How Zimbabwe can benefit from Chinese devolution model to eradicate poverty

By Tafadzwa Muranganwa

Zimbabwe is grappling with measures to tackle the deepening poverty levels among its citizenry and the constitutionally approved devolution model can be effective if the government can pluck from the Chinese blueprint.

In his book, The Governance of China, Volume 2 ,Chinese President Xi Jinping  proffers solutions on how to ‘Eliminate Poverty in Severely Impoverished Areas’ which speaks on having all tiers of government coming up with tailor-made projects that suit their jurisdictions.

“Government at all levels should first arrange projects designed to benefit local inhabitants in their areas, and newly assigned funds for agriculture development should be used for poverty elimination programmes,”  Mr Xi says.

On the ground the Zimbabwe government has already taken a leading role in implementing the concept as evidenced by the release of over $300 million worth of devolution funds across all provinces and according to the President Xi Jinping   such an arrangement is ideal in fighting poverty.

“Government investment should be the major input, playing a guiding and coordinating role in encouraging investment from other financial sources,” asserts the Chinese President.

The constitution in Chapter 14, outlined Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) Director Lorraine Mupasiri, provides for the structures of devolution which are provincial and metropolitan councils (PMCs) to which adequate resources should be channeled.

“Devolution is the decentralisation of central government powers and functions to lower tiers of government. There are structures that are stipulated, for example provincial councils. It is therefore a re-design of government and its functions. This devolution model must then resource and equip the new devolved structures and their functions,” Mupasiri explained.

In the ‘The Governance of China,Volume 2  President Xi stresses the importance of  according all tiers of government their proper functions adding that “Governments at all levels are required to carry out their functions in full and in accordance with the law, performing those functions that have been prescribed by law while refraining from acting where the law has not authorised them to act,”

However some potential implementors of devolution like George Makoni of Wedza Residents Development Initiative Trust (WERDIT) are pessimistic that the model will be successfully implemented using the current  constitution and international standards owing to the polarisation that the country finds itself in.

“Most  parliamentarians lack knowledge on this discourse and they are generally guided by political party positions, rather than  real articulation of issues and therefore I doubt if devolution will be implemented  according to the Constitution and international best practices.

“The debate has largely centred on whether the ruling Zanu PF party ,an close ally of China since the 1960/70s war of liberation, maintains the status quo and equally the idea of metropolitan provinces such as Harare and Bulawayo gives more grip to the main opposition MDC, with strong Western ties” doubts devolution activist, Makoni.

That Zimbabwe still lacks a clear-cut  policy on devolution is buttressed by local governance expert Elmond Bandauko who argues that despite this , the government still has interest in implementing devolution,contrary to what its critics are saying.

“There is no clearly agreed model of the devolution implementation process at the moment. Civil society has its interpretation of devolution which  might not be the same with how the government sees it. I agree there is interest from the government but there is a lack of clarity on the model  appropriate for our country.

“Other countries like Kenya have done very well because they have set up appropriate institutional frameworks for implementation,” postulated Bandauko adding that “there is a need for grounded policy research to understand what works and what does not work in order to realise an effective devolution process.”

But in China there is unmistakable clarity, as outlined in the ‘ The Governance of China,Volume 2, where President Mr Xi speaks on ‘continuing the working mechanism whereby the central leadership makes overall plans , provincial authorities take overall responsibility, and municipal and county authorities take charge of implementation’.

The Zimbabwe government with support from international donor agencies has been implementing various programmes aimed at poverty alleviation which include food relief and the ‘food for work’ programmes but these have been marred by reports of partisan distribution and corruption by government workers and humanitarian staff. Such negative activities were confirmed in 2018 by the statutory founded Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) which  released a series of reports about politically structured  partisan distribution of food and other state aid before and after the first harmonised elections in the new dispensation established  after the military assisted take over in November 2017.

Prevalence of graft in public administration can only be dealt with if devolution steps in by drawing from the strict poverty relief implementation strategies followed by the Chinese government .

“Governments at all levels should define a clear division of labour, clarify their own responsibilities ,assign specific tasks to designated officials, and produce a thorough evaluation of their performance,”writes President Xi Jinping  in ‘The Governance of China,Volume 2’ book.

While meeting with councillors from rural areas last month President Emmerson Mnangagwa,in his presentation, indicated that his government is raring to go in implementing devolution but what remains peertinent are  the water tight implementation strategies hence the suggestion that the country takes a cue from China which is the second largest economy in the world if ending poverty in all forms by year 2030  should successfully coincide with Zimbabwe’s quest to have an upper middle-income economy by the same year.