Thursday, December 06, 2012

Who is against new districts?

Who is against new districts?
By The Post
Thu 06 Dec. 2012, 12:10 CAT

It is surprising that while some opposition elements in Lusaka are opposing the creation of more districts, chiefs and their subjects are celebrating the elevation of their areas into districts. And there are more chiefs and other citizens lobbying government to declare their areas districts.

Are those opposed to the creation of new districts telling us that all these people lobbying for, and celebrating, the creation of new districts wrong? We don't think the chiefs and their people are wrong. We think the ones who are wrong are those opposed to the creation of new districts.

It cannot be denied that we still have many challenges in our whole governance system and indeed in the running of the current districts. But the problems and challenges we are facing in the running of our existing districts have very little to do with their numbers. It has more to do with the way we have been managing them.

If this argument was stretched a little further and extended to other organisations or institutions, one would say we shouldn't create more schools, hospitals, pave new roads, build new churches because we have problems or challenges managing the existing ones. Where will this leave us or lead us as a nation?

A similar argument could be extended to our political parties themselves: why create new political parties when we are failing to manage the existing ones? Why create more new party branches or structures when we are failing to manage the existing ones?

Clearly, the opposition has no point to make on this score. The best they could do is to demand improvements in the efficiency, effectiveness and orderliness in the running of our districts. That would be understandable and acceptable to all because we all need an efficient and effective government.

We all know that without increasing efficiency and effectiveness of governance structures, very little will be delivered to our people. And there is nothing which makes people more appreciative of a government than that it should be able to deliver services.

There are many economic, political and socio-cultural reasons that support the creation of more and more districts. The creation of new districts is a fundamental part of decentralisation of government.

From market theory of local expenditures, the creation of more districts increases decentralisation which helps to improve resource allocation through better knowledge of local preferences and competition among localities. Decision-making and a strong role of local governments is advocated based on the grounds of efficiency, accountability, manageability and autonomy. So from an economic point of view, the opposition elements opposed to the creation of new districts have no sensible argument.

Clearly, decentralisation is a logical application of the core characteristics of good governance at local levels. By good governance, we mean basing political, social and economic priorities on broad consensus of the society and groups like the poorest and most vulnerable being given audience during decision-making regarding allocation and utilisation of scarce resources for development. And one of the processes of decentralisation is the creation of local government jurisdictions; that is to say: geo-political division of the state into more and smaller jurisdictions, that is districts.

This process has political, economic and socio-cultural benefits which include maximisation of economies of scale, economies of small scope, promotion of popular participation by the majority, proximity in terms of accessibility of services, promotion of unity among small local groups, autonomy and self-governance.

We should also not forget that human beings are linked to society, to the nation through small and intermediate size organs or institutions such as a district. And as such, matters affecting people ought to be handled by a smaller or lowest component of authority.

And when we talk about local government, there is need for us to realise that these are specific institutions or entities created to deliver a range of specified services to people in a relatively small geographically delineated area such as the small districts we are creating. Of course, there will always be questions which may come up here: how do we designate an area to become a district, a local government jurisdiction?

If we are honest with ourselves, we will realise that the current districts have not done very well in delivering services to our people. Some of our districts are just too big in terms of the geographical areas they cover. And also our population has been growing over the years, requiring smaller geographical areas to be designated as districts on account of population size.
It is difficult to decentralise service delivery without creating smaller and more manageable districts.

Success in decentralised service delivery ultimately depends on the institutional arrangements that govern its implementation.
The creation of more and smaller districts encompasses not only transfer of decision-making power and resources to lower levels of government, but also local authority at that small district level to demand accountability and enhancement of public participation in local political process.

It helps the process, whereby citizens are given a meaningful role in local decisions that affect them and increasing popular control over what local government have done or left undone. This helps to improve service delivery, matching social services with local needs. Mobilising local resources and increasing equity in the use of public resources as expected outputs.

The creation of more and smaller districts will help deepen decentralisation and consolidate democracy by devolving power to local governments. Of course, districts must be able to meet certain basic requirements if they are to be able to solve problems effectively. These requirements include the districts' ability to identify problems, prioritise issues, mobilise resources to implement the set priorities, evaluate their performance and learn from it and should maintain their popular legitimacy.

They should at least have a defined geographical area and population of reasonable size where they can balance between the scale of problems and resource availability to serve the community. The districts should have authority and working institutions that make decisions and enforce accountability to their population.

This therefore implies that there has to be a balance between the economic reasons and political reasons to support the creation of new districts. It also means that the optimal point of creating a new district should be at a point where there is convergence which maximises both the economic and political benefits. There should be harmonisation of economic and political needs for the creation of new districts to have meaningful logic.

The argument here is also that local governments understand the concern of local residents, local decision-making is responsible to the people to whom services are intended, unnecessary layers of jurisdiction and bureaucracy are eliminated and inter-jurisdictional competition and innovation are enhanced.

It cannot be denied that the closer a representative government is to the people, the better it works. This is so because it increases efficiency.
A small district will be more responsive to the needs of the citizens and take their preference into consideration when planning services to be delivered and the cost of delivery.

There is another argument that is being bandied around against the creation of more and smaller districts and that is the issue of cost. What ought to be borne in mind is that the current districts are not being managed in the most efficient, effective and orderly manner. There is too much waste of public resources in the current structures of our districts. In some way, they are over-staffed.

We don't think the new districts should be run the same way. The colonial districts were more efficiently managed than our current districts. In most cases, the colonial districts had only three people managing a district - a district commissioner, a magistrate and a messenger.

We can draw some inspiration from that. We don't need to manage our new districts with so many people and so many offices. A small civic centre can do for the small districts we are creating. In fact, instead of wasting more money, more money may be saved with the creation of new districts through increased efficiency, effectiveness and orderliness.

Our politicians, especially in the opposition, should never pretend to know what they don't know. They should not feel ashamed to ask and learn from the people who are lobbying for the creation of more districts and who are celebrating the creation of new districts in their areas. The people know what they want and why they want more districts. They shouldn't think what they themselves don't know, the people don't know. Sometimes the people know more than what the politicians themselves know. And this is why it is important to listen to the people.

They shouldn't assume that the masses have no understanding of what they themselves do not yet understand. It often happens that the masses outstrip them and are eager to advance a step and that nevertheless they themselves fail to act as leaders of the masses and tail behind certain backward elements, reflecting their views and, moreover, mistaking them for those of the broad masses.

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