The end of last week saw President Edgar Lungu create two new districts which adds to the numerous districts already existing in Zambia. Prior to the Patriotic Front coming into power, Zambia had 74 districts but since the PF government assumed office, Zambia has seen a dramatic increase in the number of districts with the new two districts now bringing the total number to 105 districts.
While the creation of new districts is good itself as it supports localized service delivery, there are a number of questions that beg to be answered in order for Zambians to appreciate this process.
Questions that need to be answered
- Is the creation of new districts as a result of genuine people’s demand for a new district?
- Is the creation of districts politically motivated?
- How consultative was the process leading to the creation of the new districts?
- What is the criteria being used in the creation of new districts?
- Is this creation an answer to the problem of isolated settlements?
- Is this also meant to solve the problem of service delivery in the localities?
Inadequate Resource Envelope
The creation of new districts is a form of decentralization, with potential to enhance service delivery at the local level; however the manner in which this is done is questionable for a number of reasons.
government did not budget for the creation of new districts in the 2015 budget
Firstly, there seems to be no proper analysis of the social and economic environment when creating new districts. On the economic front, government did not budget for the creation of new districts in the 2015 budget.
The creation of new districts should be accompanied with improved investment in infrastructure development, which requires sufficient resources. With the current high fiscal deficit the country is already experiencing, it is unlikely that government will be able to support infrastructure development in these new districts which will disadvantage the people of these districts as structures, systems and services to support them will be none existent. This creation of new districts is further widening the fiscal deficit.
The expectation that investors should lead and spearhead development in the newly created districts is misplaced. We should remember that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is voluntary and largely depends on the goodwill of investors. The President in his statement when declaring Kalumbila and Mushindano as districts argued that he expects Mushindano district to have modern facilities like Kalumbila where First Quantum Minerals (FQM) has developed modern infrastructure. While it is accepted that investors could undertake CSR, it is the responsibility of government to provide modern facilities to its people and not to rely on investors.
Lack of Participation in Decision Making
ActionAid is concerned that the declaration of new districts is being undertaken with little consultation of affected communities and stakeholders. ActionAid notes that on many occasions, the President just declares an area a new district when attending a political rally or when visiting traditional leaders in that area.
such pronouncements are made at political rallies to win votes
Often such pronouncements are made at political rallies to win votes and there is no proper consultation with the local people. Although government has been talking about participatory governance this is against the principle of participation and could breed conflict if not well handled. Further, the organization is concerned that the pronouncement of these two new districts comes in the wake of an impending by-election in the district and maybe misconstrued as a political gimmick by the ruling Patriotic Front government.
ActionAid is further concerned that new districts that have so far been created have not been adequately resourced and that these have now become a burden on national treasury as in some cases employees recruited in the districts have no infrastructure to operate from with a number of districts.
In the last three years, over 25 districts have been created. However, there has been no comprehensive information given by government regarding the establishment of key infrastructure in the new districts.
Information on the ground is that there is little going on in terms of infrastructure development in the newly created districts. Further, the local people have not experienced any improvements in their lives in terms of improved delivery of basic social services such as water, sanitation, education and health services in the newly created districts.
ActionAid is concerned that without a proper strategy on the creation of new districts and also in the old districts that are still struggling to deliver on their mandate due to inadequate capacity, this trend has potential to increase the inequalities that exist among districts as well as exacerbating poverty and poor service delivery.
ActionAid notes that the country has had a Decentralisation Policy since 2000 which has recently been revised, but there has been very slow progress in the implementation of this policy. The creation of new districts without decentralization is an exercise in futility and as noted, the new districts will suffer similar fate as existing districts. If government genuinely wants to empower citizens to be involved in decision making in development, the best way to demonstrate this is to hasten implementation of the decentralization policy. This will provide lessons to improve functionality of local government institutions
The creation of the new districts is both ill-timed and ill-advised given the number of challenges the country is going through and the fact that there is an impending by-election in Solwezi and therefore this pronouncement may be misconstrued as a political gimmick by the Patriotic Front government to win votes in the coming election.
The President called upon mining companies to support development in the new districts, but given that the mining companies themselves have announced decreased production due to load shedding of power and the fact that copper prices are falling on the global market, it is unlikely that they will have resources to invest in these new districts.
In any case, it is not their responsibility to support development in these new districts. This still remains the responsibility of government, which currently, as noted, as a huge fiscal deficit and will not be able to support the new districts in any meaningful way.
It is worth noting that two of the mines (Kalumbila and Lumwana) will be in the jurisdiction of one of the new districts which will see the district perhaps raise more revenue while the Solwezi municipality will see a decrease in revenue. Since the move is abrupt, it will definitely affect projects that Solwezi has planned.
ActionAid is also concerned that the Presidential declaration has not specified actual dates when the new districts will be operational. This will create confusion: Solwezi Municipality may abrogate its responsibilities to the communities in the affected areas and push the tasks to the “new district”. And more confusion could be expected with regards to boundaries as it is not clear what will be the boundaries of the new districts – there are currently disputes of chieftaincy boundaries in the area.
It is important to understand the extent of these districts and what proportion of these districts falls under the jurisdiction of the mines and whether this pronouncement favors the mines in the area more than the local people.
ActionAid Zambia therefore calls on government to put on hold creation of additional districts and to put in place a clear strategy for the development of the new districts and that policy measures to address capacity constraints are attended to as a matter of urgency.
We call on government to undertake a cost benefit analysis when creating new districts and to match the creation of new districts with available resources.