By Tinashe Chigwata
Devolution cannot succeed without the national govt (and in some instances, provincial governments) supervising the activities of lower governments.
As observed above, supervision takes many forms, namely, regulation, monitoring, support and intervention. Executive or administrative interventions into subnational or local government are the most intrusive forms of supervision.
Whether or not this instrument can co-exist with local discretion in a system of multi-level government can only be assessed with reference to the checks and balances that surround these instruments, and how much legal strength they are accorded.
The arbitrary removal of subnational or local elected officials or the takeover of subnational or local functions will undermine the multi-level government system. Important questions therefore are: What are the criteria for intervention?
Does the system provide for review of an intervention by an independent institution? If its limits and extent are adequately defined and acknowledged in policy and law, particularly the higher law, supervision not only protects the autonomy of subnational or local governments but also clarifies the role of the national government.
Thus, if a devolved form of government is to work well in Zimbabwe, there is a need to balance the requirement for supervision and the need for local autonomy.
The devolution debate is not complete without addressing the question of how the devolved units, whether at provincial or local levels, will engage with each other as well as with the national government.
Once governmental powers, responsibilities and resources have been devolved it does not mean that governments organised at various levels or within the same level will have to operate independently of each other at all times.
As stated above, tiers of government will have to work together so that government as a whole delivers.
Given that local governments are unlikely to be in position to engage meaningfully with higher tiers of government, with the exception of big cities, it may be prudent to recognise and provide a role for organised local government.
The Zimbabwe Local Government Association (ZILGA), the Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe (UCAZ) and the Association of Rural District Councils of Zimbabwe (ARDCZ) are recognised as the bodies that represent local authorities in Zimbabwe.
Evidence from across the world suggests that, with sufficient resources and the right mandate, such associations can be effective in representing and protecting the interests of local authorities.
Thus, how co-operative governance will be promoted under a devolved set-up is one of many issues that deserve attention.