COMMENTARY: Decentralization service delivery to councils

SHARE   |   Sunday, 07 June 2015   |   By Staff Writer

Once again we join the chorus of multitudes criticizing the centralization of many services previously delivered by local authorities to central government and call for government to stop pay lip service to decentralization. It boggles the mind why government suddenly found it prudent to bring under one roof services that were delivered by local authorities spread out across the country. The haste with which the decision to take over some of these services raised eyebrows and was a clear sign of poor planning, which could only result in problems currently encountered in service delivery. Problems at the ministry of education, health and water sector reforms are clear examples of failure occasioned by poor planning and execution of centralization. It does not make sense that service delivery can be improved by taking services and decisions from council offices, which needless to say are closer to the communities, to the seat of government in Gaborone.
We said it at the time government took the decision to centralize provision of health services from clinics, maintenance and construction of roads and provision of water services among a litany of others that the decision was a recipe for failure. The decision taken shortly after the 2009 general elections has come back to haunt government as we predicted. Just last week accounting officers from different ministries told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) about challenges brought about by centralization of decision making and services in one place. This has resulted in crowding of different departments under one roof increasing competition for the already stretched budget allocated to such ministries, which compromises service delivery. Centralization, more often than not results in inefficiencies, especially in delivery of services to the people throughout the length and breadth of the country.
A research conducted by government in partnership with donor communities several years ago, which advised on the importance of decentralization is gathering dust at government enclave. Government should pull out the document on decentralization and use it to develop a clear policy to guide on the delivery of services closer to people in local authorities. What government has been doing totally contradicts the findings and recommendations of experts contained in the decentralization report. While we accept that some services are better administered from a central point we are not convinced that those that need to be closer to the citizenry have to be taken to the parent ministry.
We also note that part of the reasons local authorities have failed to deliver developments in their jurisdictions has largely been blamed on the failure to have some level of autonomy from the ministry of local government and rural development. Beyond drawing their budget from central government, which is never adequate, local authorities also have to deliver the little revenue they generate through levies and collection of rates, among others, to the parent ministry. This defeats the whole purpose of local municipalities to generate their own income and control spending. Moreover local authorities’ always have to seek approval from the parent ministry to undertake any income generating activity or to enter into agreements with the business community for transactions that could bring in the much needed revenue to facilitate delivery of services and developments in their localities.  Hence, they always have to run to the parent ministry to intervene to enable them to deliver services to the people, a process that takes forever leading to loss of opportunities due bureaucratic red tape. This is counterproductive.
We are tempted to believe that the strangle hold on the control and running of local authorities by central government and the reluctance to give them autonomy is deliberately calculated to enhance political control by the current administration. Even as this strategy may be working to perpetuate the status quo and ensure the ruling party remains in power by using developments to hold the population to ransom, it retards the development of our people. 
Government should decentralize services to local authorities to improve efficiency in delivery of services and developments.

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