Government’s decision to disperse powers and decision making from central government, a process known as decentralization, will make it easier for local governments to provide much needed services to the community. In the past, councils were faced with a situation in which they had ownership of resources but very little influence and control of how they could be distributed to society. It is a fact that councils have a direct connection with communities because they share living space with the people and have consequently developed an intimate understanding of their lives and everyday needs.
However, establishing a decentralization policy on its own is not enough; it requires hard work and commitment by councils to deliver services to the people. The central government on the other hand is left with the responsibility of overseeing implementation of the decentralization policy.
The Botswana Association of Local Authorities (BALA) which has a membership of 16 local governments, has embarked on a partnership with Barclays Bank Botswana to harness councils’ ability to generate and manage their own finances and resources.
Through the partnership, Barclays will up-skill and empower local governments to raise capital in the open market and efficiently deliver services to the people. The partnership seeks to provide an enabling environment that will foster infrastructural developments and deliver services to the public. However, both parties appreciate the fact that it will not be smooth sailing as there will be a number of legal bottlenecks that have to be overcome before local governments are empowered enough to act independently of the central government.
While this partnership recognizes BALA as the overarching body, the association’s President Mpho Moruakgomo acknowledged in an interview with Gazette Business that the real impact will be done by each council in the communities they serve. Moruakgomo said every local government is uniquely positioned to exploit opportunities that exist within its own environment. He added that an assessment study will be undertaken by each council to identify viable projects, determine the need for capacity building in undertaking such projects and identify the existing challenges.
“The approach will be greatly dependent on the resource endowment of the area,” said Moruakgomo.
He added that there exists a robust and enabling legislature to put into practice what the partnership seeks to achieve. However, he identified the biggest challenge as change of mindset from the traditional way of doing things.
“Implementation of activities still remains behind even though there is an enabling environment. Councils must be encouraged to embrace the change process and work hard to deliver services to the people,” he said.
When commenting on the issue, public finance specialist at the University of Botswana, Professor Emmanuel Botlhale lauded the partnership as a step in the right direction, which especially makes sense during the current era of financial constraints following the 2008/2009 economic crunch.
“Other councils like Gaborone and Kweneng district council have already embraced such partnerships. The Southern district council has also started to generate revenue from its Mongala mall project,” he said.
Botlhale recognized that full realization will come from speedily resolving legal impediments which require a closer look into the decentralization policy so as to redistribute powers to the councils.
“This is a contradiction of some sorts. On the hand the government maintain that it supports decentralization, yet it does not sufficiently devolve powers to the periphery (that is Local Authorities). There is a need for fiscal decentralization, as instanced by the devolution of fiscal powers and autonomy to the Local Authorities, to be expanded so that Local Authorities take advantage of Public Private Partnership ventures” he said.