HENRY SINYANGWE, Kasama
THE introduction of the Local Government Equalisation Fund has brought a glimmer of hope to poor communities that feel socially excluded in terms of access to the national cake.
The story of many councils is associated with gloom and doom because many have no fiscal power to provide services to respective communities.
Expecting councils to repair roads or build markets is expecting too much from local authorities, which have been struggling to pay salaries.
This is what prompted the Patriotic Front government to introduce the equalisation fund through an amendment of the Local Government Act.
To actualise its devolution of powers to the local authorities, Government also saw it fit to give the councils some financial clout.
The equalisation fund allows for monthly allocation of funds to the councils to improve the provision of services and quality of public goods in poor communities.
Northern Province Minister Brian Mundubile visited some councils in his region to check how they are utilising the equalisation fund.
Ministry of Local Government Permanent Secretary Amos Malupenga has given an assurance that Government will consistently fund local authorities.
“We are disbursing these funds in each district. We are committed to providing these funds to improve service delivery,” Mr Malupenga said.
During his tour of districts, Mr Mundubile appealed to councillors, town clerks and district administrators to work together to ensure that the fund reaches the intended communities.
In the meetings he held with the relevant officers in Kaputa, Nsama, Lunte, Mporokoso, Luwingu and Chilubi, Mr Mundubile said local authorities should take advantage of the equalisation fund to undertake capital projects in the outskirts of their districts where the most underprivileged people live.
The minister said Government has a deliberate plan of distributing economic benefits fairly to the people to reduce inequalities across different social strata.
“People in the rural parts are as good as those living in urban areas and they should also see infrastructure that will benefit their livelihoods. It does not make sense for the local authorities to only concentrate on urban areas. You should take development to all parts of the country,” he said.
Mr Mundubile warned councils against abuse of the equalisation fund, 20 percent of which is expected to go towards capital projects per annum.
The Local Government Equalisation Fund was introduced to help councils meet financial obligations and therefore perform their functions efficiently.
The minister of Local Government is charged with the responsibility of distributing these funds to the councils based on the population of people within their jurisdiction and also taking into consideration the poverty levels within that area.
The Local Government Act states that: “A council shall use at least 20 percent of the funds received by the council from the fund, in any financial year, to finance capital expenditure.”
The introduction of the fund was received warmly by councils, which have been struggling to meet their obligations and pay salaries following the sale of council houses by the Frederick Chiluba-led government.
“It will not make sense for councils to abuse the resources because Government introduced this fund so that it could benefit the people. If we see that this fund is not being utilised for the intended purpose, then we will scrap it off,” Mr Mundubile warned.
He said his Government was voted for by Zambians across the country, therefore everyone should have a fair share of the national cake.
“We made promises to the people during the campaigns, and we need to deliver what we promised. The people that voted for us do not only come from the urban areas, but also in deep rural communities. Therefore as the local authorities, you should ensure that you undertake capital projects in all the wards in the districts,” the minister said.
He said Government was devolving some of its powers to the councils with the purpose of taking various services closer to the people.
Mr Mundubile urged district commissioners and local authorities to collaborate to ensure efficient service delivery.
“You should not work in isolation. The local authority has been given more power and sufficient funds to improve service delivery. The central government has facilitated this, and therefore it is cardinal that you work together and ensure that the Government delivers on it promises to the people,” he said.
Mr Mundubile also cautioned town clerks and the council chairpersons to be sensitive to the needs of the people by implementing projects that are endorsed by councillors.
“You now have two CDFs (Constituency Development Funds), so we do not expect any projects to fail,” Mr Mundubile said in reference to the introduction of the equalisation fund.
Further, the minister expects councillors to interact with the grassroots to present accurate project proposals to the local authorities.
“You know what the people want in these communities and you should therefore present them to the local authorities so that they could provide the funds,” Mr Mundubile said.
The minister further advised councils to have a priority list of projects they should undertake such as feeder roads and leave certain capital-intensive projects like the construction of hospitals and schools to the central government unless they are in dire need.
Kaputa town clerk James Muwowo assured the minister that the local authority would improve its performance because they were adequately funded.
“We are now sufficiently funded and we will adhere to the Government’s directive to carry out capital projects across the district,” Mr Muwowo said.
Mr Muwowo said the equalisation fund was helping them to implement certain projects in rural communities such as the grading of roads and construction of markets.
Residents of Nsama district thanked Government for empowering rural communities by rehabilitating feeder roads.
Margret Mulenga, 65, said she was happy to transport farm produce to the market because the council has worked on the roads.
“We are very happy because we have seen that the Government is delivering what they promised us. We are seeing good roads, market shelters and also the support towards our farming projects,” she said.
In Kaputa district, the local authority is upgrading the market building at the town centre.
One of the marketeers, Evelyn Kangwa, said the traders were happy to have a new toilet at the market.
“The hygiene conditions at the market have improved because we have a good toilet and running water,” she said.
Other councils that the minister visited said the equalisation fund has made it possible for them to implement capital projects in rural areas.
HENRY SINYANGWE, Kasama