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This essay studies the nature of local government in Zambia, as reflected in Zambian urban

authorities. In particular it discusses three concepts that are found in the Zambian Local
governments system. The concepts discussed are decentralisation, deconcentration and
devolution. Decentralisation' which helps to place local government in the context of public
administration. Decentralization means the transfer of authority from the central government. It
embraces processes of both deconcentration and devolution. When transfer of authority is made
to field units of the same department or area of government, it is called deconcentration.
However, when authority is transferred to local government units or special statutory bodies, it is
called devolution. In this aspect of decentralisation, authority is devolved by law upon bodies
which may exercise a degree of autonomy from central control. Devolution may take at least
three forms: statutory bodies (which may be concerned with commercial activities, public
utilities, or social services), provincial or regional government, and local government.
Before discussing the concepts, its important to understand local government. Ismail et al.,
1997:2) defines it as : the level of government which is commonly defined as a decentralized,
representative institution with general and specific powers devolved to it by a higher tier of
government (central or provincial) within a geographically defined area, Local government,
ordinarily, refers to a system of government at local level.
Ola (1984) defines it, as a political subdivision of a nation or (in a federal system) state which
is constituted by law and has substantial control of local affairs, including the powers to
impose taxes. The term local government is used to contrast with offices at nation-state level,
which are referred to as the central government, national government, or (where appropriate)
federal government. The governing body (local authority) of such an entity is elected or
otherwise locally selected, and operates within a specific geographical area (well-defined area of
jurisdiction) to provide services for its local community (local populace).
A local authority has a right to govern on its own initiative, but is subject to constitutional
provisions, as well as central and provincial legislation. The institutions of local government vary
greatly among countries, and even where similar arrangements exist, the terminology often
varies. Common names for local government entities include state, province, region, department,
county, district, city, township, town, borough, parish and village. However, all these names are
often used informally in countries where they do not describe a legal local government entity.

Generally, local government exists for two reasons, namely service-rendering, which is a
utilitarian consideration, and democracy, which is a civic consideration (Ismail et al., 1997). The
first one is related to the utilitarian consideration in that it entails the efficient and effective
rendering of services. Local authorities exist in order to provide services to citizens. The
utilitarian consideration has a bias for the recipients, namely the citizens. However, it also
recognizes the fact that citizens, in turn, have an obligation to pay for the services. The service
rendering functions are largely dependent on the ability of the local residents to pay for those
services which they receive.
According notes to Mukwena (2001:82) The second reason involves the civic consideration.
This deals with the values of participation, representation, local autonomy, responsiveness
and fairness. The civic consideration emphasizes the notion of democratic processes such as
elections, and the governing side of local government. Local authorities must have regular, free
and fair elections. Since openness and transparency are central to the political consideration, the
implication is, therefore, that local authorities must promote openness in their daily business and
policy making. Local government, then, is where powers are devolved upon any kind of local
body. And thus, Councils, whether elected or selected, constitute a form of local.
a. Decentralization
This refers to the transfer of responsibilities, authority, functions, as well as power and
appropriate resources from central government to lower-level administrative units such as local
authorities to deliver services to the local people (NDP, 2002).
In Zambia, like in many other countries, decentralization has gained acceptance as a vehicle for
democratic governance and sustainable economic development. Implementing this recognition in
practical terms requires creating and sustaining different autonomous levels of government with
clearly defined powers and functions accompanied by a clear allocation of revenue sources and
expenditure responsibilities to each level (Mukwena, 2002).
A key element in this process is the strengthening of both local governments capacity to raise
revenue and measures of revenue sharing between local and central governments. The
recognition of the need for decentralized governance prompted the Zambian Government to
formulate the National Decentralization Policy (UNDP) launched in November 2004.

Decentralization, as a mechanism for improved service delivery has become increasingly popular
over the past decade, along with the prominence given to governance and enhanced citizens
participation in the decision-making process of the affairs that affect them. In an attempt to
mobilize efforts for nation building, African states borrowed heavily from the philosophy of
central state planning during the 1950s and 1960s. The system of central planning often led to
highly centralised regimes. The result of this was a centralised administration with powerful
Provincial and District Administration being the local division of the Office of the President.
These agencies operated, principally without much input from the local communities (Blair,
In Zambia, local government reforms that were done through government efforts towards
decentralizing the local government system were carried out in five phases from 1965 to 1991.
The main objective for the reforms was to address the problem of poor service delivery resulting
from high concentration of power at the centre which was inherited from the system of colonial
Turner and Hulme (1997:257) point out that, A major obstacle to the effective performance of
public bureaucracies in most developing countries is the excessive concentration of decisionmaking and authority within central government. The popular remedy for such centralization
is decentralization, a term which is imbued with many positive connotations proximity,
relevance, autonomy, participation, acceptability and even democracy. Momba (2002) adds,
Decentralisation not only increases the level of participation but also leads to increased
The function played by decentralisation in promoting economic development through increased
accountability is best summarised by the observations made by Harries (2000) of the Department
of Development Studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science when in
commenting about the popular pressures in one of Indias states he noted: Decentralisation is one
of the magic bullets offered in the current consensus (the Washington consensus) on what is
required to bring about the sustainable development that will deliver living standards to more
people. It seems so obviously right that the more governmental authority is devolved to local
bodies, the better informed government will be about the specifics of local circumstances, and
the more accountable it will be because it will be vulnerable to citizens pressure partly because

