Decentralization Policy Implementation in Zambia

A Reality or Mere Political Rhetoric?

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2012
25 Pages, Grade: A




1.0 Introduction
1.1 Background
1.2 Statement of the Problem
1.3 Objective of the Study
1.4 Scope of the Study
1.5 Methodology of the Study

2.0 Review of Literature
2.1 Policy Implementation Procedure
2.2 Interpretations of Policy Implementation
2.3 Factors and Challenges to Effective Policy Implementation
2.4 Policy Implementation Problems
2.5 Policy Implementation “Gap”

3.0 Decentralization Policy Implementation in Zambia
3.1 National Decentralization policy
3.2 Approaches to Policy Implementation
3.3 Decentralization Implementation Plan (DIP)
3.4 Decentralization Policy Implementation Plan Strategy

4.0 Study Findings
4.1 Decentralization Implementation Plan (DIP) Activities
4.2 Policy Implementation Challenges
4.2.1 Political Implications
4.2.2 Financial Implications
4.2.3 Options for Government

5.0 Conclusion

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Background

It is a mandate of every government to formulate and enact policies to enable effective governance of public affairs. Every public policy enacted can only achieve its objective when it is effectively implemented. This justifies implementation as one of the key stages in the policy process. By implementation, it simply implies putting action to policy to make it real. Without any action to policy, nothing is achievable. Policy by itself cannot bring out any desired result as its practicality always lays in its implementation. However, it is often argued that many policies once enacted do end up not being effectively implemented or not even implemented at all. Despite the speed in which most policies are formulated and enacted into law, their implementation is always a challenge to most Governments.

Policy implementation is one challenge that the Zambian Government seems to encounter with many of the public policies enacted over the years. One such policy is the National Decentralization Policy that was enacted in 2002 and launched in 2004 but has failed to reach its implementation potential to date. The purpose of the study was specifically to provide a critical analysis of the Zambia Decentralization Policy and its implementation challenges and suggest possible options for its effective and timely implementation.

The initiative for decentralization in Zambia arose upon the advert of multiparty politics in 1991 which ushered in the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) into Government. The MMD upon taking over Government recognized the need to undertake complementary reforms in the various sectors particularly in the area of the economy and the public service so as to orient these crucial sectors to provide an appropriately supportive framework for the country’s new democratic dispensation.

With specific reference to the Public sector, the MMD government committed itself to undertaking a broad based long term reform with the overall goal of enhancing the capacity and performance of the public service to meet expectations and obligations of government. In pursuit of this objective, the MMD government in 1993 launched the Public Service Reform Programme (PSRP). The PSRP was an attempt by Government to re-evaluate and adapt the existing Public service by broadening its base to accommodate new development needs.

With the PSRP, Government’s capacity to effectively analyse and implement policies was to be appropriately enhanced. With this enhanced capacity, performance in Government’s functions was expected to improve greatly to make it possible for Government to increase its effective management of public resources. In this way, Government’s aim to achieve its fiscal stabilization objectives would be attainable. Further, the Public service‘s efficiencies in service delivery would be greatly improved. The PSRP was structured into three components namely Public Sector Management (PSM), Public Expenditure Management and Financial Accountability (PEMFA) and Decentralization and Strengthening of Local Government (DSLG). As for the Decentralization and Strengthening of Local Government component, its main objective was to address the performance management systems, financing, functions of provincial and local government as well as facilitating the deconcentration of functions to provinces and local authorities in support of participatory governance.

Initially, the Government’s step towards decentralization was more skewed towards deconcentration of Basic Education, Agriculture Extension and Primary Health Care functions to the district levels. Only the water supply functions were to be devolved to Councils. Government’s deconcentration of these functions was aimed at fast tracking the improvement in service delivery at the district level which at that time had drastically deteriorated. Over time, it become clear that deconcentration of responsibilities to local levels was proving difficult for its objectives to be achieved. The major problem was that with deconcentration, only decision making authority and financial management responsibilities were to be re-distributed among different levels of the Central Government (Egbenya, 2010, p14). This contrasts devolution which entails the actual transfer of responsibilities to Councils. By devolving responsibilities to Councils, this gives them the power to raise their own revenues and to even make their own independent investment decisions.

