By Lloyd Mupfudze- The main challenges faced by local authorities in the protection and promotion of human rights are political, economic and administrative.
The biggest challenge facing local governments is lack of political will. This is exacerbated by political conflicts and tensions in the country. As result local authorities suffer from a lack of autonomy and the absence of long-term planning and commitment.
The lack of autonomy and self-government inhibits the accountability and the sense of responsibility for the implementation of human rights. Centralized policies may often impede the observance of human rights in local governments.
For instance, the central government promulgated Statutory Instrument 77 of 2020 and assumed the authority to demolish any structure whose “occupation or use of which is considered likely to favour the spread or render more difficult the eradication of such disease”.
The Ministry of Local Government and Public Works ordered the local authorities to go on a demolition spree. The demolitions constituted a serious challenge to human rights.
The other challenge to local governments that obstructs their implementation and promotion of human rights is shortage in institutional capacity and/or resources, due either to the lack of political will to enable local authorities, or to the difficult economic situation in the country.
Local authorities in Zimbabwe have come under increasing financial pressures due to dwindling revenue bases. Councils face growing demand for services as a result of rapid population growth, but their capacity to deliver services, as well as to undertake the necessary infrastructure development, is severely constrained by shortage of financial resources.
The main sources of revenue for local authorities are service charges, rates on property and land, and various fees and levies. The Urban Councils Act and the Rural District Councils Act empower councils to come up with by-laws that allow authorities to raise revenue through various “charges made for any services, amenities or facilities provided by council” and the “fixing and imposition of a supplementary charge” on immovable property in its jurisdiction to “cover the expenses incurred by the council in the administration of the area concerned” and to impose fines and penalties for any violation of council bylaws.
Section 96 of the Rural District Councils Act provides for the imposition of a “land development levy” on owners of rural land or on owners of “mining locations situated on rural land within the council area”, or on “licensed dealers who carry on the business on rural land within the council area”, as well as the imposition of a “development levy upon all persons who are heads of household within any communal or resettlement ward of the council”.
However, the ability of citizens to pay service charges, rates and fees has been undermined due to the economic crisis. There is a huge gap between income and expenditure, of local authorities, resulting in deteriorating service provision and highly indebted local authorities.
Local authorities are in the difficult situation of reduced revenue at the same time as an increased demand for services. As it stands local authorities face a litany of unfunded mandates. Undermining the capacity of local authorities to protect, promote and fulfil their human rights obligations.
The lack of adequate coordination between central and local governments. A problem also arises where laws regarding the competence sharing between central government and local government are not simple, accessible and clear.
There is supposed to be a clear-cut division of powers between the different tiers of government is the precondition for the establishment of accountability, and hence the precondition for the implementation of human rights.
It must become self-understood that every authority provided with public powers has to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. The linkage between the exercise of public powers and the observance of human rights is often/sometimes neglected at the local level.
A further challenge is the lack of information about the requirements resulting from human rights at the local level. Every person in charge of the local government must be aware of the obligations imposed by human rights.
Often this awareness lacks a well-founded knowledge about the content and the scope of human rights. As a result, many local governments fail to understand and incorporate human rights into local policy and practice. Efforts to increase human rights coordination are marred by a lack of transparency.
The non-recognition of the role and contributions from civil society also undermines the capacity of councils to implement human rights programming. This is usually coupled with a lack of understanding of human rights at the local government level.
Failure to recognize and work with civil society curtails efforts by local governments to reach marginalized communities. CSOs have a role in promoting more direct and effective citizen’s participation in local governance by facilitating dialogue between authorities and citizens. This will turn local authorities into responsive and accountable institutions for sustainable development.