SOUTHERN AFRICAN NEWS FEATURES
Democratizing the Running of Local Authoritiesby Walter Otis Tapfumaneyi
Increased urban population deepening urban poverty and persistently inadequate services have posed major challenges in postcolonial era and new democracies in southern Africa.
The rural to urban drift that has been experienced for some time now has seen a dramatic increase in urban populations without an equal increase in the provision of basic facilities like water, housing, health and sanitary facilities. And the advent of structural adjustment programmes by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has worsened the situation.
Problems facing cities and towns in southern Africa today have their roots from the colonial era. Then cities and towns were designed by the minorities and for the minorities. Few if any of the black majority could enjoy the comforts of the cities.
Indeed the black majority was not allowed free access into the white dominated cities. Special written permission had to be sought before entering cities. The coming of independence changed the scenario.
The traditional planning and management of cities was based on Master Plans (MPs) which were drawn up by a handful of 'experts' over a period of usually 20 years. The same format is still in use today. However, the reality of the situation is that the population is growing at a much faster pace than originally projected.
There is increasing recognition of the fact that solving the problem depends on three crucial factors:
MDP's mission is to promote development and support the process of decentralization; and strengthening the capacity of local government to deliver services and promote development at the local level as a means of raising the standards of living of urban populations.
Rapid urbanization has put a lot of pressure on urban local authorities on service delivery. Dwindling resources from central government to local government, low tax bases and inability of local authorities to realize all taxable revenue due to corrupt practices and inefficient tax collection methods have exacerbated the problem.
It is becoming abundantly clear that for improvements in service delivery by local authorities, there is need for good planning, efficiency and good governance at the local level.
In a paper presented during the official launch of the Integrated Strategic Plan (ISP) for the Municipality of Marondera, Zimbabwe, held on 10 March 1999, Professor Jossy Mareru, MDP Senior Programme Manager, states that the planning of towns and cities in sub-Saharan Africa especially in the former British colonies, is charaterised by a framework that provides for a two-tier system of land use plans.
Master plans or structural plans are long-term plans intended to provide strategic guidelines for development. They have to take into account broad policy issues and the economic development of urban areas. Local plans are short-term plans prepared within the framework provided by the Master Plans or Structure Plans.
''It is the widening gap between planning and implementation of Master Plans and Structure Plans, especially because of their bias towards land use and inability to address other key issues of concern in urban areas such as urban poverty, environmental concerns, the informal sector, urban agriculture, investment promotion, unemployment etc, which has brought to question their inadequacy of guiding and facilitating urban development," argues Prof. Mareru.
Marondera Municipality is set to provide an interesting case study on ISP being promoted by MDP. Located 72km from the capital city, Harare, along the Harare-Beira road, Marondera Municipality is one of the first to implement the ISP in its full context in Zimbabwe and in the SADC region.
In what is a classic example of democracy at play at the grassroots level, Marondera Municipality presented their ISP for the world to see and in the process look for donor funding for some of the projects they intend to carry out in the next five years. The ISP provides detailed development guidelines for the town.
The plan is based on studies of people's changing needs and their ways of living. It takes cognizance of the town's local and national economic, physical, social and political environment as factors influencing the activities of the organization. For the first time in history, the residents have a direct say in how the municipality is run.
Needless to say this has brought about transparency and accountability and so popular is the idea of ISPs that local authorities in Zimbabwe have been instructed to implement them. "The days of blueprint planning are over, giving way to a more participatory, achievable and transparent style of modern day management," commented Prof. Materu. Tanzania has also benefited from employing the ISP in Dar es Salaam. In 1989 a three-tier local government system was introduced after the existing system had failed to provide adequate basic services to the city residence. Since then the city has had a marked improvement in service delivery.
In Malawi they have employed ISP principles to deal with the traditional housing settlement around the cities. The idea is to recognize these settlements as resourceful to the cities and gradually bring them to the standards that are acceptable to the local authorities without displacing the people.
Other local authorities in Zambia, Botswana and Namibia are in the process of revamping their operations along the ISP lines. With local authorities becoming more transparent and accountable to the electorate, more and more pressure is put on central governments to do the same. (SARDC)