Against this background, the MMD government found it prudent to review its Decentralization strategy by engaging into a broad based consultative process to devise the best form of decentralization. The broad based consultative process was meant to enable citizen’s effective participation in the adoption process of the best form of decentralization appropriate to the Zambian socio-economic environment. It was this process that eventually culminated in the development of the National Decentralization Policy which had devolution of functions as the most desirable form of decentralization. The intention to go the devolution way was mainly targeted at strengthening the local government system by redefining the principal mandates of Councils to that of being the focal point for local development and delivery of services. By devolving power from the centralized system of governance to local authority level, Councils’ capacities to delivery efficient services were to be greatly enhanced. Further, people’s direct participation in developmental activities at the local level was to be revitalized.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The Government initiated the formulation of the decentralization policy document in 1995 but the draft decentralization document was only presented to Cabinet in 1998. Thereafter the Government made no significant progress on the initial document not until 2002 when the revised Decentralization Policy was adopted and enacted into law. Its launch however, was shelved not until 2004. From the time of its launch in 2004, no tangible progress had been made with regard to its implementation potential. With the policy in place, the stakeholder expectations were that the Government would put a priority to its implementation to enable citizens to derive benefits from the process. The delayed implementation of the policy warranted a number of stakeholders to start voicing out their concerns on the slow pace the process was taking. Stakeholders viewed the delayed implementation of the policy as a great betrayal on the part of the government. Failure to timely implement the policy was perceived to have an effect on the attainment of meaningful development in the country which stakeholders believed would only be attainable when power was devolved to the lower organs of governance with greater citizens’ participation in issues of governance at the local level.

The Government assurances that the policy would be implemented as scheduled lacked the sense of urgency as no serious commitment to its implementation was in sight. This was specific to financial and administrative support. The Government’s lack of zeal to implement the policy within the set timeframe raised a lot of concerns on its practicality. This was more evidenced in the delayed approval by government of the Decentralization Implementation Plan (DIP). This was done without taking into consideration stakeholders’ views on the need to speedily approve the plan to signify its implementation. The delayed approval of the plan meant that no roadmap was available to guide its implementation. Arising from the Government’s inertia to approve the plan, this created an implementation gap in the process. This validated the notion that ‘making policies was one thing, implementing them was another’. Against this background, various stakeholders started having reservations on the practically of the policy in its implementation giving rise to the debate on whether the implementation of the policy in Zambia was ‘a reality or just a mere political rhetoric’.

1.3 Objective of the Study

The study was intended to provide an analysis on the Zambian Decentralization policy implementation process and its challenges in line with stakeholder concerns on its practicality in Zambia. Specifically, the study’s objectives were to explore the insights of the policy and its feasibility in terms of implementation; to consider issues and strategies vital to its successful implementation and to offer options for consideration by Government. The objectives were aimed at validating the realization of the policy in contrast to its implementation being viewed as a mere political rhetoric.

1.4 Scope of the Study

Due to limitation of the study, the study only focused much on the policy implementation process. This was done by analyzing the significance of some key political factors in the process and possible challenges to its implementation. This was done to determine the appropriateness of policy’s implementation process from the time of its enactment in 2002 and the developments thereafter.

1.5 Methodology of the Study

Considering the nature of the study and its limitations, the descriptive analysis of the available documentation on the decentralization policy implementation in Zambian and beyond was found appropriate. The desk analysis method was adopted and used to collect the data for analysis. This involved looking at the basic policy documents and other literature on policy implementation. However, considering that devolution form of decentralization was a new development in Zambia, not much had been written on its implementation successes. The study only had to rely on the information available on the public domain. There were also issues of confidentiality in having access to some of the policy information for inclusion in the study.

2.0 Review of Literature

2.1 Policy Implementation Procedure

In the review of literature, the study took into recognition the fact that there were no definable policy implementation procedures due to diversities in socio-economic circumstances. Because of these diversities, it was even difficult to have an optimal definition of the policy implementation procedure. The study therefore exercised caution in its analysis of policy implementation in varying circumstances.

2.2 Interpretations of Policy Implementation

In the analysis of policy implementation, it was found that different interpretations had been presented by proponents of policy implementation. Much of the interpretations were linked to cultural and institutional settings. Despite the differences in interpretations, what was clear in literature was that policy implementation was not a definite but a dynamic process which took different shapes and forms depending on its application. This was most applicable “to situations where processes of government are transformed into those of governance” (Hill and Hupe as quoted by Narendra, 2009, p36).

