delegation, privatisation and devolution.
Zambia is said to have chosen decentralisation by devolution which means the transfer of some powers and authority, functions and resources by legal and constitutional provision to lower levels of government.
For that reason there will exist four structures under the decentralised system comprising national, provincial, district and sub-district level structures each with their own levels of authority and functions.
At the district level the focal point shall be the municipality while at the sub-district level the ward development committees will be responsible for the promotion of community participation.
The Zambia decentralisation policy implementation resonates well with Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf)â€™s vision of a â€˜Southern Africa community that drives its own developmentâ€™ and mission to â€˜amplify of voices of the poor and marginalised to shape their own developmentâ€™.
In PSAfâ€™s support to strengthening community structures and action groups in their work to track national budgets, push for improved access to maternal and child health services and to improve good governance of their communities, the need for decentralised authorities was a cross cutting theme.
PSAf â€™s interest in the implementation of this decentralisation policy will be the effective implementation of the functions and authority by the district councils and sub-district levels in providing space and services for the betterment of the rural poor and marginalised communities.
However, there are challenges that need to be addressed for this decentralisation to be successful and effective.
These include institutional strengthening. Many municipalities are currently bedevilled by poor administration, failure to provide community services and inadequate resources to even pay their own staff.
There are capacity issues that need to be adequately addressed before entrusting then with more power and more resources. Giving more money and power to these municipalities without strengthening the institutions and accountability structures is akin to entrusting groundnuts to rats. Corruption will be rife.
For municipalities to supervise their many new functions previously undertaken by central government, they will require massive capacity building and recruitment of top level high quality administrators.
The quality of local councillors will need to be improved for them to supervise the work of the district and sub district structures.
District and sub-district level community structures would also need strengthening to fully appreciate decentralisation and the levels of civic responsibilities that the local communities now need to play.
The rural poor and marginalised, who have often been left out in the operations of these municipalities will now need capacity building for them to effectively participate in the affairs and running of their local district and sub-district level authorities.
Community members will play an important part in ensuring transparency and delivery of services by these municipalities.
Community radio stations will also be a key players, providing platforms for community awareness, bringing together municipalities policy-makers and the citizens to discuss and collectively make decisions on the best ways of running their councils in order to provide services and community development.
Community radio stations will too, need training to transform into community-led radio programming that provides a media platform for positive engagement and development.
Local community action groups will also need capacity building to access local government programmes and also to express their views and ideas through available channels.
The author is PSAf regional programme manager for media development and ICTs.