it will be easier for the citizens, in these circumstances, to be well-informed about what
government is doing.
b. Deconcentration.
Deconcentration--which is often considered to be the weakest form of decentralization and is
used most frequently in unitary states-- redistributes decision making authority and financial and
management responsibilities among different levels of the central government. It can merely shift
responsibilities from central government officials in the capital city to those working in regions,
provinces or districts, or it can create strong field administration or local administrative capacity
under the supervision of central government ministries.
Deconcentration assigns specific functions and tasks performed by the staff of the headquarters
of central administrations to staff posted in peripheral locations within the national territory.
Staff, equipment, vehicles, and budgetary resources are transferred to units such as regional and
district offices. The managers of these units are given authority for autonomous decision making
regarding the operations, which were previously taken at headquarters, or needed clearance from
Deconcentration takes different forms although generally it will be functional, integrated or un
integrated. Functional deconcentration is found in countries like the United Kingdom and the
United States of America. In this form of deconcentration areas of government activity are
divided according to the administrative convenience of each government department and not
necessarily on a uniform territorial basis. Usually there is co-ordination between field agencies of
the government departments and local authorities. In the United Kingdom, for example, areas of
government activity like hospitals, electricity and water are operated in this way.
c. Devolution
Devolution involves transferring discretionary authority to legally constituted local government
units such as states, provinces districts and municipalities. In a devolved system, responsibility
for a wide range of operations embracing more than one sector is assigned to local government.
In this system, the overseer role of central government is limited to ensuring that local
governments operate within broadly defined national policy. Local governments in a devolved

system can do what they want, bound only by broad national guidelines and their resources in
terms of finances, human resource, equipment and materials. Local level staff here are
answerable to elected councils and not sector ministries. Devolution is the principle form of
decentralization because, unlike the other forms, it is rooted deeply in the law, through national
constitutions and various pieces of legislation.
The primary objective may be improving the production efficiency of the administration with an
improvement in the impact of the services delivered as a second priority. This may be achieved
by introducing administrative and cultural changes within the existing unitary structures, shifting
responsibility, decision-making authority and resources for front-line operations only to the
managers of local units. Public delivery and public financing coincide within a single
administration. Central government personnel and procurement policies apply. In these cases
decentralization takes the form of deconcentration.
A number of countries (such as Japan, Philippines and Uganda) in both the developed and
developing worlds have begun to move towards giving a greater degree of financial autonomy to
their local authorities, most of which seem to have done so more or less within the framework of
the 1993 Toronto Declaration on Local Authorities.
A good example of un integrated system is one which was practised in the pre-independence
period of Zambia and many other African countries. Native authorities had substantial autonomy
under the policy of Indirect Rule. Field administrators had their separate administrative links
with their respective departments, although all were organized on similar territorial lines. This
type of administration was quite different from the direct chain of command found in classic
French prefectorial system.
One of the forms of devolution is statutory bodies. The statutory boards or corporations are
created by the government to manage on a day-to-day basis the organization of one particular
area of activity which it is felt can better be administered free from direct governmental control.
These may be commercial enterprises like Zambia Railways, or public utilities such as the
Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation prior to its incorporation into the ZIMCO group of

At the head of each of these boards or corporations is a Minister who is ultimately responsible
for them. In Zambia, like in many new African states, ministerial devolution to statutory bodies
has proved to be a sensitive issue with the government on the whole exercising great control.
Local government is another form of devolution. It involves some real defined powers and
authority independent of the central government. In Zambia, local government units are elected
with up to five representatives appointed by the Minister of Local Government and Housing, and
as in many new States, their activities are constantly checked and controlled by the central
Zambia has since independence in 1964 embarked on several local government reforms tailored
towards a decentralized system of government and the following are some of the major reforms
undertaken in an attempt to improve the delivery of public services. In 1991, following the
introduction of a multi-party democracy, party structures were completely divorced from the
local government system. This removal of central control ushered in independent elected
councils which were empowered to determine, manage and control the districts human, material
and financial resources. Government has reviewed and streamlined the organizational structures
and devolution of functions to be performed through local authorities; at city, district and
municipal levels with accompanying resources for their performance. Despite the reforms
undertaken by the Government and achievements made in putting some decentralisation
measures in place for improved performance by local authorities, service delivery has remained
poor for many types of council in Zambia.

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