Regardless of the differences in interpretation, literature explanation of policy implementation hinged on the completion, execution, accomplishment, realization, achievement or discharge of a given policy assignment. As for Pressman and Wildavsky, who are presumed to be the founding fathers of implementation (as quoted in Narendra, 2009, p36), they considered policy implementation was considered “as a process of interaction between the setting of goals and the putting of actions to the stated goals with the aim of achieving them”. Sapru (2004, p149) also presents his own understanding of the term by considering it “as a process of putting policy into effect by public and private individuals”. In his view, the stage involves the development and pursuance of an organization’s management strategy to ensure completion of the policy process with minimum delays, costs and problems.

For Mazmanian and Sabatier, (1983, p20), policy implementation was viewed as “the stage when basic authoritative policy decisions are carried out in line with the law or an executive order”. Government wise, policy implementation was viewed “as the connection between government’s expression, intent and actual action or simply a stage when policy decisions of government are put into effect” (O’toole as quoted in Narendra, 2009, p37). Specifically, it may also be a stage when an adopted policy as specified by legislation or policy action is executed accordingly. The stages are more of an operational phase where policy is actually translated into action with the intention of solving a public problem. Sapru (2004, p161) however presents a wide variety of actions that are requirements for policy implementation to be effectively carried out. In his view, these actions have to do with the issuance of clear and consistent policy directives; the creation of organizational units and effective assignments of information and authority to personnel for effective administration of policies; effective coordination of resources and expenditures and effective evaluation of implemental actions of personnel. These are considered to be the key requirements for effective policy implementation.

2.3 Factors and Challenges to Effective Policy Implementation

Elmore, (as quoted in Narendra, 2009, p37), presents four main ingredients to effective implementation of a policy which are (1) clearly and specified policy’s tasks and objectives accurately reflecting the intent of the policy; (2) a management plan with allocations of tasks and performance standards clearly outlined; (3) an objective means of measuring lower level performance ; and (4) a system of management controls and social functions for accountability in performance at the lower level. Matland (as quoted in Narendra, 2009, p37), on the other hand, considers compliance to policy directives and goals as one condition for successful policy implementation. Another condition is where there is significant improvement in the political climate surrounding the policy programme and where the achievement of specific policy indicators is of significance.

To Theodoulou and Kofinis (2004), factors for effective implementation are presented as challenges to policy implementation. In their view, these challenges hinged on clarity of policy goals, information intelligence and strategic planning. To them, the clarity of policy goals challenge is one important aspect in policy implementation considering that no policy is implementable in the absence of clear policy or program goals that specify ends or objectives desired from the policy action. The argument is that with clear identification and specification of policy goals, the evaluation of policy in terms of accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness is made much easier (2004, p183).

As for information intelligence, Theodoulou and Kofinis (2000) regard the challenge as important for policy implementation feedback. The feedback is of necessity mainly with regard to information on how implementation is progressing, as well as preliminary assessments of its impact. The view is that with the increasing reliance on multiple bureaucracies, information feedback is essential to gauge the degree of inter-agency and inter-governmental cooperation and conflict, which may be affecting policy implementation. To them, information intelligence can be effective when there is a high level of communication and feedback not only from the agencies involved but also from the population affected by the policy action. The challenge however is for Policy implementers to have insight as to how a policy or program is affecting a target population so as to determine its effectiveness (Sapru, 2004, p184).


Excerpt out of 25 pages


Decentralization Policy Implementation in Zambia
A Reality or Mere Political Rhetoric?
Atlantic International University  (School of Business and Economics)
Public Policy and Programme Management
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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486 KB
The paper provides an analysis on the Decentralization policy implementation process and its challenges in Zambia. Specifically, the paper explores the insights of the policy and its feasibility.The paper further validates the realization of the policy in contrast to its implementation being viewed as a mere political rhetoric.The study emphasizes that policy by itself cannot solve a specific public problem not until it is practically implemented. The study concludes that the Government’s commitment to policy implementation is the only possible solution to practically translated into reality.
decentralization, policy, implementation, zambia, reality, mere, political, rhetoric
Quote paper
Stephen Gumboh (Author), 2012, Decentralization Policy Implementation in Zambia, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • guest on 9/26/2014

    Political interference with the operations of local government system still remains very high. This has been observed as seen by the way how political cadres especially from the ruling party have the courage to block or lock up offices for legitimate local government officials. While central government has power over local government, an appropriate way of doing this is essential unlike allowing cadres to do what they do with impunity.

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