By Costa Nkomo
Over the past three years, the Zimbabwe government has disbursed a total of ZW$2.2 billion to local councils as devolution funds. This has, however, been done without any legal monitoring or evaluating structures in place.
Investigations by NewZimbabwe.com have now revealed that this lack of transparency in the disbursement of the funds has created an opportunity for massive abuse of the funds allocated for the upgrading of infrastructure by local authorities.
Between 2019 and 2021, the government disbursed a total of $2 188 070 259 through the Local Government Ministry for devolution in all rural and urban local authorities countrywide.
Devolution was born out of Zimbabwe’s 2013 Constitution with Section 301 (3) clearly stating that; “not less than five percent of the national revenue raised in any financial year must be allocated to the provinces and local authorities as their share in that year”.
Since 2019, when the government started disbursing the devolution funds, the disbursements have for the three successive years failed to meet the stipulated “not less than five percent” cap.
In 2019, the government disbursed ZW$658 624 863 although Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube had allocated about ZW$$703 million.
In 2020, the government allocated ZW$3 billion but only disbursed ZW$1 billion, while in 2021 a total of ZW$20 billion was allocated for devolution with only ZW$494 million being so far disbursed.
Chief Director for Rural Local Authorities in the Ministry of Local Government Christopher Shumba said his ministry had no idea why the Ministry of Finance had not disbursed the nearly ZWL$2 billion shortfall allocated for devolution in 2020.
“Talk to the Ministry of Finance,” said Shumba. “They should be able to explain why they did not give us what was in the budget.”
Between 27 April and 26 May 2021, NewZimbabwe.Com made several attempts to get the Treasury’s side of the story as far as the disbursement of devolution funds is concerned but to no avail.
By the time of publishing, George Guvamatanga, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance, had not responded to a WhatsApp message sent to him on 27 April 2021, although he received and read the message.
Guvamatanga and Finance Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube, did not answer telephone calls from NewZimbabwe.Com on their mobile phones for four weeks.
Nevertheless, while the government has been commended for embarking on the devolution process through disbursing funds to local authorities, it has done so without putting measures in place to guard against their abuse.
The Constitution states that provincial councils must be established, whose members include Members of Parliament and Senators, whose constituencies fall within the respective province as well as mayors or rural district council chairpersons.
Also included are 10 councillors elected on a party basis guided by the votes obtained in the last general election. The functions of the council, as defined in Section 270 (e) include, “monitoring and evaluating the use of resources in its province”.
Before the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Act, Number 2 was passed into law early last month, the Constitution, precisely Section 268 (1) (e) stated that; “all members of the National Assembly whose constituencies fall within the province concerned;” should be part of the provincial councils which are constitutionally mandated to monitor the devolution funds.
However, MPs and Senators have not participated in the devolution programs over the past three years, in a clear violation of the constitution by the government.
In an interview, Norton independent legislator, Temba Mliswa slammed Local Government Minister July Moyo for failing to uphold the Constitution regarding the disbursement of the devolution funds.
“You cannot talk about a devolution when there is no provincial council that is able to evaluate the progress of the work being done,” Mliswa said.
“It’s a question of accountability and transparency which is lacking right now. The Minister (Moyo) is wrong from a constitutional point of view.”
Harare North MP Allan Markham accused Moyo of running the ministry “unilaterally”.
“We now have a unilateral decision-making minister,” Markham said. “We have non-constituted provincial councils which by law are not in existence and secondly, we are paying them.”
During a devolution capacity building workshop held in Harare recently, Mberengwa East legislator, Marko Raidza, challenged Local Government and Public Works chief director, Christopher Shumba, to explain the price that communities are paying as a result of the absence of legislation that guides the management of devolution.
Raidza said, “Don’t you think that all these problems that we are facing with local authorities in the implementation of devolution are caused by the absence of legislation that spells out how devolution should be operationalised?”
In response, Shumba acknowledged that the lack of legislation to guide the implementation of devolution had created headaches for the ministry..
“The absence of an act to guide local authorities has given us problems,” Shumba said.
Some local authorities have since taken advantage of the absence of effective monitoring mechanisms and abused devolution funds.
Cases in point include the Rural District Councils of Nkayi, Mberengwa, Kusile, Nyaminyami, Umguza and Umzingwane, as well as Kariba and Marondera Municipalities.
For instance, officials in the Rural District Councils of Nkayi and Mberengwa bought vehicles for the top management, while members of the community are questioning the priorities of the officials.
Mberengwa Rural District Council Chief Executive Thompson Maeresera said the district only bought one vehicle using devolution funds.
“Only one supervision vehicle was bought at a cost of ZW$900 000 in 2020,” Maeresera said.
