Analysis: ROBBIE MUSAKUZI
THE directive recently given by President Edgar Lungu to the Minister of Local Government to identify areas to turn into districts must be
given all the seriousness it deserves by those concerned because this is the only way the central government will deliver development directly to the Zambian people and this exercise should also be extended to the creation of metropolitan city councils for cities like Lusaka, Kitwe and Ndola and others in order to deliver the required development and transform these cities.
The easiest way to identify areas to turn into districts is to turn all constituencies into districts and then upgrade cities into Metropolitan City Councils. This is the international standard adopted in all developed countries which has led to cities like London, New York, Paris and many around the world. Zambia must move in this direction of streamlining of constituencies into districts and creating metropolitan city councils as the only way to take development closer to the people and rejuvenate towns and cities in the country.
Upgrading from constituencies to districts and creation of metropolitan city councils must be an ongoing process. The size and population of cities such as Lusaka, Kitwe and Ndola have quadrupled from the time of graduation from towns to city status and the current problems of poor service delivery in these cities are mainly due to maintaining an administrative structure designed for a smaller area and population.
The problems in cities in Zambia must not be seen as being only peculiar to our country alone. All the renowned cities around the world which are now metropolitan cities have at one time or another had the same experience and the central government has had to change the local government structure in order to serve their citizens better. This is what should now happen to the cities in Zambia in order to find solutions to local governance in these areas and service delivery to the people.
The creation of more districts in Zambia has always been constrained by the lack of resources from the central government to manage these district councils which are so dependent on the central government for their survival and operations, but this can also easily be overcome through the creation of vibrant district revenue authorities with similar powers to those of the Zambia Revenue Authority. In the United Kingdom it took the ‘Iron Lady’, the late Margret Thatcher (MHSRIP) in the 1970’s, to sought out problems that cities like London, Manchester, Liverpool and others were facing through the introduction of many innovative local government legislation and statutory instruments such as the revered ‘Pole Tax’, which is tax paid by the landlords on domestic property and calculated based on the area of the yard around the house or any other property.
If district revenue authorities are established, collection of revenue for district and metropolitan city councils would unblock the potential for huge revenue collection in all districts in Zambia. What is happening in the councils at the moment is the same thing that was happening in the country before the 1993 Tax Administration Reform that led to the creation of the Zambia Revenue Authority through the 1993 Act of Parliament. The Zambia Revenue Authority was established in 1994 by merging the Department of Income Taxes and the Customs and Excise Department. The bold decision made by the MMD administration stabilised the collection of taxes and revenue in the country.
Time for another bold decision has come for collection of revenue for local district councils in order to wean them from dependence on the central government. District councils in the country have the potential to collect enough revenue locally to manage their affairs and deliver development to the people.
Reorganisation and rebranding of the district councils revenue collection departments from the current accounts departments to district revenue authorities would help them to effectively and efficiently collect the much-needed finances.
If district councils are weaned from financial dependence on central government, it is very possible for the government of the day to channel these resources to the financing of national development plans like the 7NDP. Development experts all over the world are now convinced that certain social and economic developmental and governance decisions need to be taken at certain stages of national growth just as it is in the life of an individual. The cause of major social and economic problems of development in Africa is that it takes long for developmental decisions to be made, and when they are finally made, it is normally at the wrong time and it becomes a disaster for a nation to implement.
This is the right time to merge the governance of districts and constituencies, create metropolitan city councils and establish district revenue authorities so that the central government can concentrate on cross cutting national development programmes like construction of roads to open up our landlocked country, build schools, colleges and universities, strengthen national governance structures and implement national development plans and deliver the Vision 2030.
The author is an international associate at the African Centre for Disaster Studies.