Decentralisation Will Empower Masses

WHEN the Government approved the National Decentralisation Policy in 2013, it was expected that this would inevitably come with various benefits, most of which had hitherto eluded the people, especially at the grassroots level.
Dreams of Zambia one day implementing the policy still linger on, with Local Government and Housing Minister Emmanuel Chenda assuring that devolving of functions from the central Government to local authorities will in effect start next year.
Decentralisation is meant to give power to local government officials in provinces and districts to manage their own affairs for effective socio-economic development.
This way, people’s participation in the democratic governance at local level is assured. But the decentralisation policy has also targeted chiefs and other traditional leaders in issues of governance and preservation of their cultural heritage, while respecting cultural diversity.
Of course what cannot be denied is the fact that decentralisation can be a difficult process, especially if it is not supported by all the stakeholders.
This is because people at the lower level usually complain of difficulty in accessing political power when the system is centralised as nearly all positions of influence are reserved for those with wealth and experience. These may be resistant to the process of decentralisation, hence the difficulty.
Truly in a centralised system, small groups at the grassroots do not find it easy to express themselves and have their needs addressed as quickly as possible, even if they may have very serious local concerns which need immediate attention.
The concerns by people at the grassroots are genuine because, as Chiefs and Traditional Affairs Minister, Nkandu Luo said, these are the ones who also stand to benefit immensely from a decentralisaed political system.
This is because decentralisation has potential benefits both for the people and the central Government. By moving power from the national authority (the central Government) to the local government, the process also increases Government efficiency and responsiveness to the needs of the people.
What must be borne in mind is the fact that decentralisation is not a new concept. It was preached about even in the UNIP-era because leaders have all along felt that local representatives are better able to understand and respond to their local needs.
It, therefore, logically follows, that one of the greatest benefits people should expect from a decentralised political system is its ability to quickly address their local needs.
As Lusaka Mayor Mulenga Sata said during the African Day of Decentarlisation, decentralisation is the only sure way to step up service delivery in communities.
It is practically impossible for the central Government to respond to the needs of a variety of groups at once.
Indeed, experience shows that the Government’s past attempts to do so have resulted into the interests of some groups being compromised, if not never addressed at all.
So a local government, or district council comprising councillors and local residents is better-placed to understand the problems of a given area and appropriately find solutions to these problems.
And unlike the central Government, local governments, working hand-in-hand with traditional leaders, are also able to effectively represent the cultural values of the local residents.
Because local governments represent smaller populations, they are more likely to respond to fewer problems and, as a result, they are able to expeditiously resolve these compared to the central Government which is known for bureaucratic processes.
All these examples show that local authorities are in a better position to adapt quickly to new situations because they are responsible for smaller areas, and this gives them an edge over the central Government to efficiently tackle problems that arise within their communities.
Equally important is the fact that a decentralised system affords people, who are not adequately represented in a national system, an opportunity to gain experience and become active in local government.
We, therefore, look forward to the devolving of functions from the central Government to local authorities.

Source : The Times of Zambia

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