Participants at a workshop in Swaziland, which focused on the challenges of implementing local government reforms.
24 February 2010
Neighbouring Mozambique and Namibia share their experiences at Commonwealth meeting
Senior policy-makers from the Kingdom of Swaziland met last month to discuss the significant challenges in implementing local government reforms.
Leadership skills, reform options that are suitable for the country, and recent trends towards decentralisation in other Sub-Saharan African states, were all debated by the senior officials at a Commonwealth Secretariat-organised workshop which took place in January 2010 in Manzini, one of Swaziland’s four regional districts.
More than forty participants attended, including officials from the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Decentralisation, the Cabinet Committee on Decentralisation, and the Ministry of Tinkhundla Administration and Development.
As well as taking stock of the decentralisation process in Swaziland, the officials also heard experiences from neighbouring Mozambique and Namibia, where reform programmes have recently been introduced.
Decentralisation is a broad term often used to describe transfer of power from central government to lower levels of government. This can include responsibility for planning and management of various government functions, as well as the allocation of resources.
“The workshop was an eye opener for what other countries are doing,” said Nonhlanhla Shabangu, from Swaziland’s Parliament.
Another participant from the Parliament, Isabel Dlamini, said she had learned from both countries that “if you take things step by step” progress will be made.
At present, Ms Dlamini explained, many people in Swaziland who live in rural areas have to visit the capital city for numerous administrative tasks, from renewing their passports to arranging birth and death certificates for relatives.
“With all of these situations it will help a lot if people are able to visit their local community centres instead,” she said.
“I think it is important that as a young person I go out there and let the youth know that decentralisation isn’t just a name – it affects everyone. As you decentralise services out of central government into the local communities it will help lots of people.”
Assistance from the Commonwealth Secretariat was first mooted back in 2007, when Swaziland’s Deputy Prime Minister visited the organisation’s headquarters in London to discuss the Kingdom’s decentralisation programme. This prompted workshops to be organised which focused on demystifying decentralisation and helping officials get a better understanding on how to manage the numerous changes while the reforms take place.
During these meetings the Secretariat documented aspects of the reform process as it has unfolded. This research was captured in a new book, which was officially launched at the latest workshop.
The ‘Decentralisation in Swaziland’ study deals with policy, managerial and implementation issues, and provides a summary of decentralisation plans and key legislative milestones in Swaziland’s recent history.
The book, which touches on capacity-building efforts, financial decentralisation, the role of traditional leaders and awareness among citizens, also highlights related experiences from Commonwealth countries in Asia, the Pacific, and Africa, including Lesotho and Ghana.