By Frederick Philander
“The educational sector has been in favour of decentralisation ever since the adoption of the policy in 1997.”
This was said last week by the Minister of Education, Nangolo Mbumba, during a three-day consultative meeting with three regional councils in the capital. The meeting was financed by the Finnish Embassy.
“As a matter of fact, the then Ministry of Basic Education and Culture already presented its first draft decentralisation action plan in 1999 with the intention of decentralising primary and secondary schools, community libraries, adult basic education, arts and culture programmes and school hostels to the regional councils and local authorities,” the minister said.
Since then his ministry has made significant progress in terms of preparing both regional directorates and the ministry’s headquarters for decentralisation.
According to him, improvements in the system include the increase in the number of education regional offices.
“Initially we only had seven education regions. This we have increased to 13 and have appointed a director of education for each region. The increase in the number of educational regions was to pave the way for a smooth transition delegation. This process took more than a year to complete,” he said.
In 2003, major workshops organised by the Ministry of Education were held to discuss the way forward on decentralisation, structures, functions and reporting mechanisms. These workshops took place at Midgard and Mokuti lodges.
“The restructuring during 2005 with the aim of aligning the support and technical staff of the various regional offices to the new 13 offices, was also undertaken as part of decentralisation. In addition to these time-consuming activities, the ministry also went through major organisational reshuffling exercises impacting on the ministry’s decentralisation efforts.
“I am therefore pleased to announce that after all these preparations and changes that our ministry underwent over the years, we are now in an advanced stage of the process of delegating core educational functions and associated support functions to the regional councils.
“As you may all be aware, the preparation of the actual delegation to the regional councils has to go through a number of steps, each of which is crucial for successful delegation. First and foremost, the ministry has to identify the functions, sub-functions and even activities to be delegated to the regional councils, and those which should remain at the ministry’s headquarters,” he said.
This identification is imperative as it has a bearing on the human and other resources to accompany the functions to the regional councils.
“The information is also vital for the submission to Cabinet and the notice to the Government Gazette, as well as the internal restructuring of the ministry as a consequence of its new role and responsibilities.
“Secondly, the ministry in partnership with the Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development and the regional councils will place the various delegated functions and seconded staff within the regional council structure,” he said.
While professional core functions will be placed under the Regional Council Education Directorate, support functions will be placed under the relevant directorates and divisions within the regional council structure.
“Thirdly, the ministry will identify the staff members to be seconded to the regional councils and ensure that the staff members concerned are being properly consulted before signing the secondment letters, which would be forwarded to the Office of the Prime Minister.
“Fourthly, the main two parties concerned – the Ministry of Education and the regional councils – have to agree on reporting lines and special reporting arrangements. I understand that the Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development have developed guidelines to that effect,” Mbumba said.
He also said this workshop would at a later stage be followed up in the form of induction workshops to be held with all the regional councils individually.
“As the title of these workshops indicate, the induction workshops will give the ministry and the regional council in question ample time and opportunity to get down to the detail and the operational issues around the hand-over of functions, office space, assets and human resources.
“The purpose of this series of consultative meetings with the regional councils is mainly to make ourselves familiar with the regional councils, their structures and strategies for the future and to share with them the functions, sub-functions and activities to be delegated to the regional councils, as well as the personnel and financial implications of this delegation.
“It is my hope that the proceedings over the coming two and a half days will provide all participants with a clear picture of what the delegation of education entails in terms of work and resources, as well as a clear mutual understanding of the interface between the ministry and the regional councils in terms of human resource management, finances, assets and reporting lines during the phase of delegation,” he concluded.