Reliable sources, however, told NewZimbabwe.Com, that Mberengwa Rural District Council, in fact, bought a total of two vehicles, being a double cab Nissan Navara for Maeresera and one single-cab Isuzu truck for the management.
Some villagers in the Mberengwa district said council management had not consulted residents on devolution, while making boardroom decisions.
Four months into 2021, Mberengwa Rural District Council has received ZW$26 million for devolution and the local authority’s management has decided to procure ICT equipment much to the anger of villagers who are pleading for the rehabilitation of public hospitals.
Maeresera confirmed that the local authority is purchasing ICT equipment yet villagers were traveling to as far as Zvishavane or Bulawayo to seek medical attention because local hospitals do not have basic medical facilities such as X-rays.
Poor medical services cut across the country in the majority of rural councils.
The Local Government Ministry’s Shumba also confirmed that the devolution financial books of some local authorities are in shambles.
“We have visited a number of local authorities who have used the devolution funds improperly,” he said. “For example, in Nkayi Rural District Council, the chief executive officers and councillors used the funds to personally benefit themselves. We did not have kind words for the management and the CEO has since lost his job.”
NewZimbabwe.com has also established that Provincial councillors in all provinces have not been officially sworn into office and have never sat to deliberate on how devolution funds are supposed to be managed.
Since 2018, the government has been paying provincial councillors drawn from both Zanu PF and MDCs monthly allowances although they have never attended any meetings or carried out any projects.
Meanwhile, when the councillors first received their monthly allowances in December 2019, they were backdated to 2018.
Initially, provincial councillors were paid monthly allowances of $3 800 each before they were increased to $7 500 recently.
Provincial councillors said while they are being paid monthly allowances by the government, they were virtually not performing any services.
“We started receiving allowances in December 2019 but they were backdated to 2018,” a councillor from Mashonaland Central Province said.
“Since then, we have been receiving monthly allowances although sometimes they skip, but we can’t complain because we have not been officially instated.”
One provincial councillor from the Midlands Province confirmed that the government was paying councillors monthly allowances even though they were not working.
“Tongoona mari yapinda takagara hedu kudzimba. (We get paid while we are sitting at home,” said the councillor.
“We are getting ZW$7 500 per month. It does not come consistently but if they skip a month or two, they will backdate all the outstanding allowances. So sometimes you get up to $15 000 or even $45 000 at once.
“The challenge is not really about money but lack of engagement with the communities and the Ministry of Local Government. There has not been any form of engagement since we were elected to the provincial councils.
“We only meet when there is a donor-funded workshop on devolution and, in most cases, we get an invitation at the discretion of the ministry.”
When reached for comment on this, the Local Government Ministry chief director, Shumba declined to comment and referred questions to the Ministry’s permanent secretary.
“Check with the permanent secretary,” Shumba said, “he is the one who can give you such information. I can’t confirm.”
However, further efforts to get comments from Local Government Permanent Secretary Zvinechimwe Ruvinga Churu and Local Government Minister Moyo were fruitless as their mobile phones went unanswered more than 17 times between 23 April 2021 and 26 May 2021.
Moyo only responded by way of text message on 23 April 2021.
“Can you call back later,” Moyo wrote to NewZimbabwe.com Friday 23 April 2021.
Last year the government was dragged before the courts by several residents’ associations in a bid to compel it to come up with a Provincial Councils Bill for the purpose of implementing devolution.
Local Government Minister Moyo was cited as a first respondent in a matter initiated by the Community Water Alliance, Combined Harare Residents Associations and Allan Markham.
Other respondents in the lawsuit were the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Ziyambi Ziyambi, and the Minister of Finance and Economic Development Mthuli Ncube.
“Any or all of the respondents shall, within a period of six (6) months, that is to say, by 31 March 2021, submit a Bill or Bills for gazetting by the Parliament of Zimbabwe which Bill or Bills will give effect to an Act of Parliament governing the devolution of power as contemplated in Chapter 14 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe,” reads the order by High Court Judge Justice Mushore.
However, the government had failed to abide by this order by 31 March 2021.
Despite the chaotic management of the devolution funds, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, in his 41st Independence Day Commemorations address on 18 April, said he was pleased with the progress made towards the implementation of devolution.
“Devolution funds have enabled the construction of suitable primary and secondary health care and education facilities throughout the country,” Mnangagwa said. “Work is underway towards the establishment of specialist medical facilities, including in prime tourist resorts.”
A snap survey however, showed that Mnangagwa’s remarks were by and large untrue.
It follows that July Moyo misled Mnangagwa on the state of devolution management so far.
In 2020, the treasury failed to disburse about ZW$2 billion dollars earmarked for devolution to the Local Government and Public Works ministry.
The story is published under the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) Investigative Journalism Fund with support from the European Union (EU)